Breastfeeding Rates in 2023 A Comprehensive Overview

Breastfeeding Rates in 2023: A Comprehensive Overview

Disclosure: I may get commissions when you click through the affiliate links (that are great products I stand by) on my articles. You can read the full disclosure for more information. Content is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice.

Breastfeeding, a natural and beneficial practice, has seen a significant increase in prevalence over the past decade. In this article, we explore the latest statistical data about breastfeeding rates in 2023 worldwide.

In 2023, the global prevalence of exclusive breastfeeding rose by 10 percentage points to 48%[1][9][12]. This uptick is not just a number—it’s a story of health, policy, and cultural shifts that are making a tangible difference in the lives of mothers and babies around the globe. This improvement is a testament to the concerted efforts of various countries and organizations to promote and support breastfeeding practices. However, the rates of breastfeeding vary widely across different countries, reflecting the diverse cultural, economic, and health landscapes worldwide.

The impact of COVID-19 on breastfeeding rates in 2023

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on breastfeeding rates. An international cross-sectional study found that a mother’s COVID-19 diagnosis and changes in healthcare and birth/postnatal plans did not influence breastfeeding rates[4]. However, other research suggests that staffing changes and pandemic measures may have interfered with breastfeeding in hospital newborn nurseries[6].

Breastfeeding rates in the United States

In the United States, approximately 84% of all babies are breastfed at birth[8]. However, this rate drops significantly by the time the babies reach 6 months of age. In 2023, the rates of exclusive breastfeeding at 6 months varied across different states, ranging from 33% in Hawaii and Oregon to 42% in Alaska[1][5].

A woman breastfeeding her baby in the USA

Factors contributing to high breastfeeding rates in certain countries

Breastfeeding rates vary significantly across different countries, and several factors contribute to the high prevalence of breastfeeding in certain nations. Understanding these factors is crucial for developing effective policies and programs to support and promote breastfeeding practices.

Cultural and societal norms

Cultural acceptance: In countries where breastfeeding is deeply embedded in the culture and is widely accepted the practice is more prevalent. For example, Croatia leads the world in breastfeeding rates, with an impressive 98% of all newborns being breastfed from birth[8][15]. Other countries with high breastfeeding rates include Rwanda, Chile, and Burundi, all boasting rates greater than 80%[8]. South Asia also stands out with a high prevalence of exclusive breastfeeding, with 60% of infants being exclusively breastfed[2]. These statistics reflect the success of policies and programs aimed at encouraging breastfeeding in these nations. On the other end of the spectrum, Ireland has the lowest rate of breastfeeding at 55%[8].

Family support: Strong familial and community support for breastfeeding can significantly influence a mother’s decision to breastfeed. In many high-achieving countries, families and communities actively encourage and support breastfeeding, contributing to higher breastfeeding rates.

nurturing intimacy during parenthood

Policy and program implementation

The Global Breastfeeding Scorecard of 2023 highlights that twenty-two countries across Africa, Asia, Europe, and Oceania have documented increases in exclusive breastfeeding of more than 10 percentage points since 2017[2][12]. This progress is closely linked to the implementation of policies and programs that protect, promote, and support breastfeeding, such as the Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes.

Baby-friendly hospitals: The implementation of baby-friendly hospital initiatives, as recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO), has been associated with increased breastfeeding rates in several countries. These initiatives ensure that maternity facilities provide the necessary support for successful breastfeeding[14]. The presence of baby-friendly facilities, which are critical for supporting breastfeeding immediately after birth, is still below the desired levels. Only 14% of countries report a majority of births occurring in such facilities, which is well below the target of at least 40% by 2030[17]. This indicates that there’s still much work to be done to ensure that mothers have the knowledge and skills to continue breastfeeding after leaving the birthing facility.

Workplace support: Countries that have implemented supportive policies for working mothers, such as paid maternity leave and breastfeeding-friendly workplaces, have seen higher breastfeeding rates[9]. The lack of adequate lactation rooms and break times for breastfeeding or pumping could underscore the need for more comprehensive workplace policies.

