Up to what age can a baby stay well nourished by just being breastfed?

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Reviewed July 2013

Q: Up to what age can a baby stay well nourished by just being breastfed?

A:Infants should be exclusively breastfed – i.e. receive only breast milk – for the first six months of life to achieve optimal growth, development and health. "Exclusive breastfeeding" is defined as giving no other food or drink – not even water – except breast milk. It does, however, allow the infant to receive oral rehydration salts (ORS), drops and syrups (vitamins, minerals and medicines). Breast milk is the ideal food for the healthy growth and development of infants; breastfeeding is also an integral part of the reproductive process with important implications for the health of mothers.

WHO recommends that infants start receiving complementary foods at six months (180 days) of age in addition to breast milk. Foods should be adequate, meaning that they provide sufficient energy, protein and micronutrients to meet a growing child's nutritional needs. Foods should be prepared and given in a safe manner to minimize the risk of contamination. Feeding young infants requires active care and stimulation to encourage the child to eat.

The transition from exclusive breastfeeding to full use of family foods is a very vulnerable period. It is the time when many infants become malnourished, contributing significantly to the high prevalence of malnutrition in children under five years of age worldwide. It is essential therefore that infants receive appropriate, adequate and safe complementary foods to ensure the right transition from the breastfeeding period to the full use of family foods.

Amounts of foods to offer


Age Texture Frequency Amount at each meala
6–8 months Start with thick porridge, well mashed foods
Continue with mashed family foods
2–3 meals per day, plus frequent breastfeeds
Depending on the child's appetite, 1–2 snacks may be offered
Start with 2–3 tablespoonfuls per feed, increasing gradually to ½ of a 250 ml cup
9–11 months Finely chopped or mashed foods, and foods that baby can pick up 3–4 meals per day, plus breastfeeds
Depending on the child's appetite, 1–2 snacks may be offered
½ of a 250 ml cup/bowl
12–23 months Family foods, chopped or mashed if necessary 3–4 meals per day, plus breastfeeds
Depending on the child's appetite, 1–2 snacks may be offered
¾ to full 250 ml cup/bowl
a Note: If baby is not breastfed, give in addition: 1–2 cups of milk per day, and 1–2 extra meals per day.
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