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Babies who are breastfed are generally healthier and achieve optimal growth and development, compared to those who are fed formula milk. If the vast majority of babies were exclusively fed breastmilk in their first six months of life – meaning only breastmilk and no other liquids or solids, not even water – it is estimated that the lives of at least 1.2 million children would be saved every year throughout the world. If children continue to be breastfed up to two years and beyond, the health and development of millions of children would be greatly improved.
Infants who are not breastfed are at an increased risk of illness that can compromise their growth and raise the risk of death or disability. Breastfed babies receive protection from illnesses through their mother’s milk.
Breastfeeding is the natural and recommended way of feeding all infants. Almost every mother can breastfeed successfully. All mothers, particularly those who might lack the confidence to breastfeed, need the encouragement and practical support of the baby’s father and their families, friends and relatives.
Key facts each family should know about breastfeeding:
- Breastmilk alone is the best food and drink for an infant for the first six months of life. No other food or drink, not even water, is usually needed during this period;
- Newborn babies should be given to the mother to hold immediately after delivery. They should have skin-to-skin contact with the mother and begin breastfeeding within one half an hour of birth;
- Almost every mother can breastfeed successfully. Breastfeeding the baby frequently causes production of more milk. The baby should breastfeed at least eight times daily, day and night, and on demand;
- Breastfeeding helps protect babies and young children against dangerous illnesses. It also creates a special bond between mother and child;
- Bottle feeding and giving a baby breastmilk substitutes such as infant formula or animal milk can threaten the baby’s health and survival. If a woman cannot breastfeed her infant, the baby can be fed expressed breastmilk or, if necessary, a quality breastmilk substitute from an ordinary clean cup;
- If a woman is infected with HIV, there is a risk that she can pass the infection to her infant through breastfeeding. In the first six months, this risk is much greater if the infant is fed both breastmilk and other liquids and foods than if fed breastmilk alone;
- A woman employed away from her home can continue to breastfeed her child. She should breastfeed as often as possible when she is with the infant and express her breastmilk when they are apart so that another caregiver can feed it to the baby in a clean and safe way;
- After six months of age, when babies begin to eat foods, breastfeeding should continue for up to two years and beyond because it is an important source of nutrition, energy and protection from illness.