Global Health Observatory (GHO)

Early initiation and exclusive breastfeeding

Situation and trends

Breast milk gives infants all the nutrients they need, is safe, and contains antibodies that help protect infants from common childhood illnesses. Early initiation and exclusive breastfeeding up to six months of age prevent deaths from pneumonia, diarrhoea and neonatal sepsis. Initiation of breastfeeding within the first hour of birth has been estimated to prevent 22% of neonatal deaths, while exclusive breastfeeding has been estimated to avert about 13% of all under-five deaths.

Exclusive breastfeeding among infants less than six months of age shows global coverage as low as 38%. Coverage is particularly low in Africa, where only one out of three infants less than six months old is exclusively breastfed.

Promotion of both early initiation and exclusive breastfeeding of infants for six months has the potential to make a major contribution to the achievement of the child survival Millennium Development Goal.

Breastfeeding promotion programmes should emphasize early initiation as well as exclusive breastfeeding. This has particular relevance for sub-Saharan Africa, where neonatal and infant mortality rates are highest.

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