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A New Reason to Breastfeed Your Baby

As you know, I'm a strong advocate of breastfeeding because it improves you and your baby's health in so many ways. If you haven't made the choice to breastfeed yet, a study conducted by Italian researchers gives you another really good reason: Babies who were bottle-fed and had sucked their thumb or a dummy were twice as likely to have crooked milk teeth as breastfed infants. Breastfeeding appears to protect against thumb and dummy sucking damage, possibly down to its affect on mouth and palate muscle development.

The physical difference between breast and bottle feeding: The sucking mechanism is different. Babies who breastfeed draw milk up by squeezing the lips and tongue rather than sucking. Conversely, bottled-fed babies use the tongue with a piston-like motion to compress the artificial teat against the palate. The authors believe this might affect the development of the muscles of the mouth and palate in some way, which in turn could affect how the teeth and jaw align.

Although milk teeth will be replaced, the positioning and spacing of these teeth is increasingly thought to be crucial for correct jaw alignment and positioning of permanent teeth.

In the study of some 1,100 children from ages 3-5, more than a third had misalignments and poor spacing (altered occlusion) when examined by a dentist. Children who sucked on dummies or thumbs for more than the first year of life were twice as likely to have misalignment as those who did not. They were four times as likely to have open bite.

Based on the results of this study, you can safely add this perk to the list of seven other advantages of breastfeeding I posted earlier this year:

  • Builds your baby's immune system
  • Improves your baby's brain function
  • Reduces obesity
  • Helps your baby's emotional health
  • Lowers a mother's cancer risk and other health conditions
  • Helps mothers return to pre-pregnancy weight faster
  • Saves time and money

BBC News November 18, 2004

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