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Breast feeding and oral development

Many child health benefits have been attributed to breastfeeding, including the promotion of adequate oral motor development. Breastfeeding is a healthy activity for both mothers and infants. Breastfeeding requires the baby to co-ordinate their orofacial muscles to form a vacuum to allow milk to be released from the breast. During breastfeeding, intense movement of the lips, tongue, mandible, maxilla, and cheeks occurs, with beneficial effects on the infant’s oral motor development.Research has shown that breast feeding helps in preventing many health disorders in lactating mothers

How does it work ?

The back of the tongue must first be drawn firmly against the palate, which allows the tongue mould the upper jaw, and work as nature’s palatal expander (widening the upper jaw so it houses the tongue perfectly).

After milk has been released, the tip of the tongue pushes the breast against the front of the palate.  This stimulates the forward development of the front part of the upper jaw and midface.

 As the lower jaw moves back and forth, it stimulates forward growth of the lower jaw too.

As you can see :

Breastfeeding needs a different and quite sophisticated coordinated activity of baby’s tongue, jaws and face muscles. It involves muscular activity as compared to passive nature of drinking from bottle. The active nature of suckling from breasts promotes growth of face and jaws.

Airway growth can also be improved through breastfeeding in infancy and a marked reduction in airway problems has been seen in people who underwent breastfeeding in their childhood.

Breastfeeding is the important modifiable influence on facial growth in a child’s first year of life.  The jaw movements involved in extraction of milk from the breast provide major stimuli for growth of the temporomandibular joint and, consequently, encourage harmonious growth and development of the facial region. The muscles involved in breastfeeding, particularly the masseter, are the same muscles that will later (from the age of 6 months onward) carry out mastication.Therefore, mastication continues the process of stimulation of the orofacial muscles that began with sucking at the breast.

An Australian study of more than 1100 children published in 2015 in Paediatrics found that children who were exclusively breastfed had better teeth and jaw alignment by the age of 5 years.   Their risk of these problems was 72% lower than those who were not.  

We also suggest that in the presence of breastfeeding problems that tongue-ties are ruled out.  These are a common source of feeding problems like poor latch, colic, reflux (aerophagia), nipple damage and pain yet these are often undiagnosed.  It is important to have your infant checked for tongue ties issues if you experience any of these problems.

Many people recognise the compositional benefits of breastmilk, but equally important are the mechanical aspects of breastfeeding on muscle and jaw development.

 These jaw structures need to grow optimally, as they house and form the boundaries of the airway and are so important for breathing and good health.  As the jaws grow, they allow room for teeth to erupt, preventing crooked teeth from developing.

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