e-Library of Evidence for Nutrition Actions (eLENA)

Breastfeeding of low-birth-weight infants

Every year, more than 20 million infants are born weighing less than 2500 g – over 96% of them in developing countries. These low-birth-weight infants are at increased risk of neonatal morbidity and mortality.

Breastfeeding has many health benefits for both the mother and infant. Breast milk contains all the nutrients an infant needs in the first six months of life. Breastfeeding further protects against diarrhoea and common childhood illnesses such as pneumonia, and may also have longer-term health benefits for the mother and child, such as reducing the risk of overweight and obesity in childhood and adolescence.

Evidence suggests that initiation of breastfeeding in the first day of life is associated with a significant reduction in the risk of neonatal mortality when compared with delaying breastfeeding for more than 24 hours after birth.

WHO recommendations

Low-birth-weight infants who are able to breastfeed should be put to the breast as soon as possible after birth when they are clinically stable, and should be exclusively breastfed until six months of age.

The full set of recommendations for feeding of low birth-weight infants can be found in the guideline, Guidelines on optimal feeding of low birth-weight infants in low- and middle-income countries , under ‘WHO documents’ below.

WHO documents

GRC-approved guidelines


Systematic reviews used to develop guidelines
Related Cochrane reviews
Other related systematic reviews
Clinical trials

Last update:

10 October 2014 13:48 CEST

Category 1 intervention

Guidelines have been recently approved by the WHO Guidelines Review Committee


There is not yet any implementation information related to this intervention in GINA

Essential Nutrition Actions

This intervention is supported by Essential Nutrition Actions targeting the first 1000 days of life.