The World Health Organization (WHO) has updated its fact sheet on infant and young child feeding.
Undernutrition is estimated to cause 3.1 million child deaths annually or 45% of all child deaths.
Infant and young child feeding is a key area to improve child survival and promote healthy growth and development.
The first 2 years of a child’s life are particularly important, as optimal nutrition during this period lowers morbidity and mortality, reduces the risk of chronic disease, and fosters better development overall.
If all children 0-23 months age were optimally breastfed, we would save the lives of more than 800,000 children under 5 years of age each year.
The WHO and UNICEF recommend:
- initiation of breastfeeding within 1 hour of birth
- exclusive breastfeeding during the first 6 months of life
- introduction of nutritionally-adequate and safe complementary (solid) foods at 6 months together with continued breastfeeding up to 2 years of age or beyond
However, only about 36% of infants aged 0 to 6 months worldwide were exclusively breastfed over the period of 2007-2014.
Breastfeeding remains the preferred mode of infant feeding in almost all difficult situations, for instance:
- low-birth-weight or premature infants;
- HIV-infected mothers;
- adolescent mothers;
- infants and young children who are malnourished; and
- families suffering the consequences of complex emergencies.
HIV and infant feeding:
WHO recommends that mothers who are HIV-infected take Anti-Retrovirals (ARVs) and exclusively breastfeed their babies for 6 months, then introduce appropriate complementary foods and continue breastfeeding up to the child’s first birthday. Breastfeeding should only stop once a nutritionally adequate and safe diet without breast milk can be provided.
Even when ARVs are not available, mothers should be counselled to exclusively breastfeed for 6 months and continue breastfeeding thereafter unless environmental and social circumstances are safe for, and supportive of, feeding with infant formula.
Guiding principles for appropriate complementary feeding:
- continue frequent, on-demand breastfeeding until 2 years of age or beyond;
- practise responsive feeding (e.g. feed infants directly and assist older children. Feed slowly and patiently, encourage them to eat but do not force them, talk to the child and maintain eye contact);
- practise good hygiene and proper food handling;
- start at 6 months with small amounts of food and increase gradually as the child gets older;
- gradually increase food consistency and variety;
- increase the number of times that the child is fed: 2-3 meals per day for infants 6-8 months of age and 3-4 meals per day for infants 9-23 months of age, with 1-2 additional snacks as required;
- use fortified complementary foods or vitamin-mineral supplements as needed; and
- during illness, increase fluid intake including more breastfeeding, and offer soft, favourite foods
Link to the updated fact sheet:
Link to infographic on breastfeeding (PDF):
Link to WHO’s page on infant feeding:
Link to WHO’s page for the Global Strategy for Infant and Young Child Feeding:
Link to Question & Answer on age up to which a child can be exclusively breastfed: