A midwife and nursing mother.

A midwife in Indonesia teaches a new
mother about breastfeeding, which can
protect against diarrheal infections.

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Key resources Other helpful websites

Breast milk is the ideal food for infants and is all they need for optimal growth and health during the first six months of life. Breastfeeding is considered a pillar of child survival; it provides nourishment, helps develop the immune system, improves response to vaccines, and protects against many infections, including diarrheal diseases.1 Because of the unique benefits of breast milk, it is recommended that infants continue breastfeeding for up to two years and beyond. Breastfeeding also provides health benefits for the mother.

It is estimated that 1.5 million infants die each year because they were not breastfed. These deaths could be avoided by providing education to mothers and health workers about the vital role that breastfeeding plays in keeping infants healthy. In many developing countries, counseling and support have proven very effective for increasing rates of exclusive breastfeeding for up to six months, in turn reducing infant morbidity and mortality.

A study in Brazil associated formula feeding with a 14-fold increase in diarrhea motality for all infants and a 25-fold increased risk in infants less than two months old.

PATH’s Infant and Young Child Nutrition project works in developing countries to promote optimal breastfeeding practices—proven methods for reducing malnutrition and enhancing child growth and survival.

UNICEF works to protect, promote and support optimal infant and young child feeding practices as a means to improve nutrition status, growth, development, and health.

Key resources

Below are some key documents on breastfeeding and infant nutrition. Please also browse our list of other helpful websites for more resources.

Other helpful websites

References

1 Davis MK. Breastfeeding and chronic disease in childhood and adolescence. Pediatric Clinics of North America. 2001;48(1):125–141, ix.

2 Victora CG, Smith PG, Vaughan JP, et al. Evidence for protection by breast-feeding against infant deaths from infectious diseases in Brazil. The Lancet. 1987;2(8554):319–322.

Photo: PATH/Carib Nelson.