Exclusive Breastfeeding

Definition, Recommendations, and Advantages

Mother breastfeeding her baby
Exclusive breastfeeding is recommended for the first 6 months. Fuse/Getty Images

What is Exclusive Breastfeeding?

Exclusive breastfeeding is the term used when a baby's only form of nutrition comes from nursing at the breast. It is the recommended method of feeding for newborns and infants.

If you want to breastfeed exclusively:

  • Put your baby to the breast for every feeding throughout the day and the night.
  • Do NOT give your child any other type of supplementary foods such as formula, water, infant cereal, or baby food.

If you need to pump for a feeding now and then, that's OK. It's also still considered exclusive breastfeeding if you pump after or in-between breastfeeding to increase your milk supply, to relieve engorgement, or to store your breast milk for when your child is no longer breastfeeding. But, if you're pumping a few times a day to give your baby your breast milk in a bottle, then it's not considered exclusive breastfeeding.

How Long Should You Breastfeed Exclusively?

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and The World Health Organization (WHO) recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months. After 6 months, you should keep breastfeeding your baby, but you should also begin to add complementary foods to your child's diet. Along with the addition of solid foods, you can continue to breastfeed an older child for a year, two years, or even longer.

Exclusive Breastfeeding and HIV

In the U.S. and other countries where safe infant formulas are available, breastfeeding with HIV is not recommended. However, in areas of the world where safe feeding alternatives are not available, exclusive breastfeeding may be recommended. Some studies show that exclusive breastfeeding along with the use of antiretroviral medications may lower the risk of passing HIV from mother to baby.

What Are The Advantages of Exclusive Breastfeeding?

The advantages of exclusive breastfeeding are numerous. Many of the health benefits - for both moms and children - begin at the first breastfeeding and continue long after a child is weaned. There are also psychological, emotional, environmental, and economic advantages of breastfeeding. Here are just some of the many advantages of exclusive breastfeeding:

  • Exclusive breastfeeding provides a variety of health and developmental benefits for infants.
  • It can help to prevent some of the common infant illnesses such as diarrhea and respiratory infection.
  • It lowers the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
  • Exclusive breastfeeding is also beneficial to the health and well-being of mothers.
  • It helps with postpartum healing and weight loss.
  • It can postpone the return of your period for many months, and it can be used as a natural form of birth control.
  • The release of the hormones oxytocin and prolactin during breastfeeding stimulate feelings of love, bonding, and relaxation. These hormones and feelings can also help to prevent postpartum depression.
  • Exclusive breastfeeding can save time and money.

For More On The Advantages Of Breastfeeding:


American Academy of Pediatrics. New Mother’s Guide To Breastfeeding. Bantam Books. New York. 2011.

Kramer, Michael S., and Ritsuko Kakuma. The Optimal Duration of Exclusive Breastfeeding. Protecting Infants through Human Milk. Springer US; 2004: 63-77.

Lawrence, Ruth A., MD, Lawrence, Robert M., MD. Breastfeeding A Guide For The Medical Profession Seventh Edition.  Mosby. 2011.

World Health Organization. Statement: Exclusive Breastfeeding For Six Months Best For Babies Everywhere. January 15, 2011.

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