The oral benefits of breastfeeding

Madonna Litta – one of my favourite paintings by Da Vinci. How can you not get goosebumps while watching Maria hold Jesus, tightly, to her chest? I think the whole flurry of opinions on social media which seeks to trivialise the feeding of a baby, turns to dust when observing this painting – how much naturalness, life fluency and humanity is displayed in those earthy colours.

However, is breast milk just a romanticised symbol? – I explored this concept in an article while at university, which I found extremely important for us dentists in order to raise collective awareness. I’ve distilled it into this post to help understand the essence of this topic better.

Green shiny light for breastfeeding

The WHO recommends exclusive breastfeeding for at least the first six months of life, as this reduces the risk of infectious diseases of the gastrointestinal tract and respiratory system.

Other benefits of breastfeeding include less likelihood of ear infections and childhood obesity, as well as better digestion and intelligence.

If you are pregnant or have ever had a baby, there’s no doubt you know some of the benefits of breastfeeding. However, did you know this includes benefits to your baby’s oral health?

Breastfeeding: A baby’s Oral Health Gem

  1. Good Nutrition

Breast milk is more digestible than cow’s milk or formula, it makes the nutrients useable, more easily digestible, and helps the baby’s first intestinal “goo” known as meconium. Healthy nutrition is foundational in bone and tooth growth.

2. Tooth Alignment

  • Prolonged breastfeeding up to 6 months can promote better occlusal development and correct growth of the orofacial structures, and the better occlusal development can extend through into the mixed dentition stage.
  • Breastfeeding is a protective factor against posterior crossbite and some malocclusions in primary and mixed dentition. The protective effect increases in line with the months of breastfeeding.

3. Tooth decay

When a baby sucks on a bottle of juice, milk, or formula for long amounts of time, they can develop baby bottle tooth decay, often on the upper front teeth. Because breastfed babies have limited or no baby bottle exposure, they typically do not get this type of tooth decay.

Nevertheless, cavities in baby teeth are still possible, whether you bottle or breast feed. As soon as teeth erupt, you should “brush” them- whether wiping them with a cool washcloth or using a small toothbrush with a rice grain size of toothpaste. It is also recommended that your child has their first visit to see your dentist sometime between the eruption of teeth and your baby’s first birthday.

What about women’s health?

  • Research shows exclusively breastfeeding mothers tend to burn on average 500 additional calories daily! — the equivalent of cutting out a large fatty snack or performing 45–60 minutes of medium-intensity physical exercise! This is absolutely mind-blowing.
  • Your body releases the hormone, oxytocin, which helps you bond with the baby🐣 and reduces the risk of ovarian and breast cancer.

  • With a new baby at home, it is natural for mums to be busy as a bee. And while caring for the baby, many mothers tend to neglect their own selves. Lack of oral hygiene increases the risk of cavities and gum disease. With poor oral hygiene, mothers can transmit mouth bacteria to their baby, even a simple act of sharing your spoon can introduce bacteria in your baby’s mouth. This makes it vital to take care of your own health while caring for your child.
  • Make sure you regularly brush twice, floss once, and rinse as often as needed to keep your mouth healthy. With these simple tips, you will all set to take care of yours and your baby’s oral health.

Just before bringing down the curtain – The information I provided in this post, is strictly professional and aims to positively encourage breastfeeding only when possible. I am deeply aware that for different reasons, breastfeeding is not always possible for everyone. Formula feeding is also valid and recommended😊 and the same advice for for oral health applies. Believe it or not, whatever you are doing. It is enough, and worthy.

When [Jesus] sucked the milk of Mary, He was suckling all with Life. While He was lying on His Mother’s bosom, in His bosom were all creatures lying. He was silent as a Babe, and yet He was making His creatures execute all His commands.”

Hymns on the Nativity, Hymn 3

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