As mothers know by now, breast milk is the best food for a baby. Nature has very wisely made sure that breast milk contains all the nutrients and antibodies that are necessary to help your baby grow strong and well and protect her from illnesses.
Colostrum-the “liquid gold” found in breast milk in the first few days after birth contains loads of nutrients that specifically boost immunity and target muscle and bone development. The fats in breast milk are easily emulsified and help prevent build up of fat in the arteries leading to arterial diseases in the future.
A breast feeding mother can provide her baby with an infinite variety of nutrients just by incorporating into her diet a varied source of nutrients. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “Breastmilk reduces child mortality rate and has lasting effects leading to several health benefits, even in adulthood.” This cannot be achieved with formula milk. Even after your baby is introduced to solids, breast feeding, if possible, should be continued at least for 18 months because it provides antibodies to protect your baby from air and water borne illnesses and reduces risks of infections. Breast feeding also has psychological benefits for both mother and baby.
To date most breastfeeding benefits have been attributed to the content of mother’s milk. But breast feeding is of even more vital to the development of the mouth, teeth, jaw and palate of an infant.
If you have watched a baby suckling at the breast, you will notice that the baby’s lips and cheeks and tongue are moving constantly. This is because while suckling at her mother’s breast, the infant squeezes out milk through constant suctioning movements of jaw, lips and tongue. These jaw and tongue movements help in the development of strong jaws and oral muscles.
On the other hand while sucking at a bottle the baby pushes with its tongue against the nipple of the bottle to squeeze out the milk. Not much oral movement or jaw strength is required since the flow from the bottle is easy and continuous. A baby’s jaws and palate are soft and will harden as she grows.
Bottle sucking can also affect the growth of the infant palate. The palate is the upper surface of the mouth and is very soft in a baby, hardening as baby grows. If the infant’s tongue is resting at the bottom of the mouth instead of against the palate it can cause baby to develop a high narrow palate which in turn leads to sinus problems, sleep apnea and allergies later on in life. Breast feeding is the easiest and most natural way to help maintain the wide shape of the palate because the breast is drawn into the baby’s mouth fully while feeding.
Breast feeding helps jaws to maintain their proper shape. This in turn will prevent teeth misalignment, teeth crowding and teeth overbites and underbites. Several recent studies, one in Pediatrics in 2015 and one in the August 2017 issue of the Journal of the American Dental Association, reported that babies who were exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months were less likely to have teeth alignment issues such as open bites, crossbites, and overbites, than those exclusively breastfed for shorter lengths of time or not at all.
Apart from helping the proper growth of jaw, mouth and palate, breast milk enhances dental health by helping prevent dental caries. Breast milk contains lactose which inhibits the formation of oral bacteria that can cause demineralization of teeth. Breast milk also contains antibodies and proteins that protect against harmful bacteria.
The American Dental Association notes that “… benefit of exclusive breastfeeding is a reduced risk of baby bottle tooth decay...” Bottle feeding can cause extensive destruction of milk teeth in children as a result of sleeping with the bottle in the mouth which promotes the growth of harmful bacteria in the mouth. This leads to childhood caries which untreated can cause pain, swelling and loss of teeth. Choose to breastfeed and give your baby a good start in life!