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Breastfeeding rates across the world vary considerably. Despite guidance from the World Health Organisation (WHO) that all babies should be breastfed exclusively for the first 6 months, many countries have much lower rates of exclusive breastfeeding. 

In this article we take a look at the rates of breastfeeding across the globe, the terminology often used and what they mean, and we will also discuss the current recommendations for infant feeding.


Breastfeeding terminology

Any breastfeeding: Is when baby is receiving any breast milk at all, regardless of how much.

Partial breastfeeding: Is when baby is fed breast milk alongside formula. This is commonly called combination or combi feeding.

Exclusive breastfeeding: Is when baby is solely fed breast milk. The WHO define exclusive breastfeeding as baby receiving only breast milk and no other liquids or solids, with the exception of oral rehydration solutions, vitamins, minerals or medicines.


Current Breastfeeding Recommendations

The WHO recommends that babies are exclusively fed breast milk up to 6 months of age. They encourage on-demand feeding, day and night, for all breastfed infants. They advise that breastfeeding is initiated within 1 hour after birth to encourage the best start to breastfeeding. After 6 months, “nutritionally-adequate and safe” complementary foods are recommended alongside breastfeeding until 2 years old and beyond. 


Breastfeeding rates 

The rates for any and exclusive breastfeeding across the world are varied and many countries do not have current data on breastfeeding rates available. According to data published by the WHO and UNICEF the global rate of exclusive breastfeeding between 0-6 months is 48%.

We have collated data on multiple countries that have online published records, of these countries Australia has the highest reported rates of exclusive breastfeeding (74%) and the UK has the lowest (32%) for babies between 1 and 2 months old.  

In the infographic below you can see the varying degrees of exclusive breastfeeding at different ages up to 6 months. 



The lowest exclusive breastfeeding rates between 1-5 months is reportedly in the Dominican Republic, again Australia has the highest rate of exclusive breastfeeding for this age group.

Data for exclusive breastfeeding rates in Ireland is difficult to obtain but it seems 35% of babies in the Republic of Ireland are experiencing any breastfeeding at 2 months vs 30% in Northern Ireland.


The graph below shows some of the rates of exclusive breastfeeding at 2 months and 6 months of age.


Many factors impact breastfeeding initiation and duration. Keep your eyes peeled for our next blog where we will discuss these impacting factors in detail, including how they might impact the variable breastfeeding rates across the world.




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