It is important to understand the positive impact that breastfeeding and suckling can have on the health, sleep, breathing, and development of a child.
Most people understand that breastfeeding is the natural way to deliver nutrition to a newborn child. This is true across all species of mammals, and humans are no different.
What is different for the modern human is we now have many ways to deliver nutrition to a child whether through formula, bottles, or supplements.
This leaves modern mothers with the choice to breastfeed or not and unfortunately for many, the choice is usually made without an understanding of what may be the most important value to breastfeeding.
The human child was created to breastfeed and therefore the mechanisms of growth and development for the parts of the body involved in breastfeeding rely on this activity.
The facial bones, upper and lower jawbones, musculature, and enclosed upper airway, which significantly impacts the child's ability to breathe and sleep properly, only develop fully when directly signaled through the physical action of breastfeeding.
To understand this, we need to identify the difference between the action of “suckling,” which occurs during proper breastfeeding, and the action of “sucking,” which occurs during bottle feeding and pacier use.
During suckling, the tongue uses significant coordination and strength to move up and down as well as forward and back to compress and then release the nipple against the roof of the mouth, also called the hard palate, part of the maxillary bone (i.e., upper jaw bone).
This coordinated motion creates a negative pressure vacuum that draws the milk into the child's mouth while using the muscles of the jaw, face, lips, and tongue.
Simultaneously the motion and muscle activation of the tongue is putting an intermittent upward and outward force on the roof of the mouth which stimulates growth and development of the maxillary bone, the connected facial bones, and in turn the upper airway surrounded by these structures.
It should be noted that for proper suckling, the quality of the latch on the breast is of utmost importance. For this to occur the tongue needs to extend over the ridge of the lower jaw bone where the teeth will later come, and the upper lip needs to fully evert (i.e., flip up) to create a proper seal.
Evaluating the lip and tongue for tissue restrictions that prevent proper function should be considered any time breastfeeding is difficult, painful, frequently interrupted and/or includes prolonged pauses during feeding, or there is coughing, choking, regurgitation, hiccuping, swallowing noises, or clicking during feeding.
Comparatively, the action of sucking on a bottle or pacifier uses a low and back position of the tongue, minor muscle activation, and contraction of the cheek muscles to suck the liquid out of the bottle.
This activity results in a weaker tongue muscle, less coordination, and stronger cheek muscles which promotes inward contractile forces on the mouth and jawbones.
Additionally, when the tongue sits lower in the mouth during sucking, there is no upward and outward force on the roof of the mouth to stimulate proper growth and development of the upper jaw and connected facial bones.
The result of these changes in function typically leads to a narrow, smaller mouth that will not have room for all the permanent teeth causing dental crowding, and a high vaulted roof of the mouth which impinges on the nasal airway space.
Insufficient tongue muscle activation can also lead to a weaker tongue which can fall back into the airway during sleep leading to snoring and difficulty breathing properly during sleep.
This sleep-disordered breathing can then lead to low-quality, fragmented sleep which affects the child's rest, daytime behavior, growth and development of the entire body, and health.
Understanding the positive impact that breastfeeding and suckling can have on the health, sleep, breathing, and development of a child, in addition to the nutritional benefits, are important but there will still be cases where consistent breastfeeding is impossible due to work, lifestyle, or health issues.
In these cases, hope is not lost as techniques have been developed to activate the body's own growth and repair mechanisms to correct insufficient development and muscle strength at any age.
At Breathe Correct, we can evaluate infants experiencing breastfeeding-related problems. We also evaluate children of any age, as well as adults, for signs of underdevelopment, upper airway restrictions, insufficient proper muscle function, or restrictive tissues that can impact the airway, breathing, sleep, tooth alignment, and health.
We can then recommend proper treatment or other actions that can be taken. We offer complimentary consultations for anyone interested in learning more.
Dr. Jeremy Montrose, DMD.
At Breathe Correct we diagnose and treat the underlying causes of breathing and sleep-related disorders. For more information visit our website at www.breathecorrect.com or give us a call at (833) NO-APNEA.
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