A critical element for children’s healthy growth and development is the nutrition they receive, especially during the early years of life.  Nutrition is a key component of nurturing care, and the Nurturing Care Framework recognizes the importance of nutrition interventions and services for supporting young children’s optimal development. 

In the earliest years, appropriate infant and young child feeding is particularly important and involves early initiation of breastfeeding, exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months, and continued breastfeeding for two years or beyond with the addition of adequate complementary foods from six months onwards.  Evidence shows that when these recommendations are adhered to, there are multiple benefits for the infant and young child, the mother and the family. Optimal nutrition lowers infant and child morbidity and mortality, fosters neurodevelopment, reduces the risk of chronic diseases along the life course, and has economic benefits for families and societies.  However, many children are at risk of malnutrition.  Undernutrition results in wasting or stunting while inappropriate foods can lead to overweight and obesity.  Most countries are experience the dual burden of malnutrition.  Children need to eat healthy foods so they are not overweight or underweight, both of which can affect their physical growth and brain development. Ensuring that adolescents, particularly girls, and women before and during pregnancy enjoy adequate nutrition is also essential for early childhood development.  WHO recommends that all caregivers need to be supported to breastfeed optimally; it also recommends that support for responsive caregiving and early learning should be included as part of interventions for optimal nutrition of infants and young children.

This thematic page provides resources specifically for those interested in learning more about nutrition interventions and how to implement them.

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Key Facts about Nutrition

  • Every infant and child has the right to good nutrition according to the “Convention on the Rights of the Child”.
  • Undernutrition is associated with 45% of child deaths (approximately 2.7 million children annually).
  • Globally in 2019, 144 million children under 5 were estimated to be stunted (too short for age), 47 million were estimated to be wasted (too thin for height), and 38.3 million were overweight or obese.
  • About 44% of infants 0–6 months old are exclusively breastfed.
  • Few children receive nutritionally adequate and safe complementary foods; in many countries less than a fourth of infants 6–23 months of age meet the criteria of dietary diversity and feeding frequency that are appropriate for their age.
  • Over 820,000 children’s lives could be saved every year among children under 5 years, if all children 0–23 months were optimally breastfed. Breastfeeding improves IQ, school attendance, and is associated with higher income in adult life. (1)
  • Improving child development and reducing health costs through breastfeeding results in economic gains for individual families as well as at the national level.


Key Features of nutrition-relevant interventions that promote Early Childhood Development


  • Early initiation of breastfeeding within 1 hour of birth.
  • Breastfeeding or breast-milk feeding of sick and small newborns
  • Exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months.
  • Continued breastfeeding and complementary feeding for 2 years and beyond.


  • Breastfeeding counselling for mothers, at least 6 times or more as needed, starting during antenatal care and continuing through 24 months or longer.
  • Infant and Young Child Feeding Counselling (IYCF)
  • Micronutrient supplementation when needed
  • Integrated Management of Acute Malnutrition (IMAM)
  • Community Management of Acute Malnutrition (CMAM)
  • Counselling and support for maternal nutrition and for adolescent girls


General Websites


Briefs and Reports

Nurturing Care Handbook

Nurturing Care Practice Guide

Nutrition at Save the Children 2022,  

WHO (2017), Report of the Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity: implementation plan: executive summary

WHO (2014), Comprehensive implementation plan on maternal, infant and young child nutrition,

UNICEF, Global Nutrition Cluster, Global Technical Assistance Mechanism for Nutrition (2020), Infant and Young Child Feeding in the Context of COVID-19,


Program Guidance

WHO (2019), Essential nutrition actions: mainstreaming nutrition through the life-course

WHO (2018), Guideline: counselling of women to improve breastfeeding practices,

WHO (2021) Improving early childhood development

UNICEF (2010), The Community Infant and Young Child Feeding Counselling Package,

UNICEF, Community based infant and young child feeding,

USAID and UNICEF, Infant and Young Child Feeding Recommendations When Covid-19 is Suspected or Confirmed



Breastfeeding in the 21st century: epidemiology, mechanisms, and lifelong effect.
Victora, Cesar G et al. The Lancet , Volume 387 , Issue 10017 , 475 – 490.

Why invest, and what it will take to improve breastfeeding practices?
Rollins, Nigel C et al. The Lancet , Volume 387 , Issue 10017 , 491 – 504

Rabbani A, Padhani ZA, A Siddiqui F, et al. Systematic review of infant and young child feeding practices in conflict areas: what the evidence advocates. BMJ Open 2020;10:e036757. doi:10.1136/ bmjopen-2020-036757

Lucas, J. Richter, M. and Daelmans, B. (2017), “ Care for Child Development: an intervention in support of responsive caregiving and early child development, Child: Care, Health and Development Published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

Black, M., Trude, A. and Lutter, C. (2020), “All Children Thrive: Integration of Nutrition and Early Childhood Development”, Annual Review of Nutrition, Vol. 40:375-406.

Black, M., Aboud, F. (2011), “Responsive Feeding Is Embedded in a Theoretical Framework of Responsive Parenting”, The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 141, Issue 3, March 2011, Pages 490–494,



USAID Multi-Sectoral Nutrition Resource Review September 2023

USAID Multi-Sectoral Nutrition Resource Review September 2022

The Importance of Nutrition in Early Childhood Development (2016),


Recording of Past Events

USAID Advancing Nutrition webinar,

The Nurturing care framework for early childhood development: A framework for helping children SURVIVE and THRIVE to TRANS- FORM health and human potential builds upon state-of-the art evidence of how child development unfolds and of the effective policies and interventions that can improve early childhood de- velopment.