Last week we talked about pregnancy and your baby, how baby teeth begin forming, and a pregnant mom’s diet during pregnancy as an essential part of healthy tooth development.
Today, I will dive into the breastfeeding vs. bottle-feeding debate, my opinion, and the research on how feeding your baby affects your baby’s mouth, teeth, and face growth and development.
What you eat during your pregnancy affects the development of your baby, which includes their teeth.
Your baby’s primary teeth begin mineralizing and building the inner part of the tooth, called dentin, around the sixth week and the hard enamel layer that covers it known as enamel, around the third or fourth month of pregnancy.
While teeth are the hardest surface of the body and the only part of our skeleton we clean, they are not indestructible and vital to your baby’s growth and development.
Pregnancy and the first years of your baby’s life are very significant and memorable; you will want to take good care of yourself and get your baby off to a healthy start in life. Their mouth is important to their growth and development; it affects eating, sleeping, speech, behavior, self-esteem, overall health, and wellness.
After the Baby is Born:
Most babies are not born with teeth at birth; however, it does happen occasionally!
The majority of babies begin to get their primary teeth in their mouth at about six months. My daughter, however, did not get her first tooth until she was 13 months. So don’t panic if your baby does not follow the “normal” pattern of eruption.
Nursing plays an important role in the shape of your babyface and palatal development. The roof of your baby’s mouth is the floor of their nasal cavity. As a dental hygienist and oral myofunctional therapist, I prefer breastfeeding; it is not always possible.
There are not many discussions about ways to feed your baby, yet they are crucial to mouth development.
Your baby has growth spurts from birth every 3 months of life; most of our eating and drinking skills develop in the first two years. Next, we are going to chat about nursing and bottle feeding techniques.
I recommend getting Diane Bahr’s book Nobody Ever Told my mother or me that. She discussed everything from bottles and breathing to healthy speech and development. She is a speech pathologist and has so much knowledge, and her book is highly recommended for new moms.
She compares feeding your baby to dancing. The best feeding method for you and your baby are personal and will be very different from what someone else might do.
As a parent, the worst thing you can do to yourself is to compare yourself to another Mom. We all have different upbringings, beliefs, values, knowledge, and experience that shape how we are. So will your child.
That being said, you can take some guidelines to make things easier and learn from those who went before you.
Whether you are nursing or bottle-feeding, ideally your baby should be able to do the following:
- The tongue should come over the lower gum area; it may not come out of the mouth.
- An even front to back wavelike tongue movement front to back creating a vacuum when drinking or suckling
- Tongue cupping and grooving
- Make a small jaw movement once latched
- A stable mouth with the tongue as the lower stabilizer and the roof of the mouth as the upper stabilizer
- Adequate pressure on the roof of the mouth to aid in swallowing
- Good feeding rhythm
It is important you become familiar with your baby’s mouth. Especially if you are planning on nursing, a lip or tongue-tie can make breastfeeding challenging and painful for the mom. If your baby is having difficulty latching, you will want to look for what we call tethered tissues, find a lactation consultant or schedule a free session with me. I will help you navigate through and find the help you need.
Breastfeeding has actually been shown to be beneficial for a baby’s health, growth, and development, but there are a few things to consider for good dental health. If your child has a hard time latching, they could have a lip or tongue tie preventing them from getting enough milk. Nursing should not be painful. Go to my blog or listen to my episode Lip Tie for a Mom that struggled with this, had her baby’s lip tie released, and was able to nurse comfortably after. Her Mom is a lactation consultant, so she had a great support system.
Not everyone knows how important the mouth is to the body. For an infant, everything starts with the mouth and nose. So as a parent, that is where I recommend you start.
You don’t know what you don’t know. There are not many people talking about what you should look for and your actions to help your child. It is so much easier to catch issues at a young age rather than waiting until they are seven or eight and seeing an orthodontist to correct their bite.
The agricultural revolution introduced softer, more processed foods, which also increased our sugar consumption in the U.S; this has changed how we chew our foods, changing our facial shape. Making our teeth more crowded and affecting our kids’ airway, breathing, speech, and behavior. We are seeing more and more kids using their mouths to breathe instead of their noses. Even though we can breathe through our mouths, we should not. When we breathe through our mouth, we do not get the benefit of the filtration the nose offers, as well as the nitric oxide Co2 exchange. So why is this important? Because our kids are tossing and turning and waking up more frequently, not getting a good night’s rest, and getting 18 % less oxygen to their brains, leaving them more tired, having difficulty concentrating, and acting out due to lack of sleep? We are missing this in helping our children before we put them on ADHD Meds. Dr. Kevin Boyd is a board-certified pediatric dentist that is very knowledgeable and shares his expertise to help educate us on just how our facial structures are changing due to our diet.
