Breastfeeding: The Best Nutrition in the First Months of Life

Breastfeeding offers health benefits to both child and mother. Breastmilk provides ideal nutrition in terms of digestibility and the nutrients it contains. Moreover, it also contains substances that are effective against bacteria, help reduce inflammation and strengthen the infant’s immune system.

Breastfeeding also offers long-term benefits: Breastfed children are, for instance, less likely to suffer from overweight and type II diabetes at a later stage of life. Likewise, mothers have a reduced long-term risk of developing certain types of cancer and type II diabetes. Breastfeeding is therefore beneficial for both the mother and the child.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends exclusively breastfeeding infants throughout the first six months of their lives. The German National Breastfeeding Committee takes the view that infants receive sufficient nutrition in the first six months from breastfeeding alone in the majority of cases.

Weaning Food

The National Breastfeeding Committee recommends, however, considering that there may be exceptions. Whether to give an infant additional weaning food depends on how the individual infant is progressing and on his / her ability to eat the food. However, one principle always applies:

  • Weaning food should be introduced no earlier than the beginning of the fifth month and no later than the beginning of the seventh month.
  • Mothers should continue to breastfeed their infant regardless of whether the child receives weaning food. Hence, introducing weaning food does not mean that the child should be weaned from breastmilk.

This recommendation is based on the myriad of health benefits for mothers and children, for example certain aspects of allergy prevention.

Current German Recommendation on Breastfeeding

  • Infants should be breastfed for the first six months of their lives
  • Infants should be exclusively breastfed at least until they are five months old– i.e. for at least four complete months
  • Weaning food should be introduced while continuing to breastfeed the infantat the age of seven months at the latest

© National Breastfeeding Committee (2015) + Network "A healthy start to life” (2016)


The National Breastfeeding Committee does not explicitly recommend when the infant should be weaned, as no scientifically-based findings on this matter are available in Germany.

According to the Committee, a mother and her child should decide together when the mother should stop breastfeeding the child. It is up to the mother and child to decide how long the overall breastfeeding period is.

The National Breastfeeding Committee

The National Breastfeeding Committee was set up in 1994 and was based at the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment from 2002 to 2019. Since 1 April 2019, the Committee has been based at the Max Rubner Institute (MRI).

Advice and Support for Breast-feeding Mothers

English Resources:Promoting a healthy lifestyle for pregnant women and young families

read more

Besides the health benefits, breastfeeding is also first and foremost practical for mothers and children. But it does take practice. In Germany, there are a number of associations and organisations offering support to breast-feeding mothers. A package of information material for young families and mothers is available from the "Healthy start - Young familiy network/Netzwerk gesund ins Leben". It is an institution within the portfolio of the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture which focuses on the first 1,000 days in a person's life.

Breast Milk Substitutes

Where there are distinctive reasons why a mother cannot breastfeed her child, industrially produced breast milk substitutes are available as an alternative.

  • Infant formula is marked with the prefix “pre” or the figure 1 in Germany and serves as appropriate exclusive nutrition for infants in the first months of their life.
  • Follow-on formula is marked with the figures 2 or 3 in Germany and should only be given to the child after the first six months of life and in step with the introduction of weaning food. Follow-up food contains slightly more iron. However, you may also continue feed your child infant formula once weaning food has been introduced.
  • You will find further information on how to prepare infant formula here:

Infant and follow-on formulae may only be placed onto the market if they comply with the provisions of Delegated Regulation (EU) 2016/127. If the protein content of the infant formula or follow-on formula is based on hydrolysed protein, the provisions of the Dietetic Foods Ordinance (Diätverordnung) still continue to apply.

In 1981, the WHO Assembly adopted the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes, which gives recommendations on the regulation of marketing of breast milk substitutes, filter flasks and teats. The intention is to prevent mothers from being discouraged from breastfeeding due to intensified marketing of such products. In addition to that, it is to be ensured that the product labelling contributes to their correct usage.

In Germany, the International Code was transposed into German law in 1994 through the implementation of EU legislation. The provisions are covered in section 22a and section 25a of the Dietetic Foods Ordinance. The higher Land authorities are responsible for monitoring compliance with these and all other provisions governing infant formula and follow-on formula.

Information for Pregnant and Breast-feeding Women

Helpful Leaflets

The National Breastfeeding Committee publishes brochures with information and recommendations for pregnant and breastfeeding women. The brochures on “Information on Breastfeeding for Expectant Mothers” (for inclusion in the maternity passport) and “Recommendations on breastfeeding in infancy” (for inclusion in the child’s medical check-up booklet) are available in German, Turkish, Russian, English, French and Italian. As the National Breastfeeding Committee has only just moved from the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment to the Max Rubner Institute (MRI), not all information is currently available on the MRI website yet.

Released as article