Progress in exclusive breastfeeding globally has been modest. Rates of exclusive breastfeeding have increased by more than 20 per cent from around 1995 to around 2011, from 34 per cent to 43 per cent, respectively. It is particularly encouraging to note the nearly 50 per cent increase in exclusive breastfeeding rates in Sub-Saharan Africa, from 22 per cent to 31 per cent during this period.
Exclusive breastfeeding rates have increased in most regions
Percentage of infants under the age of six months who are exclusively breastfed, 1995–around 2011
* Excluding China, due to lack of trend data.
Note: Estimates based on a subset of 50 countries with available trend data. Regional estimates are only presented where adequate population coverage is met. Rates presented around 2011 may be different from those presented as "Current Regional/Global Estimates", as the trend analysis is based on a subset of countries.
Source: UNICEF global databases 2012, from Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS), Demographic Health Surveys (DHS) and other national surveys.
Evidence from a variety of countries indicates that marked improvements in exclusive breastfeeding are often associated with effective regulatory frameworks and guidelines, and when comprehensive programmatic approaches are at scale1. Over the past 5–10 years, for example, 23 countries have recorded gains of 20 percentage points or more in exclusive breastfeeding rates. The implementation of large-scale programmes in these countries was based on national policies and often guided by the Global Strategy for Infant and Young Child Feeding, a joint action of the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF, which promotes the adoption and implementation of national legislation on the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes and maternity protection for working women2. Further actions included ensuring that breastfeeding was initiated in maternity facilities (and that no infant formula was used), building health-worker capacity to offer counseling on infant and young child feeding, and mother-to-mother support groups in the community, accompanied by communication strategies to promote breastfeeding, using multiple channels and messages tailored to the local context3.
26 countries throughout the world have increased exclusive breastfeeding rates by 20 percentage points or more
Percentage of infants under the age of six months who are exclusively breastfed, around 1995-around 2011
Source: UNICEF global databases 2012, from MICS, DHS and other national surveys.
1. UNICEF and Academy for Educational Development (AED), Infant and Young Child Feeding Programme Review: Consolidated report of six-country programme review, UNICEF, New York, 2010.
2. WHO/UNICEF, Global Strategy for Infant and Young Child Feeding, WHO, Geneva, 2003.
3. WHO, UNICEF, AED and United States Agency for International Development, Learning from Large-scale Community-based Programmes to Improve Breastfeeding Practices, Report of 10-country case study, WHO, Geneva, 2008.