Breastfeeding helps your child’s mouth:
Breast milk by itself does not promote tooth decay. But breastfed babies who fall asleep while nursing with un-swallowed milk in their mouths are more vulnerable to tooth decay, especially if foods and liquids with sugar and carbohydrates have been introduced to their diet. Clean the baby’s mouth with a wet washcloth after breastfeeding, and encourage a bottle with plain water during nighttime.
Avoid nighttime bottle use:
Putting a baby to bed with a bottle filled with sweetened drinks such as milk or juice allows its sugary contents to sit on teeth for long periods of time, causing damage. Baby bottle tooth decay most often occurs in the upper front teeth (but other teeth may also be affected). Frequent, prolonged exposure of the baby’s teeth to drinks that contain sugar can cause tooth decay. So, avoid filling the bottle with liquids such as sugar water, juice, or soft drinks. And encourage babies to finish their bedtime and naptime bottles before going to bed.
The best position to feed your baby:
Whether you have chosen to breastfeed or bottle-feed, the way your baby is positioned while feeding affects your baby’s ability to feed properly.
Here are some guidelines:
- Keep your baby’s head in alignment with their body
- Head, neck, and body in a straight line
- Don’t allow your baby’s neck to hyperextend backward
- It creates tongue protrusion the baby will bite down for stability. “Ouch” for a breastfeeding mom. My daughter thought it was funny to bite me
- Keep your baby’s ear above their mouth, so fluid does not enter the eustachian tubes.
- Hold your baby at a 45% angle. This is crucial for bottle-fed babies, so the liquid does not flow too fast.
While more research is needed, it is suspected that if babies are fed lying flat, they have a higher risk of ear and sinus infections. If fluid from the bottle or stomach due to reflux or spit up and enter the eustachian tube, it can travel to the middle ear. The middle ear has three tiny bones that help the eardrum communicate sound to the inner ear. If fluid enters that space, it can distort sounds, or your child can have hearing loss. Having a healthy middle ear is important for hearing and speech-language development.
Keeping fluid out of their ears and nose is important; when babies feed, they coordinate suckling, swallowing, and breathing.
Babies can only breathe through their noses. A blocked nose from congestion can severely compromise the feeding, health, and comfort of your baby. It is their natural preference and physiological reflex to breathe through their nose. If the nasal passage is blocked, it can actually be quite dangerous.
How To Clear A Blocked Nose:
It makes sense to flush out and clear the nasal passages as quickly as possible and as often as needed.
We would recommend a 2 step process of flushing each nostril with 2-3 squirts of saline spray. The saline spray has no medical or chemical dangers, so it is safe to use daily from birth.
While mouth breathing is not impossible, newborns have certain physical features that make it more difficult, including the tongue, smaller mouth, and elevated larynx.
During feeding, the mouth is blocked by breast or bottle, so it’s absolutely vital a baby can breathe through their nose. Babies breathe through their noses yet often sleep with their mouths open, and both can dry out quickly.
Dry mouth and nose can cause interrupted sleep and early waking. Keeping little noses clear with a nasal aspirator, saline drops, and hydrating the air with a cool mist vaporizer also promotes good health and good sleep.
Ultrasonic vaporizer/humidifier can safely be diffused with plain tap water from birth. At around 3 months, a few drops of essential oil, like lavender, lemon, and chamomile, can be added to the water.
Around the age of 6 months, physical growth moves the soft palate and epiglottis further apart, which allows your baby more freedom to breathe through the mouth. Although they can alternate effectively between nasal and mouth breathing, normal babies over the age of 6 months generally continue to prefer nasal breathing. Even though we can breathe through our mouths, we should not. This is something to watch for
Even as adults, we know how difficult and uncomfortable it is to breathe and sleep with a blocked nose and congestion, so it makes sense to help our little ones have clean, clear, and hydrated noses every day.
What can breastfeeding do for your baby’s mouth that a bottle cannot?
