How does breastfeeding help with jaw and facial development for babies?
Everyone knows that breastfeeding, rather than the bottle or formula feeding is the healthier option nutritionally. But what are the developmental implications? Is breastfeeding only about giving your baby a healthy diet? What about the other benefits of breastfeeding, and what are they?
Most studies have focused on the benefits of breast milk only. It does offer much more in terms of vitamins, nutrients, enzymes and antibodies than formula. There’s no denying that breastfeeding means healthier babies. But evidence also shows that the actual motion of breastfeeding is crucial for your baby’s growth and development.
Breastfeeding is linked to the development of a baby’s airways, jaw and dental health. A newborn baby’s mouth, nose and throat are all very close together. There’s not much room inside a newborn’s mouth and the tongue takes up most of the space. This limited space helps a newborn baby to feed and swallow safely. A newborn baby’s soft palate needs to develop to learn new feeding skills. The very act of your baby breastfeeding requires a sophisticated amount of muscle coordination, much more so than feeding from a bottle. A baby has to work to breastfeed. The act of sucking, which uses the jaw, tongue and facial muscles, is needed to create a vacuum to get mum’s breast milk to flow. Milk from a bottle has a much easier flow with fewer restrictions which means less work.
Early Mouth Development
A newborn baby’s lower jaw is approximately 30% of the size of an adult’s jaw. There’s an awful lot of growing to be done in the first year. The development of a baby’s lower jaw is helped by the actions of breastfeeding, which provides a great facial muscle workout.
In addition to jaw development, the structure of a newborn baby’s mouth will change from a soft to a more firm palate, for which breastfeeding is also beneficial. When a baby is sucking properly, the breast is drawn deeply in the baby’s mouth. This deep connection supports and maintains the normal wide and flatter shape of the palate or roof of the mouth. Artificial nipples, whether bottles or soothers, tend to push the palate into a higher, narrower V shape. The shape of the palate inside the mouth affects the external shape of the face and jaw as well as the shape of the dental arch. A narrower palate can affect tooth spacing of both babies and, later, adult teeth.
An Australian study of more than 1100 children published in 2015 found that pre-school children who were exclusively breastfed had better teeth and jaw alignment than those who had been bottle fed.
What Does It All Mean?
Of course, not every mother is in a position to stay at home and breastfeed constantly. The pressures of modern day living mean that a lot of mothers have to work, and daycare plays an important role. It is, however, important to explain the developmental advantages of breastfeeding. If you can, breastfeed as often as possible. Breastfeeding reduces the chances of crooked teeth and braces, along with other health issues which are still being explored.