Exclusive breastfeeding is a cornerstone of child survival and child health because it provides essential, irreplaceable nutrition for a child’s growth and development. Nonetheless, just 38% of infants are exclusively breastfed in the first six months of life globally.

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 survival of any preventive intervention. It serves as a child’s first immunization – providing protection from respiratory infections, diarrheal disease, and other potentially life-threatening illnesses. Exclusive breastfeeding also has a protective effect against obesity and certain non-communicable diseases later in life. Yet, much remains to be done to make exclusive breastfeeding during the first six months of life the norm for infant feeding. Suboptimal breastfeeding practices, including non-exclusive breastfeeding, contribute to 11.6% of childhood deaths, equivalent to roughly 800,000 child deaths annually.

In 2012, the World Health Assembly endorsed a global breastfeeding target to increase the rate of exclusive breastfeeding in the first six months of life up to at least 50% by 2025.

Why it Matters

Babies who are fed nothing but breastmilk from birth through their first six months get the best start to life

Exclusive breastfeeding provides babies the perfect nutrition and everything they need for healthy growth and brain development

Exclusive breastfeeding protects children from respiratory infections, diarrheal disease, and other life-threatening illnesses

Exclusive breastfeeding is shown to protect against obesity and non-communicable diseases such as diabetes

Scope of the Problem


of infants are exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life globally


infant deaths are a result of suboptimal breastfeeding each year


of infants are exclusively breastfed at six months in the United States

Recommended Action


Limit Formula Marketing

Significantly limit the marketing of breastmilk substitutes by strengthening the monitoring, enforcement and legislation related to the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes

Photo credit: Donnie Ray Jones

Support Paid Leave

Empower women to exclusively breastfeed by enacting six-months mandatory paid maternity leave and policies that encourage women to breastfeed in the workplace and in public

Photo credit: JK Califf

Strengthen Health Systems

Provide hospital and health facilities-based capacity to support exclusive breastfeeding by expanding and institutionalizing the baby-friendly hospital initiative in health systems

Photo credit: David J. Laporte


Provide community-based strategies to support exclusive breastfeeding counseling for pregnant and lactating women by providing peer-to-peer and group counseling to improve exclusive breastfeeding rates, including the implementation of communication campaigns tailored to the local context


Breastfeeding Resources

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