The World Health Organization (WHO) celebrates the first week of August as World Breastfeeding Week each year.
Among under-five year old children, about 800 000 children’s lives could be saved every year, if all children 0–23 months were optimally breastfed.
Ten facts on breastfeeding:
1. WHO recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life.
begin within one hour of birth
be ‘on demand’, as often as the child wants, day and night
Bottles or pacifiers should be avoided.
2. Breast milk is the ideal food for newborns and infants. It is safe and contains antibodies that help protect infants from common childhood illnesses such as diarrhoea and pneumonia- the two main causes of child mortality globally.
3. Exclusive breastfeeding is associated with
Reduced risk of
Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus
Natural method of birth control (98% protection in the first 6 months after birth unless periods resume earlier).
4. Adolescents and adults who were breastfed as babies are less likely to have Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus, and perform better in intelligence tests.
5. Infant formula does not contain the antibodies found in breast milk. When infant formula is not prepared properly, there are risks arising from
The use of unsafe water and unsterilized equipment
The potential presence of bacteria in powdered formula
Over-diluting formula to ‘stretch’ supplies- can result in malnutrition
6. Antiretroviral (ARV) drugs given either to an HIV-positive mother or HIV-exposed infant reduces the risk of transmission. Together, breastfeeding and ARVs have the potential to significantly improve infants’ survival chances while remaining HIV uninfected.
7. A declaration in 1981 calls for:
All formula labels and information to state the benefits of breastfeeding and the health risks of substitutes
No promotion of breast-milk substitutes
No free samples of substitutes to be given to pregnant women, mothers or their families
No distribution of free or subsidized substitutes to health workers or facilities.
8. Breastfeeding has to be learned and many women encounter difficulties at the beginning. The WHO-UNICEF Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI) intends to provide support and improve care for mothers and newborns.
9. Many mothers who return to work abandon breastfeeding partially or completely because they do not have sufficient time, or a place to breastfeed, express and store their milk. Enabling conditions at work can help-
Paid maternity leave
Part-time work arrangements
Facilities for expressing and storing breast milk
Breastfeeding breaks, etc.
10. To meet the growing needs of babies at six months of age, mashed solid foods should be introduced as a complement to continued breastfeeding. WHO notes that:
Breastfeeding should not be decreased when starting on solids
Food should be given with a spoon or cup, not in a bottle
Food should be clean and safe
Ample time is needed for young children to learn to eat solid foods.
Link to the fact sheet on infant and young child feeding (updated 28 July 2015):
Link to the WHO ‘10 facts on breastfeeding’ page (updated July 2015):
Link to the World Breastfeeding Week site:
Link to the downloads page of World Breastfeeding Week (contains a variety of material):
Link to WHO infographic on breastfeeding:
Link to the innocenti declaration (1990):
Link to the Global Strategy for Infant and Young Child Feeding:
Link to the Infant and Young Child Feeding tool: