U.S. News and World Report published a great article on the research surrounding the connection between breastfeeding and jaw control on August 29th. Melinda Johnson wrote “Breastfeeding Builds a Better Jaw, and Other Benefits for Babies”. This article explains some of the dental and motor benefits for infants, but only hints at the additional contributions that better jaw control have for your child. The article discusses recent research that indicates there are benefits for dental development and possibly a lower incidence of asthma.
As a pediatric occupational therapist, I treat children who have struggled with nursing when very young, and continue to have challenges related to good oral control and a smooth suck/swallow/breathe synchrony. This is the pattern of sequencing sucking and breathing to prevent food from entering the airway while eating. It is something that most babies master in the first few days of life, but not all babies excel at this essential skill.
The ability to coordinate the suck/swallow/breathe synchrony is essential during those first few days and weeks. A baby that can manage to smoothly coordinate that pattern is also more likely to be able to self-calm and to learn more controlled chewing and speaking as he grows. Without a synchronous pattern, a child is more likely to have issues of reflux, gagging, and irritability. This can develop into a more generalized sensory aversion or difficulty maintaining a calm state of alertness. If a child has weaker jaw and mouth musculature, he may refuse some food textures or have more difficulty with speech development.
I encourage parents to read this article and think about the wider-ranging benefits of breastfeeding for their baby.