To further support breastfeeding as a key driver of global health and development, it is essential to ensure a supportive breastfeeding environment for all working mothers, including those in the formal and informal sectors. This includes providing sufficient paid leave to all working parents and caregivers to meet the needs of their children, with a particular emphasis on paid maternity leave for a minimum of 18 weeks, preferably for six months or more after birth. By increasing investments in breastfeeding support policies and programs, governments, donors, civil society, and the private sector can collectively contribute to the realization of broader global health and development objectives[9].

a woman using a lactation room at work

Health education and awareness

Healthcare provider training: Well-trained healthcare providers who can offer guidance and support to mothers have been linked to higher breastfeeding rates. Access to lactation consultants and skilled support during the postnatal period can significantly impact a mother’s decision to initiate and continue breastfeeding.

Public health campaigns: Effective public health campaigns that promote the numerous benefits of breastfeeding and provide accurate information about infant feeding have been instrumental in increasing breastfeeding rates in various countries. In addition, breastfeeding mothers should be educated about how to stay healthy and properly nourished when lactating

Technology and digital health initiatives in promoting breastfeeding

The role of technology and digital health initiatives in promoting breastfeeding has become increasingly significant, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, in providing support and information to breastfeeding mothers. Digital health solutions enable remote monitoring of breastfeeding progress and provide real-time support, allowing mothers to track feeding patterns and access personalized support regardless of their geographical location[24].

Additionally, internet-based e-technologies, such as web-based technologies, mobile apps, and computer kiosks, have been recognized as revolutionary advances for providing breastfeeding education and support, with the potential to reach a broad audience and improve operational efficiency[25].

Telelactation services, which connect lactation consultants with breastfeeding parents through video visits, have also emerged as a valuable telehealth offering, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, and have been found to reduce disparities in breastfeeding rates and increase access to support for breastfeeding mothers[26].

Overcoming barriers

Overcoming the societal stigma associated with breastfeeding in public and providing privacy for nursing mothers can positively impact breastfeeding rates. Countries that have taken steps to address these issues have seen improvements in their breastfeeding statistics[16].

How do breastfeeding rates worldwide in 2023 compare to previous years?

Over the last ten years, the journey of breastfeeding rates has been one of steady ascent. Countries from various corners of the world, including Cote d’Ivoire, the Marshall Islands, the Philippines, Somalia, and Vietnam, have shown us that significant increases in breastfeeding rates are achievable with the right mix of protection, promotion, and support[9].

Regional variations and challenges

Despite the overall global increase, the story is not uniform across all regions. Some areas still face considerable challenges. For instance, in the Western Pacific Region, only 39% of infants under 6 months are exclusively breastfed, with only four countries—Philippines, Samoa, Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu—on track to meet the global nutrition target for increasing the rate of exclusive breastfeeding[13][17]. North America, in particular, has been reported to have the world’s lowest exclusive breastfeeding rate, signaling a need for more robust support and policy interventions[11][18].

How breastfeeding rates vary by age group

Breastfeeding rates exhibit variations across different age groups, shedding light on the diverse factors that influence infant feeding practices.

  • Infants 0–6 months old: About 44% of infants 0–6 months old are exclusively breastfed globally[20]. This age group represents a critical period for exclusive breastfeeding, as recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF.
  • Impact of maternal age: Research indicates that increasing maternal age is associated with a reduced likelihood of exclusive breastfeeding for six months[19]. This finding underscores the influence of maternal age on breastfeeding practices and the need for tailored support for mothers across different age brackets.
  • Adolescents and young mothers: Adolescent mothers may face unique challenges in sustaining breastfeeding due to various social, economic, and educational factors. Tailored programs and support are essential to address the specific needs of this demographic.
  • Mothers aged 20–29 years: Interestingly, younger mothers aged 20 to 29 years are less likely to ever breastfeed (78.6%) than mothers aged 30 years or older (85.7%)[7][16]. This age group represents a critical target for interventions aimed at promoting and supporting breastfeeding initiation and duration.
  • Mothers aged 30 years or older: Conversely, mothers aged 30 years or older exhibit higher rates of breastfeeding initiation and continuation, highlighting the potential impact of maternal age on breastfeeding practices.

Understanding the interplay between maternal age and breastfeeding rates is crucial for developing targeted interventions and support systems that address the unique challenges faced by mothers in different age groups.

