Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding: More Than Just Food

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Known as an effective, nurturing activity for both the mom and child, breastfeeding has been advocated by organizations across the globe because of its overall health benefits.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), mothers who actively breastfeed their infants are less likely to develop fatal diseases such as breast cancer, ovarian cancer, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. On the other hand, breastfed babies develop better sensory and cognitive skills that will mentally prepare them for their future. Exclusive breastfeeding also prevents the risk of common childhood illnesses such as diarrhea or pneumonia; and helps in quicker recovery in case of sickness.

Breastfeeding and children’s oral health

While much has been examined about the benefits of breastmilk itself, there are also studies that link the actual mechanics of breastfeeding to several oral and dental benefits for babies.

The breastfeeding activity itself, where the infant uses his or her jaw, tongue, and facial muscles, contributes to the baby’s oral health. The unique coordination of the baby’s muscle movements during breastfeeding is different from how it is done in bottle feeding. Breastfeeding requires more muscle, tongue, and jaw motion which leads to better a jaw development and unrestricted airway for the baby.

In one U.S. study, researchers have sampled over 1,000 preschool children and found out that those who were breastfed as a baby have less problems in their teeth alignment (primary dentition). Proper swallowing habits are learned in infancy through breastfeeding. If such habits are abnormal, as in the tongue thrust and position in bottle-feeding, this will have detrimental effects on teeth occlusion.

Worldwide breastfeeding advocacy

Annually celebrated every 1st to 7th of August, the World Breastfeeding Week aims to encourage moms to breastfeed their babies to improve their health and well-being.

To enable mothers to establish and sustain exclusive breastfeeding for six months, WHO and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) recommend:

  • Initiation of breastfeeding within the first hour of life;
  • Exclusive breastfeeding - that is, the infant only receives breastmilk without any additional food or drink, not even water;
  • Breastfeeding on demand - that is, as often as the child wants, day and night;
  • No use of bottles, teats, or pacifiers

To further support this global advocacy, participating health organizations are continuously working to formulate family-friendly policies to help parents bond with their children during these vital, early stages of life. Among these measures are creating access to safe, private, and hygienic spaces in workplaces where moms can breastfeed their babies in-between breaks.

Sources

Lindsey Rennick Salone DDS, William F. Vann Jr. DMD, PhD, Deborah L. Dee PhD, MPH. Breastfeeding: An overview of oral and general health benefits. The Journal of the American Dental Association, Volume 144, Issue 2, February 2013 (doi.org)

Howard L Needleman. The effects of infant feeding patterns on the occlusion of the primary dentition. Article in Journal of dentistry for children (Chicago, Ill) · September 2003 (researchgate.net)

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