The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Infant Feeding Guidelines (2012) provide evidence-based information on healthy feeding from birth to around 2 years of age. This includes advice on breastfeeding, preparing infant formula and introducing solid foods. Common health related concerns and how to overcome feeding difficulties are also included.

NHMRC encourages, supports and promotes exclusive breastfeeding until around 6 months and to continue breastfeeding with appropriate complementary foods until 12 months of age and beyond, for as long as the mother and child desire.

Where this is not possible, infant formula is the safest alternative for infants under 12 months. From around 6 months, infants should be offered a range of foods of an appropriate texture and consistency for their developmental stage.

Breast milk or infant formula should be continued while introducing complementary foods. Other drinks, except cooled boiled tap water, should be avoided until the infant is 12 months old. Pasteurised full cream cow’s milk may be introduced to toddlers’ diets around 12 months of age, noting special milks for toddlers are not required for healthy children.

The guidelines are relevant to healthy, term infants of normal birth weight (more than 2500 g).

The World Health Organization (WHO) released updated guidelines for infant feeding in 2023. The WHO review of the evidence found an increased risk of iron deficiency anaemia for infants aged (6–11 months) when fed animal milks and no difference in growth. WHO stated that both infant formula and boiled animal milks are acceptable in infants aged 6–11 months. WHO noted there may be some benefit for infants 6-11 months consuming infant formula rather than animal milk depending on the specific context. WHO recommendation around animal milk was classified as based on conditional, low certainty evidence.

WHO guidance covers high, medium and low-income countries. Each country needs to consider the guidance and determine what is appropriate for their specific context. NHMRC looked at the evidence on which the WHO based its guidance and considered that in a high-income country like Australia, the current NHMRC guidance is still appropriate.

The NHMRC Infant Feeding Guidelines (2012) do not recommend animal milks (including cow’s milk) are fed to infants less than 12 months as the main drink. This is based on the potential harm to infants from an increased risk of iron deficiency anaemia from consuming animal milk under 12 months of age. NHMRC continues to monitor new and emerging evidence around infant feeding and will update the guidelines if necessary. 

Date published: 16 April 2024