The intuition of a mother that breastfeeding her child is good has long been backed by the scientific evidence that shows benefits to mom and child alike. These benefits are many and they span the realms of physiological to emotional health. As a parent and a Certified Lactation Educator, I subscribe to the magic of breastfeeding. So, “breast is best” and that’s that?
But wait… a just-published study in the journal Pediatrics has found a possible twist. The study claims kids who are breast-fed for two years or more may end up with more cavities.
Here’s the scoop. Researchers studied breastfeeding and sugar consumption for 1,129 kids in Brazil – about a quarter of them were breastfed two years or more.
All the kids were examined by a dentist at age 5. The little ones who were breastfed for two-plus years had a 2.4 times higher risk of severe cavities when compared to little boys and girls who were breastfed less than a year.
How could that be? Was this study a fake? No. Thousand of pediatric dentists across the world deal with ramifications of what I call blind breastfeeding. That’s where a well-meaning mother, unintentionally converts breastfeeding into breastsoothing. Where its no longer about nutrition, rather its the child’s only learned mechanism for gaining comfort and tranquility with a latch and few drops of milk coat his or her enamel. That milk, along with its many amazing properties unmatched by the content in formula, contains sugar (carbohydrate)– which, is what gets us in trouble. That constant coating of sugar in the mouth will prime the child’s oral bacteria and voila- you got a little cute kids that makes cavities wholesale costco style.
The study’s author pretty much echoed this phenomenon in explained their finding – kiddos who breastfeed longer than 24 months often do so on demand, and at night. More frequent feeding on demand – and feeding before bed — makes it harder to keep the teeth clean (from carbohydrates), which may explain a higher cavity rate.
The good news is that the study showed breastfeeding little ones between their first and second birthdays doesn’t seem to lead to more cavities. That can be explained by the fact that many kids hardly have teeth in the first year of life, and the process of bacteria growing and thriving in the human mouth takes time. But once the harmful bacteria have been vetted and primed, the cavities will come fast and furious.
This study is published in a very reputable journal and made bigger headlines that most. For completeness sake, we have to be reminded that this isn’t the first study looking for a link between breastfeeding and cavities – others produced mixed results. A similar study in Brazil had the same conclusion. Studies in Germany and Italy found an association, while one more in Brazil did not.
So, what do we know for sure? We know breastfeeding gives babies nutrients they need to grow and develop, and it’s been shown to shrink the risk of infectious diseases, ear infections and diarrhea. New moms benefit, too, as breastfeeding can help them lose the baby weight faster, and reduce the risk of ovarian and breast cancer.
And yes, there are even benefits to a baby’s little teeth. Another study found babies are less likely to have crooked teeth if they breastfeed for six months. It can also help prevent a condition, formerly called baby bottle tooth decay, which happens when sugary/acidic drinks wear down babies’ teeth when they’re put to bed with a bottle, for instance.
So, if you’re a mom – and you’re reading this – you may be wondering what you can take away from all this information. No matter whether they drink from the bottle or breast, never allow milk or juice to be seating on your child’s teeth when they fall sleep. And, soon as that first tooth arrives, it’s time to to brush with the right amount of fluoridated toothpaste– yes I said fluoridated toothpaste, and do this twice daily with a single grain of rice-sized dab of fluoridated toothpaste. Then, schedule that first dental visit between 6 to 12 months of age.
So yer, breast is best when you know what you’re doing. Breastfeeding exclusively until 6 months of age and then as long as mutually desirable for mom and child is the winning combo. Just make sure that you’re practicing prevention to avoid cavities.