In the map and horizontal bar chart, the data is presented in five classes created using the quantile classification method. Each class contains 20% of countries, which is easy to interpret. The quintile intervals are labeled sequentially from Quintile 1, also called the bottom quintile which includes the lowest fifth (0 to 20%) of data points to Quintile 5 (or top quintile), which includes the top fifth (80% to 100%) of data points.
Exclusive breastfeeding – defined as the practice of only giving an infant breast-milk for the first 6 months of life (no other food or water) – has the single largest potential impact on child mortality of any preventive intervention. It is part of optimal breastfeeding practices, which also include initiation within one hour of life and continued breastfeeding for up to 2 years of age or beyond.
Exclusive breastfeeding is a cornerstone of child survival and child health because it provides essential, irreplaceable nutrition for a child’s growth and development. It serves as a child’s first immunization – providing protection from respiratory infections, diarrhoeal disease, and other potentially life-threatening ailments. Exclusive breastfeeding also has a protective effect against obesity and certain noncommunicable diseases later in life.
Indicator name: Prevalence of exclusive breastfeeding in infants under-six months of age.
Rationale: This indicator belongs to a set of indicators whose purpose is to measure infant and young child feeding practices, policies and programs. Infant and young child feeding practices directly affect the nutritional status, development and survival of children. Infant and young child feeding practices directly affect the nutritional status and survival of children. Exclusive breastfeeding is the single most effective intervention to improve the survival of children. Improving infant and young child feeding practices is therefore critical to improved nutrition, health and development of children.
Definition: Proportion of infants 0–5 months of age (0 to < 6 months) who are fed exclusively with breast milk.
Method of measurement:
Percentage of infants 0–5 months of age who are fed exclusively with breast milk = (Infants 0–5 months of age who received only breast milk during the previous day/Infants 0–5 months of age) x 100. Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) and Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS) include questions on liquids and foods given the previous day, and number of milk feeds the previous day, to learn if the child is being exclusively breastfed.
Method of estimation:
WHO and UNICEF jointly collect data on infant and young child feeding, pooling information from national surveys. The WHO Programme of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity, at the Regional Office for Europe compiles country information on exclusive breastfeeding independently. Note, many developed country data refer to exclusive breastfeeding at 6 months, which provides lower estimates than the standard measure of exclusive breastfeeding averaged over the first six months. The two sources have been combined to display all available data on exclusive breastfeeding.
Preferred data sources:
Household surveys, specific population surveys, and surveillance systems.
Expected frequency of data collection: Every 3-5 years
Detailed information can be found in the following technical documents:
- Global Targets 2025: To improve maternal, infant and young child nutrition. World Health Organization. Available online.
- World Health Organization & United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). (2021). Indicators for assessing infant and young child feeding practices: definitions and measurement methods. World Health Organization. https://apps.who.int/iris/handle/10665/340706.
- Global nutrition monitoring framework: operational guidance for tracking progress in meeting targets for 2025. World Health Organization, Geneva, 2017. https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/9789241513609.
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