WHO Recommendation

The health benefits of breastfeeding are well established for children and mothers. The World Health Organization states that breastfeeding reduces infant mortality and has health benefits that are felt well into adulthood.

Exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life is now recommended for the entire population. Breastfeeding, combined with adequate complementary feeding is encouraged up to the age of two or more.

To enable mothers to initiate and maintain exclusive breastfeeding for six months, WHO and UNICEF recommend:  

  • Breastfeeding initiation within the first hour after birth;
  • Exclusive breastfeeding - that is, the infant receives only breast milk and no other food or drink, not even water;
  • Breastfeeding on demand - that is, as often as the child wants, day and night;
  • Avoiding bottles, nipples or pacifiers during the first few weeks of life.

The benefits

For the child  

Breast milk is the first food given to infants. It provides all the calories and nutrients a child needs for the first six months of life.  It continues to provide half or more of the nutritional requirements until the age of one. It can then meet one-third of the child's needs during the second year.

Breastfeeding promotes sensory and cognitive development and protects infants from infectious and chronic diseases. Exclusive breastfeeding reduces infant mortality from common childhood illnesses, such as diarrhea or pneumonia, and speeds up recovery from illness. Beyond its immediate benefits, breastfeeding helps to maintain a good health throughout life. There is even evidence that breastfed babies score higher on intelligence tests.

For the mother  

Breastfeeding contributes to the health and well-being of mothers in many ways. Among other things, it helps space out births and reduces the risk of certain cancers. In addition, because it is free, it increases the resources of the family and the nation. It is a safe and environmentally friendly way to feed a child!

Although breastfeeding is a natural act, it is also a learned behavior. Mothers need to be actively supported to initiate and maintain proper breastfeeding practices. The support of those around them is as important as the support of health professionals. There is also evidence that the duration of breastfeeding will be greatly influenced by society's perception of the breastfeeding mother.

The Code of Marketing

The International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes was adopted in 1981 to protect the health of infants.

Its purpose

To encourage and protect breastfeeding by restricting aggressive marketing practices used to sell products destined for artificial feeding.

The code was drafted and adapted for several reasons:

  • To create a supportive environment where breastfeeding becomes the norm again.
  • To shift the focus of health care workers to other aspects of child health improvement.
  • To eliminate unfair competition from multinational commercial infant formula companies.
  • To return commercial infant formula to its original purpose as a food of last resort.

Items covered by the Code

Breast milk substitutes which include infant formula, follow-on milk, growing-up milk, fruit juice and herbal tea;

  • Baby bottles;
  • Nipples;
  • Also applies to the quality and availability of these products and information regarding their use.

Summary of the Code*

1. No promotion of breast milk substitutes (including commercial infant formula), pacifiers or bottles to the general public.

2. No free samples are distributed to pregnant women or parents.

3. No promotion of these products within the health care system (no free samples or supplies).

4. No staff paid by the manufacturers should counsel parents.

5. No gifts or personal samples are given to health care professionals.

6. No promotion of commercial baby foods, such as jarred foods, cereals, juices or bottled water is done so as not to interfere with exclusive breastfeeding.

7. Each package or label clearly states the benefits of breastfeeding and warns of the risks and costs of artificial feeding.

8. Information provided to health care professionals must be scientific and factual.

9. All products are of good quality, have a best-before date, and do not have images or text that idealize artificial feeding (e.g., no terms such as "humanized" or "maternal" are used).

10. To avoid conflicts of interest, health care professionals who work with infants and young children do not receive financial support from baby food companies (e.g., vacations, conference invitations, etc.).

*Adapted from MSSS (2001)12 and WHO, UNICEF (2009)43


ORGANISATION MONDIALE DE LA SANTÉ. « Santé de la mère, du nouveau-né, de l’enfant et de l’adolescent », dans ORGANISATION MONDIALE DE LA SANTÉ, Allaitement maternel, [En ligne](page consultée le 10 janvier 2012).


ALLAIN, Annelies et Andy CHETLEY. Protégeons la santé de nos enfants [Protecting the health of our children], Genève, IBFAN-GIFA, 2005, 74 pages.

LA LECHE LEAGUE. Le Code International sur la commercialisation des substituts du lait maternel : les points clés [The International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes: key points], [Online] (consulted on January 10, 2013).

DIONNE Suzanne et Sylvie JETTÉ. L’allaitement maternel au Québec Lignes directrices, Québec [Guidelines on breastfeeding in Quebec], La Direction des communications du ministère de la Santé et des Services sociaux, 2001, p. 27.

ORDRE PROFESSIONNEL DES DIÉTÉTISTES DU QUÉBEC. Position de l’Ordre professionnel des diététistes du Québec pour la création d’un environnement favorable à l’allaitement maternel [Position of the Ordre professionnel des diététistes du Québec for the creation of a breastfeeding-friendly environment], Bibliothèque nationale du Québec, septembre 2012, 12 pages.