What are the risks of NOT breastfeeding to the infant?

The biological norm for infant feeding is breastfeeding. Any substitution can result in significant adverse consequences for both mother and the baby. Human milk is the preferred form of nutrition for most infants. According to a study by Spatz and Lessen (2011), Immune cells, immunoglobulins, long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids,  cytokines, nucleotides, hormones, and bioactive peptides – all elements of human milk – play a vital role in aiding the immune system of the newborn.

So what are the risks of not breastfeeding? The following are the health risks for Infants:

  1. Infection – Not breastfeeding significantly increases an infant’s risk of illness from infectious diseases. According to Talayero, Garcia, et al (2006), for every additional month of full breastfeeding, 30.1% of hospitalizations resulting from infection could have been prevented. An estimated 53% of diarrhea hospitalizations and 27% of lower respiratory tract infections could have been prevented monthly by exclusive breastfeeding and 31% and 27% respectively by partial breastfeeding.
  2. Sudden Infant Death Syndrome – Not breastfeeding increases the chance of an infant dying from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). In a 2009 German study, exclusive breastfeeding at one month of age halved the risk of SIDS, and partial breastfeeding at one month of age also reduced the risk. Being exclusively breastfed in the last month of life further reduced the risk of SIDS, as did being partially breastfed.
  3. Mortality – Not breastfeeding significantly increases a child’s risk of dying in infancy. According to a study by Chen (2004), in both developed and developing countries, breastfeeding and human milk protects against post-neonatal death.
  4. Weight – Not breastfeeding increases a child’s risk of being both overweight and obese. In a research by McNeil and Abraham (2010), the estimated percentage of 6-11 year old U.S. children considered to be obese has more than quadrupled to 19% since 1960.
  5. Cognitive and Weight Development – In the study of Isaacs, Chong, et. al (2009) breastfeeding is associated with poorer scores on developmental and cognitive screening tools. The percent of expressed human milk that infants receive correlates significantly with all intelligent quotient scores and with IQ scores for boys. In the same study, the percent of expressed human milk correlated with increasing total brain volume and white matter volume.


  • Diane Spatz, PhD, RN-BC, FAAN, and Rachelle Lessen, MS, RD, IBCLC (2011); Risks of Not Breastfeeding.
  • Talayero J, Lizan-Garcia M, Puime A, Muncharaz M, Soto B, Sanchez-Palomares M, Serrano L, Rivera L. Full breastfeeding and hospitalization as a result of infections in the first year of life. Pediatrics. 2006; 118(1):e92-e99.
  • Vennemann MM, Bajanowski T, Brinkmann B, Jorch G, Yucesan K, Sauerland C, Mitchell EA. Does breastfeeding reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome? Pediatrics. 2009; 123(3):e406-e410
  • Chen A, Rogan WJ. Breastfeeding and the risk of postneonatal death in the United States. Pediatrics. 2004; 113(5):e435-e439.
  • McNiel ME, Labbok MH, Abrahams S. What are the risks associated with formula feeding? A re-analysis and review. Birth. 2010; 37(1):50-58.
  • Isaacs EB, Fischl BR, Quinn WK, Chong WK, Lucas A. Impact of breast milk on IQ, brain size and white matter development. Pediatr Res. 2009.