Surprising Ways Breastfeeding is Great for Your Baby's Oral Heath!
Breastfed babies do funny things. Ever see a baby latch onto their favorite toy, their brother’s nose or—gasp—a mannequin at the store? Babies are born with the innate ability to seek out and grab hold of their mother’s milk. Place a newborn baby on Mom’s tummy, and he will inchworm his way up to the breast for his first drink. Amazing, right? Breastfeeding is far more than nutrition too. Comfort, a rest from play, and did you know…it also helps baby’s tiny jaw develop properly? We know breastfeeding isn’t for everyone, and that’s okay! But if you go that route, and want to learn more about some cool little-known benefits to breastfeeding, read on!
Feeding at the breast helps baby’s teeth come in at the right angle. Along with it, it promotes proper jaw development. That’s right – breastfeeding now can save you some orthodontic bills down the line! A recent study found that babies who were exclusively breastfed for their first six months of life were 72% less likely to have crooked teeth. They add, however, that this isn’t the only thing that can affect teeth, so watch out for other things like pacifier use or genetics (not much you can do there).
Breastfeeding can affect speech development. When you bring your newborn home from the hospital, and find that the baby has a hard time latching, your little one may have a tongue or lip tie. Your pediatrician or dentist can confirm this, and then release the tie with a simple procedure. Sometimes, tongue or lip ties that remain intact can negatively affect speech development (or even eating) later on. So…finding the tie now is best in the long run!
You don’t need to stop breastfeeding when your child’s teeth erupt. We know everyone’s experience is different here. And trust us when we say, we know it hurts! BUT, if you calmly say “no,” when a bite occurs, and break the latch by inserting a finger into baby’s mouth, they will soon learn that they get to eat only if they don’t bite. If all baby wants to do is bite (and laugh at your reaction), then mealtime is over now.
In fact, breastfeeding can soothe teething gums. The fastest way to calm a baby in pain is to breastfeed. Breastfeeding releases oxytocin in mom, and sends oxytocin to baby through milk. Oxytocin is known as the “relaxing” hormone. If you’re relaxed, you can handle pain better - hence the focus on relaxing mom during labor and childbirth. Same goes for baby. A relaxed baby is a happy baby. Beware though, if you’re used to using a topical numbing agent to soothe baby’s teething gums, you may need to refer to the advice in bullet #3 :)
Baby’s oral health may be directly tied to mom’s oral health. Think about it. You share spoons, bites, kisses on the lips. All these loving and natural activities unfortunately transfer mom’s (or anyone else’s) oral bacteria to baby. If mom’s mouth is highly colonized by Streptococcus mutans, or other bacteria that cause cavities, she could transfer that bacteria to baby, and start the cascade of tooth decay early. Your takeaway: keep up good dental hygiene for you and brush baby’s pearly whites as soon as they erupt.
There you have it! If you knew all that already, good job! For more resources on breastfeeding, we recommend finding a La Leche League leader in your area, or reading The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding. Above all, momma, do what’s best for your family and savor those baby cuddles while you can!