Health Risks of Not Breastfeeding

Posted On: October 1, 2019
Categories:The Health Series,


By Ross Pelton, RPh, PhD, CCN
Scientific Director, Essential Formulas

Did you know that breastfeeding and the healthy development of your baby’s immune system are irrefutably linked? Breastmilk is a primary contributor to the healthy establishment of your baby’s microbiome and thus plays a critical role in the development of their immune system.

The two most abundant components in breast milk are lactose and fats. The fat and lactose provide respectively, 50% and 40% of the total energy in breast milk.i The third most abundant substance in breast milk is a group of carbohydrate compounds called human milk oligosaccharide or HMOs. Infants cannot digest HMOs and therefore, HMOs provide no nutritional value to the infant.

For decades, scientists wondered why Nature evolved a “system” in which a significant component of breast milk (approximately 10%) is of no value to the infant. Now we’ve learned that these non-digestible carbohydrate compounds enter the infant’s large intestines and colon and are the preferred food for their intestinal bacteria.

Another reason why breastfeeding is essential lies in the fact that approximately 30 percent of the beneficial bacteria in a baby’s intestinal tract is derived directly from the mother’s milk.ii

Thus, there are two factors associated with breastfeeding that directly influence the development of the infant’s microbiome. In addition to bacteria contained in the mother’s milk, the non-digestible carbohydrates in breast milk are the primary food for the baby’s probiotic bacteria.

Infants who are not breastfed also have increased risks of developing life-threatening infections such as otitis media, gastroenteritis, and pneumonia, as well as elevated risks of childhood obesity, type 1 and type 2 diabetes, leukemia, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).iii

Deciding not to breastfeed can also negatively affect the mother’s health. Women who cannot or choose not to breastfeed have increased incidence of developing premenopausal breast cancer, ovarian cancer, retained weight gain following pregnancy, and type 2 diabetes.iv

A major function of an infant’s probiotic bacteria during the first six months of life is to “train” the infant’s immune system, which explains why breastfeeding is so essential for long-term health.v

Although most infants receive some breastmilk, most are not exclusively breastfeeding or continue to breastfeed as long as recommended. However, rates of breastfeeding among U.S. mothers are improving. According to government statistics, for infants born in 2014, approximately 83% received some breastfeeding, and 34% were breastfed for 12

Some placebo-controlled trials have documented that probiotics given to young children provide substantial health benefits. For example, in a six month study conducted during cold and flu season demonstrated that 3 to 5-year old children who received probiotics experienced the following benefits compared to the placebo-control children: 72% reduction in the incidence of fever, 62% less coughing, 58.8% less incidence of runny nose, 48% shorter duration of illnesses and 84.2% less use of antibiotics throughout the course of the study.vii

Studies like the one summarized above suggest that probiotics can boost the immune system of most children while increasing their resistance to cold and flu symptoms.

Studies demonstrate that probiotics are like health insurance for your child. At Essential Formulas, we feel that Dr. Ohhira’s Probiotics provide the best option for supporting kid’s health. Dr. Ohhira’s Probiotics deliver a balanced formula of probiotics, prebiotics and postbiotic metabolites. The recommended dose for adults is 2 capsules daily. When children are old enough to swallow the small Dr. Ohhira’s gel capsule, we recommend that they take one capsule of Dr. Ohhira’s Probiotics daily.

i Martin CR, et al. Review of Infant Feeding: Key Features of Breast Milk and Infant Formula. Nutrients. 2016 May; 8(5): 279.
ii Pannaraj PS, et al. Association Between Breast Milk Bacterial Communities and Establishment and Development of the Infant Gut Microbiome. JAMA Pediatr. July 1, 2017; 171(7):647-654.
iii Stuebe A. The Risks of Not Breastfeeding for Mothers and Infants. Rev Obstet Gynecol. 2009 Fall; 2(4):222-231.
iv Ibid.
v Jackson KM, et Breastfeeding, the Immune Response, and Long-term Health. The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, April 2006, Vol. 106, 203-207.
vi Key Facts About Breastfeeding. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. (2018). 2020 topics & objectives: Maternal, infant, and child health. Retrieved from
vii Leyer GL, et al., “Probiotic effects on cold and influenza-like symptom incidence and duration in children.” Pediatrics, 2009 Aug; 124(2).