Global Nutrition Targets 2025: Breastfeeding policy brief

World Health Organization, UNICEF

breastfeeding policy brief cover

Publication details

Editors: World Health Organization
Number of pages: 8
Publication date: 2014
Languages: English (2014), French (2017), Spanish (2017)
WHO reference number: WHO/NMH/NHD/14.7


Policy brief


Exclusive breastfeeding – defined as the practice of only giving an infant breast-milk for the first 6 months of life (no other food or water) – has the single largest potential impact on child mortality of any preventive intervention. It is part of optimal breastfeeding practices, which also include initiation within one hour of life and continued breastfeeding for up to 2 years of age or beyond.

Exclusive breastfeeding is a cornerstone of child survival and child health because it provides essential, irreplaceable nutrition for a child’s growth and development. It serves as a child’s first immunization – providing protection from respiratory infections, diarrhoeal disease, and other potentially life-threatening ailments. Exclusive breastfeeding also has a protective effect against obesity and certain noncommunicable diseases later in life.

Yet, much remains to be done to make exclusive breastfeeding during the first 6 months of life the norm for infant feeding (see Box 1). Globally, only 38% of infants aged 0 to 6 months are exclusively breastfed. Recent analyses indicate that sub optimal breastfeeding practices, including non-exclusive breastfeeding, contribute to 11.6% of mortality in children under 5 years of age. This was equivalent to about 804 000 child deaths in 2011.

Related links