Background Access to an improved water supply and practicing exclusive breastfeeding are essential for improving maternal and child health outcomes. However, few studies have been equipped to assess the interdependencies between access to improved water, practicing exclusive breastfeeding, and child health. The primary aim of our study was to assess whether access to an improved water supply and water-fetching were associated with mothers’ practice of exclusive breastfeeding. Methods We analyzed data on 247 090 mothers with children 5 months old or less using Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys from 19 African countries. Multivariable logistic regression was used to estimate the relationship between our exposures and exclusive breastfeeding practice, while meta-analytic methods were used to pool adjusted estimates across 19 countries. Results The prevalence of exclusive breastfeeding ranged from 22% in Nigeria to 70% in Malawi. Pooled results showed water-fetching was not associated with exclusive breastfeeding (adjusted prevalence odds ratios (aPOR) = 1.04, 95% confidence interval (CI) = 0.89, 1.21). Access to an improved water source was also not associated with exclusive breastfeeding (aPOR = 1.06, 95% CI = 0.94, 1.21). Across all countries many women were spending a significant amount of time water-fetching each day (mean time varied from 20 minutes in Ghana to 115 minutes in Mauritania). Exclusively breastfed children had 33% lower odds of diarrhea than those who were not exclusively breastfed (aPOR = 0.67, 95% CI = 0.56, 0.78). Conclusion Our study is the first to assess the relationship between access to improved water supply, water-fetching and exclusive breastfeeding. We found that access to water supply and time spent by mothers fetching water were not associated with exclusive breastfeeding practice, even though mothers spent significant time fetching water.