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It is common knowledge that the nutrition in mother’s milk and the antibodies that flow from mother to baby make breast milk the ideal food for infants. It is recommended for babies to receive breast milk for at least the first year of life and preferable until the second year and beyond.
Little attention has been paid to the mechanics of breastfeeding and their benefits. However, the data surrounding breastfeeding points to structural development benefits in the jaw and airway.
Breastfeeding requires sophisticated tongue and muscle coordination in order to extract mother’s milk (we write more about this in our blog on nipple confusion here). Bottle feeding is a more passive activity, much like drinking from a straw. Different muscle use means different muscle development.
Breastfeeding exertion is observed in a the infant’s chin quiver. What you're witnessing is muscle fatigue. An infant working hard for that milk at the breast builds the necessary muscles for his developing face and jaw, thus supporting the development of the rest of his mouth, face, and even airway.
With proper jaw development comes proper alignment of the teeth and less likelihood that the child will have an over-crowded mouth.
The late Dr. Brian Palmer spent much of his career linking breastfeeding to the reduction of airway problems. The human nipple forms to the baby’s mouth when feeding, but the baby’s mouth must form to the rubber nipple of a bottle. This is due to the development of the hard palate and airway. A high palate and narrow dental arch is more likely to develop in a bottle-fed baby (even if the bottle contains breast milk). Dr. Palmer believed this was one of the contributing factors of SIDS. It is well known that breastfed babies are less likely to die from SIDS and Dr. Palmer believed this was due to the development of the airway when eating at the breast. Dr. Palmer also said that the belief that pacifier use reduced the risk of SIDS is a Myth.
Also one recent study of 8-year-old children with a family history of asthma showed that those who were breastfed were less likely to snore or have instances of apnea while sleeping.
Please understand that this blog is written to report the new science as it comes to light and is in no way meant to judge or shame parents who bottle feed. Formula and bottle-feeding breastmilk is necessary and lifesaving for many. All parents make choices based on what is best for their family.
Bonnie Jean Feldkamp is a writer and mother of three. If you liked this posting please follow her on Twitter @writerbonnie or like her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/WriterBonnie for more great info on Raising Kids.