A woman breastfeeding her baby in india

Economic, environmental, and Global Health Goals and breastfeeding

Breastfeeding rates and support play a pivotal role in advancing broader global health goals, particularly the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Progress in breastfeeding rates is a testament to the health, social, and economic benefits of breastfeeding for both mother and child, which are widely recognized and accepted worldwide[21].

Breastfeeding’s contribution to nutrition, food security, and the reduction of inequalities directly aligns with several SDGs. The World Health Organization (WHO) has identified breastfeeding as a central pillar of food security, emphasizing its significance in achieving breastfeeding targets for early exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months and continued breastfeeding for 2 years and beyond[22].

Additionally, breastfeeding benefits the health of mothers and children and also reduces the need for formula, which has environmental and economic implications. This underscores the multifaceted impact of breastfeeding on global health and well-being, making it a critical component of efforts to achieve the SDGs.

The Environmental and Economic Benefits of Breastfeeding

Further research

Areas where more research is needed to better understand breastfeeding patterns, and the effectiveness of policies, and interventions include long-term health outcomes for both mothers and children, the impact of social media on breastfeeding attitudes, and comparative analyses of policy frameworks across countries. For instance, a study in 2022 emphasized the importance of regularly monitoring breastfeeding patterns and trends, as well as understanding influencing factors using a multivariate approach[16].

Historical-qualitative analysis of breastfeeding trends in different countries, such as Sweden, Ireland, and the United States, can provide insights into the factors that led to the differential distribution of breastfeeding rates and the impact of labor market policy and sociocultural factors on these rates[15].

Furthermore, future research could focus on global trends in exclusive breastfeeding and the prevalence of exclusive breastfeeding among infants younger than six months in developing countries. This would help in updating and understanding the global and regional trends in the prevalence of exclusive breastfeeding, as well as identifying areas that require additional attention and support[23].

Additionally, it is important to explore the layering of influences that can challenge breastfeeding practices, as highlighted in the 2023 Lancet Breastfeeding Series, and to further understand the impact of social media on breastfeeding attitudes and behaviors[22].

Looking forward

Despite the progress, there is still a significant journey ahead to reach the global 2030 target of 70% for breastfeeding rates. The World Health Organization (WHO) has set a target to increase the rate of exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months to at least 50% by 2025, emphasizing the need for supportive workplaces and sufficient paid leave for working parents and caregivers[1][9][10]. The World Health Organization (WHO) has set these targets as part of its commitment to improving public health.


The rise in global breastfeeding rates to 48% in 2023 marks significant progress, yet underscores the vast disparities that remain. The journey toward the 2030 target of 70% requires a multifaceted approach, combining enhanced workplace support, targeted educational programs, and robust policy reforms. As the COVID-19 pandemic has shown, resilience and adaptability are key to maintaining breastfeeding practices in the face of challenges. 

Moving forward, it is imperative to address the cultural, economic, and societal barriers that impede breastfeeding, ensuring every mother is empowered and every infant benefits. By doing so, we not only advance toward our global targets but also support the broader goals of health, sustainability, and equality.

Breastfeeding rates FAQs

1. What is the current breastfeeding rate in the US? 

The current breastfeeding rate in the US is 84.1% for initiation, meeting the Healthy People 2020 target of 81.9%[27].

2. What is the global breastfeeding scorecard 2023?

The Global Breastfeeding Scorecard 2023 shows that the prevalence of exclusive breastfeeding has risen by 10 percentage points to 48% globally over the past decade[27].

3. Why are breastfeeding rates so low?

Breastfeeding rates are influenced by various factors, including social, economic, and healthcare-related elements. Socioeconomic factors such as maternal and paternal education levels, employment, and access to supportive policies and programs have been shown to influence breastfeeding rates[17][28].

4. Is breastfeeding becoming more popular? 

Breastfeeding has shown an increasing trend in recent years, with a growing recognition of its health, social, and economic benefits for both mothers and children. However, disparities in breastfeeding rates persist, highlighting the need for continued efforts to address the underlying factors that contribute to suboptimal breastfeeding outcomes in certain populations and regions[29].































Similar Posts