Infant and young child feeding

WHO recommends that mothers start breastfeeding within one hour of birth and breastfeed exclusively for infant's first six months to achieve optimal growth, development and health. In addition, timely introduction of complementary foods should occur after 6 months of age, and breastfeeding should continue up to or beyond 2 years of age.

Role of community support

When mothers visit health care facilities less frequently, community support systems become essential to sustain breastfeeding. Traditionally, support comes from the family, but increasing urbanization leads to the extension of support systems to include friends, employers, trained health workers, lactation consultants and community leaders. They can help in some of the following ways:

  • Fathers can reduce stress for mothers by doing household chores or taking care of babies (providing baths, diaper changes, walks, etc.).
  • Children and members of the extended family can provide emotional support and practical household help.
  • Employers can provide maternity leave, and breastfeeding areas and milk storage space in workplaces.
  • Health workers can provide peer counsellors on breastfeeding to help new mothers deal with concerns such as milk shortages or nipple pain.

Benefits for breastfeeding mothers

Exclusive breastfeeding benefits mothers as it acts as a natural birth-control method, providing up to 98% protection in the first 6 months after birth. It also helps women lose their pregnancy weight more easily and reduces obesity rates. Research also suggests that women who breastfeed are less likely to develop breast and ovarian cancer, and have lower risks of osteoporosis and coronary heart disease.

Women often stop breastfeeding because they need to return to the workplace. Global comparative analysis suggests that larger percentages of women practise exclusive breastfeeding in countries where laws guarantee breastfeeding breaks at work. Thus, workplace policies are essential to help mothers sustain breastfeeding.

WHO efforts

In May 2012, WHO’s Member States gave the global strategy a further boost by endorsing a comprehensive implementation plan for maternal, infant and young child nutrition. One of the plan’s six targets is for at least 50% of babies aged under 6 months to be exclusively breastfed by 2025. Analyzing the barriers and developing action plans to overcome them are the only ways forward.