Lately, so much of the talk about breastfeeding these days seems to center on the mother’s right to breastfeed in certain public spaces – as with this recently viral video . But as important as those conversations are, we shouldn’t lose sight of another critical factor: the best interests of the child.
For the benefits of breastfeeding go far beyond just the infant’s receiving food when hungry.
Just last week came news of a JAMA Pediatrics study  showing that children who are exclusively breastfed at 6 to 7 months may have a lower risk of overweight/ obesity.
With adjustment for children’s factors (sex, television viewing time, and computer game playing time) and maternal factors (educational attainment, smoking status, and working status),…”we demonstrated that breastfeeding is associated with decreased risk of overweight and obesity among school children in Japan, and the protective association is stronger for obesity than overweight,” the study concludes.
But it’s about far more than just obesity. Another recent news item  cites evidence that children who are bottle-fed are three times more likely to die in infancy. According to Dr Chandra Pati Mishra, head of the department of community medicine, Institute of Medical Sciences (IMS), Banaras Hindu University (BHU),
Bottle-feeding is prone to several infections and is a severe malpractice for children, especially those younger than 6 months. “In fact, putting the child on breastfeeding for maximum time can increase her IQ level by six times more than one kept on alternative feeding habits,” he said.
It should be no surprise that infant humans thrive on the first food we evolved to consume. As noted expert Dr. Brian Palmer has written ,
The nutritional, immunological, psychological, and general health advantages conveyed to infants have been documented for years. Legovic listed the merits of human breast milk as compared to artificial feeds to include ideal nutritional content, better absorption, fewer food-related allergies, more favorable psychological development, better immunologic defenses, and a substantial economic advantage. [References available at the link]
There’s another benefit, however, that’s often overlooked: good and healthy orofacial development. Here, we let myofunctional therapist and dental hygienist Carol Vander Stoep tell the tale via an excerpt from her book Mouth Matters :
In fact, breastfed babies have a far better chance at beauty and health because these infants learn to work their lips, cheeks, and tongue differently. Facial development occurs early, when facial bones are plastic. Genes, skeletal influences, and airway development determine facial shape.
It takes 1.4 grams of pressure to move teeth or change bone structure. The tongue exerts up to 500 grams of pressure, the cheeks up to 300 grams. For maximum attractiveness and a lifetime of healthy function, these forces must balance each other. Proper swallowing patterns learned by breastfeeding balance these forces so teeth erupt evenly around the tongue to form a beautiful and functional arch. A wide arch promotes a wide, open airway.
The coordination required for an infant to swallow and breathe at the same time while breastfeeding is also a critical step in learning correct swallow patterns. In a proper swallow, the lips touch together lightly. The lower jaw moves slightly upward to touch the upper teeth. The tongue lightly moves up and reinforces the good arch form. There is minimal TM/jaw joint compression. Good breathing and swallowing habits maintain the balance of forces.
Babies who breastfeed and develop proper swallowing patterns and facial structure generally have more prominent cheekbones, less constricted sinuses, and a larger eye orbit that allows the eyeball to develop a proper shape. This improves chances of good eyesight. They also develop far fewer ear infections. Children with deep dental overbites are 2.8 times more likely to have ear tubes placed.
On the other hand, the tongue of a bottle-feeding baby creates a strong vacuum against the roof of the mouth and at the back of the throat. This can form a very high palatal vault, reduce the width of the arch, and constrict the sinuses and airway.
Thus, you also tend to see far fewer significant orthodontal issues among children who were breastfed – less crowding of the teeth, less misalignment of the bite and related problems. When you consider the cost of orthodontic treatment today – in dollars, time and stress alike – it’s clear that this is no small benefit. Add to that reduced medical costs for allergies, infections, sleep apnea and other problems that can arise, and you see quite a savings indeed!
The final word goes to Dr. Palmer:
Preventing disease, in a natural way, far outweighs the alternative: treating the disease with our newest medical technologies, which can be costly and time consuming. Breastfeeding has been shown to be immunologically, emotionally and nutritionally advantageous….
And dentally, as well.
Image by Ozgur POYRAZOGLU , via Flickr