Nursing is making a comeback; the agricultural revolution introduced softer sugary foods, which we as a population are now chewing less. Breastfeeding is biologically normal. Babies who nurse tend to have fewer allergies, a better immune system, and a wider upper arch for better mouth development. Another resource I recommend is Kathleen Huggins, The nursing mother’s companion.
I know now everyone can nurse. Here are some of the things nursing does.
- When your baby breastfeeds, the boob is drawn into the mouth, which helps shape the hard and soft palate known as the roof of the mouth.
- Bottle-fed babies tend to develop a high narrow hard palate due to the force involved in th4e shape of the bottle.
- Breastfeeding mom alternate breasts changing position when nursing
- This provides stimulation to both sides of the infant’s head, neck, face, and body
- Mouth structure moves differently with breastfeeding with lead to better mouth development of the face, jaw, dental arches hard and soft palate and teeth position
- Breastfeeding supports suck, swallow, breathe in synchronization, allowing the structures of the mouth, throat, and respiratory to move together
Many studies, theories, and research support the value breastfeeding has for mouth airway and breathing development.
You can do things if you are bottle-feeding to help better develop your child’s mouth structures.
It allows Dad and others to enjoy feeding the new baby and gives Mom a break when you bottle-feed. Start by choosing the right bottle for your little one. If your baby has a small mouth, you will want a shorter nipple. A nipple that is too long may encourage your baby to develop a tongue thrust swallow or difficulty maintaining a latch.
Length and shape are important when bottle-feeding:
There is a simple test to determine if the length of the nipple is a problem or if your baby is having trouble getting enough at the lips and inside the mouth to maintain a good latch.
Support your baby’s cheeks while drinking, if the nipple stops moving in and out of your baby’s mouth while you are supporting the cheek, the nipple is not the problem. If the nipple continues to move in and out of the baby’s mouth while you support the cheeks, you will need to find a nipple that fits your baby’s mouth.
Nipple shape can be another consideration. I prefer rounded nipples to encourage tongue cupping. Labeling nipples can be a bit misleading. Some babies will drink better from what is labeled orthodontic nipple.
A good latch means your baby’s lip maintains a hold on the latch area. The wider latch area encourages better mouth and jaw development. Diane’s book goes more into detail. I am not a lactation consultant, so I have limited knowledge on this subject.
Maintaining a good latch on a bottle or breast is one of the most c common problems. Pay attention to your baby’s positioning, head, and body alignment, as it can affect the latch. You may need to provide your baby with cheek support also temporarily. Place your thumb on one side of your baby’s cheek, the index or ring finger on the other side. Press gently but firmly inward toward your baby’s gums while pulling forward towards your baby’s lips. You will see the lips flare.
If that does not help, I recommend seeing a lactation consultant for your specific needs.
I nursed my daughter for 13 months until she got teeth. She thought it was funny to bite me; even without teeth, it hurts when they bite down. I stopped nursing her to nurse the baby we adopted for the three months we had her.
Feeding no matter what way is right for you can be a very rewarding bonding experience.
Some babies are more successful with bottle feeding, and so are their Moms. There are small yet subtle differences with mouth development that can affect your baby’s ability to nurse or bottle-feed and create difficulties.
What are some of these difficulties that may affect your baby’s feeding?
- Mild Jaw weakness
- Muscles on one or both sides of the jaw not doing their job
- Inherited mouth structures one of the parents may have also had issues
- Underdeveloped sucking pads
- Lip or tongue-tie
A professional evaluation can help. Some Lactation consultants, occupational therapists, speech-language pathologists,s and oral myofunctional therapists are specifically trained to evaluate subtle concerns and work with babies especially. It is ok to reach out for help, which does not mean you are a failure as a mom. Do not put that on yourself.
It is not a representation of your mothering skills, and sometimes it is just the subtle structure in your baby’s mouth or genetics. There will be many things along this parenting journey you will have the opportunity to beat yourself up about. Don’t start with this one; you will drive yourself crazy.
We have the saying it takes a village for a reason! Some people had gone through almost anything you will experience before you did. Do not be afraid to ask for help. You are never alone these days.
I am here if you need me. If I can not help, I will be happy to find the right person we have a community of others who would love to help. Helping others and giving back is what life is about.
A healthy mouth is a healthy body and a happy, healthy life.