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Last update: Feb 2013

Current status

Less than half (42 per cent) of newborns in the world are put to the breast within one hour of birth. Regional averages range from a high of 56 per cent in Eastern and Southern Africa to a low of 39 per cent in South Asia.

 

Less than half of newborns receive the benefits of early initiation of breastfeeding
Percentage of newborns put to the breast within one hour of birth, 20072011

                           

Source: UNICEF global databases 2012, from Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS), Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) and other national surveys.

 

There is considerable difference in breastfeeding initiation among mothers both across and within regions. For example, in South Asia, children born in the richest households are more likely to be breastfed within one hour of birth than those in the poorest households. However, the opposite is true in the Middle East and North Africa, East Asia and Pacific and Latin America and Caribbean.

 

In three regions, rates of breastfeeding initiation are higher among the poor than the rich
Percentage of newborns put to the breast within one hour of birth, by household wealth quintile, 20052010

         

^ Excluding Brazil and Mexico, due to lack of data by household wealth level.
* Excluding China, due to lack of data by household wealth level.
Note: Estimates are based on data from 74 countries with available estimates by household wealth level.
Source: UNICEF global databases 2011, from MICS, DHS and other national nutrition surveys.

 

In all regions, the percentage of infants under the age of 6 months receiving the benefits of exclusive breastfeeding is less than 50 per cent. Prevalences are particularly low in West and Central Africa, East Asia and the Pacific and Central and Eastern Europe/Commonwealth of Independent States (CEE/CIS).


Substantial variation in exclusive breastfeeding rates across regions
Percentage of infants under the age of 6 months who are exclusively breastfed, 20072011

                                  
Source: UNICEF global databases 2012, from MICS, DHS and other national surveys.


Sixty per cent of children 68 months old receive solid, semi-solid or soft foods while being breastfed. An important issue is that the quality of the food received is often inadequate and does not provide sufficient protein, fat or micronutrients for optimal growth and development. Meeting the needs for the minimum required dietary quality is a challenge in much of the developing world, and this has often not been given enough emphasis. Apart from the quality of the food itself, children may not receive complementary foods at the right age (often either too early or too late), or may not be fed frequently enough during the day. New programming options are now available to meet the challenge.


Continuum of feeding practices
Global averages of key feeding indicators (%), 20072011

                 

* Excluding China, due to lack of data.
Source: UNICEF global databases 2012, from MICS, DHS and other national surveys.


Based on data from 79 countries with estimates by background information, figures show little difference in the prevalence of exclusive breastfeeding by gender, residence or household wealth level.

 

In most countries with available data, boys and girls are equally likely to be exclusively breastfed
Percentage of infants under the age of 6 months who are exclusively breastfed, 20052009

                                                 

HOW TO READ THIS BUBBLE CHART:
Each bubble represents data from one country. The size of a bubble is proportional to the number of births in a country. The x-axis refers to the rate of exclusive breastfeeding among boys 0-5 months old. The y-axis refers to the rate of exclusive breastfeeding among girls 0-5 months old. A bubble away from the red line of equal rates suggests disparity. If the bubble is far above the red line, it suggests that girls are more likely than boys to be exclusively breastfed. A bubble far below the red line suggests that boys are more likely. This chart is based on 78 countries with available data by sex, covering 71 per cent of births in the developing world (excluding China, for which comparable data are not available). In a majority of these countries, girls and boys are equally likely to be exclusively breastfed.

 

Source: Breastfeeding estimates from DHS, MICS and other national household surveys 2005-2009. For each country, estimates refer to the most recent year available during the specified period. Number of births from United Nations Population Division, 2010.