General Comment No. 7

Indicator Set 10: Breastfeeding and Complementary Feeding

Recent research strongly confirms that breastfeeding plays a critical role in child development. Breastfeeding provides children with the nutrients they need to develop normally in a healthy way. It is the baby’s first immunization and also helps infants develop through stimulation and infant-mother bonding. Based on scientific research and current practices, the Convention on the Rights of the Child (article 24.2c–e) articulates the obligation of States parties to provide positive information and education on the advantages and benefits of early and exclusive breastfeeding, to protect, promote and support the practice of breastfeeding. Furthermore, the Committee investigates States parties’ efforts to promote adherence to, and implementation of, the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes and subsequent relevant World Health Assembly resolutions. Getting mothers to begin and, in particular, to continue breastfeeding results from the collective efforts of people such as health care professionals, legislators, employers, business owners, and community and family members. However, States parties also play an important role in protecting, supporting and promoting breastfeeding by ensuring an enabling policy environment and adequate resources. Government efforts to develop and implement appropriate policy and practices can make communities breastfeeding-friendly. These efforts include, for example:

  • Implementation of the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes and subsequent relevant World Health Assembly Resolutions
  • Provision of adequate maternity leave
  • Affordable childcare services near the workplace
  • Sufficient time off work (allowing mothers to attend to their newborn for six months and better prepare for breastfeeding)

Such measures can help to increase the numbers of women breastfeeding their babies exclusively up to six months, the minimum duration recommended for exclusive breastfeeding, and continuing to breastfeed with adequate and safe complementary foods for 2 years or beyond. As mentioned, breast milk provides many advantages to developing children. Breast milk provides all the nutrients a baby needs during the first six months after birth and an important proportion of nutrients afterwards. Also, breastfeeding allows the mother and the baby to bond and stimulates cognitive and psychological development. Breast milk contains components that boost the immune system of the infant during early months. Breastfeeding protects children from common illnesses such as diarrhoea and pneumonia and reduces child mortality significantly. Studies have compared children who were fed with breast milk with those who were not. These studies report higher IQ scores among children who were breastfed. The World Health Organization therefore recommends exclusive breastfeeding for six months (no liquids, food, water or anything except medicine in case of need). Beyond six months, however, an infant must be gradually introduced to complementary foods to make sure they receive adequate amounts of certain nutrients. A rapidly growing infant especially needs animal protein, cereals, and high quality foods with the necessary nutrients to meet all of their growth requirements. Breast milk, however, remains an important part of the infant's diet. The WHO and UNICEF therefore recommend that infants should receive nutritionally adequate and safe complementary foods to meet their evolving nutritional requirements while breastfeeding continues for up to two years of age or beyond (table food complemented by breastfeeding). Indicator 10, breastfeeding and complementary feeding, refers specifically to:

  • The health and nutrition of mothers (CRC article 24.2d)
  • Provision of appropriate information on the benefits of breastfeeding (CRC article 24.2e)

This indicator is intended to request information from States parties on efforts made to construct, implement and evaluate the effectiveness of their intersectoral plan for the promotion and protection of exclusive breastfeeding from birth up to six months and to encourage appropriate use of complementary feeding with continued breastfeeding up to two years.

Key Question: With respect to articles 2, 6, 24.2c, 24.2d and 24.2e of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, what measures are in place to support both the understanding and capacity of parents, particularly mothers, to promote the beneficial practice of breastfeeding and the appropriate use of complementary feeding?