What is Facts for Life?
Using Facts for Life
Safe Motherhood and Newborn Health
Child Development and Early Learning
Nutrition and Growth
Coughs, Colds and More Serious Illnesses
Emergencies: Preparedness and Response
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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.
Breastmilk is the best food a young child can have. It promotes optimal growth and development and protects against illness. Breastmilk contains the perfect balance of nutrients for a baby, unlike infant formula, powdered milk or animal milk.
The baby does not need water or other drinks or foods (such as tea, juice, sugar water, gripe water, rice water, other milks, formula or porridge) during the first six months. Even in hot, dry climates, breastmilk fully meets a baby's need for fluids.
Breastmilk is easy for the baby to digest. A baby has difficulty digesting animal milks, and formula is digested much more slowly than breastmilk. Compared to other options, breastmilk nourishes the baby more efficiently.
Breastmilk protects against illness because it contains antibodies that transfer the mother's immunity or resistance to disease to the child. No other milks contain these antibodies.
Giving a baby under 6 months of age any liquids or foods other than breastmilk increases the risk of diarrhoea and other illnesses. Water and other liquids or foods may be contaminated, which can cause diarrhoea.
A baby who takes water or other liquids or foods in the first six months suckles less on the breast. This slows down breastmilk production.
If regular weighing shows that a breastfed baby under 6 months of age is not growing well:
Feeding a baby only with breastmilk and on demand during the first six months can help to delay the return of the mother's menstruation. This may help to delay the next pregnancy. However, there is some possibility – less than 2 per cent – that a mother can become pregnant before her periods return. This becomes increasingly likely after six months.