The present paper reviews the research of the authors and their colleagues over the past 20 years to provide improved nutritional and anthropometric guidelines for the assessment of lactational adequacy and for when the weaning process might be initiated. The nutritional guidelines are based on revised dietary energy requirements. The basic assumption is that since breast milk is a well-balanced food, if energy needs are satisfied so will those for essential nutrients. Energy requirements for young babies have been derived from the application of the doubly-labelled-water technique. This approach indicated that 460 kJ (110 kcal)/kg per d at 1 month and 397 and 355 kJ (95 and 85 kcal)/kg per d at 3 and 6 months respectively would be satisfactory for a nutrient content of high bioavailability. Translated into a breast-milk intake of 850 ml/d the latter would cover the dietary energy needs of the average child growing along the 50th centile until at least 4 months, but the typical child from many developing countries following the 25th centile until 6 months. The importance of revised growth reference values for infancy, equally crucial for assessing lactational adequacy, is also reviewed. In contrast with the shapes of earlier reference patterns, growth trajectories are different when babies are fed in accordance with modern paediatric advice. Mothers and health professionals using the older growth charts to assess the progress of a baby can be misled into assuming that the weaning process needs to be introduced sooner than necessary. Examples of this situation within the context of a developing country are provided.