The World Breastfeeding Week (वर्ल्ड ब्रेस्टफीडिंग वीक or विश्व स्तनपान सप्ताह in Hindi) is an initiative held every year from 1st to 7th August, to promote breastfeeding and spread awareness about its benefits. On the occasion of World Breastfeeding Week 2021, let's discuss one of the lesser-known aspects of breastfeeding. 

The decision to breastfeed is a very personal and special one for any mother. Although every mother's circumstances and options are different, breastfeeding is known to have many well-established benefits for the child as well as the mother. 

Breast milk provides optimal nutrition to the child in an easily absorbed form. It contains carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and hormones. It also has antibodies (proteins made by the immune system in response to a foreign agent) from the mother that help the child fight against various infections. 

Breastfed children have stronger immune systems, and lower rates of mortality, including that due to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). 

The children also have lesser chances of developing illnesses, allergies, diabetes, and cancers. Moreover, they have a lesser likelihood of being obese later in life and show improved brain maturation. 

Breastfeeding also helps the mother in developing better physical and emotional health. It builds a distinct bond between the mother and the child and reduces the risk of various illnesses, including postpartum depression, ovarian cancer, and breast cancer in the mother.

The World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) recommends that children should be exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months of life and continued to be breastfed for up to 2 years and beyond, along with being introduced to solid foods.

A lot of mothers may not know that breastfeeding also has positive effects on the oral health of their children. Let’s look at the benefits of breastfeeding on your child’s oral health.

1. It provides necessary nutrients. As you know now, breast milk provides many essential nutrients which are necessary for the development of healthy gums and teeth in children. 

It contains proteins, which help build strong jaw muscles, and fats, which reduce inflammation (the reaction of your immune system to perceived threat). 

The well-balanced nutrient composition of breast milk helps in the development of facial bones and teeth in children.

2. It helps in teeth alignment. The sucking mechanism is different for bottle-feeding as compared to breastfeeding. 

Breastfeeding requires more effort on your child’s part to continuously suck for the milk and thus helps strengthen his/her jaws by stimulating the lower facial muscles. 

Many studies suggest that babies exclusively breastfed for the first six months of their life are less likely to have issues with their teeth alignment and bite.

3. It decreases the chances of tooth decay. A child that bottle-feeds is more prone to develop caries (cavities or tooth decay) than a child that breastfeeds. 

Baby-bottle tooth decay occurs due to frequent, prolonged exposure of your child’s teeth to milk and other drinks that contain sugar, for example when drinking from a bottle for a long period at sleep time. 

Breastfed children are not exposed to milk for such long periods and thus have a lower risk of tooth decay. Breast milk also contains antibodies from the mother that help the child fight against harmful bacteria in their mouth and reduces the chances of tooth decay. 

Tips to Maintain Good Oral Health For Your Child

It is important to take good care of your child’s oral health, even before his/her teeth have erupted. 

Here are a few things you can follow regularly:

  • Beginning at birth, clean your child’s gums after each feeding by running a clean and damp soft cloth over the gums. This will help remove bacteria from the child’s mouth. 

  • When your child’s teeth erupt, consult your paediatrician and start brushing the teeth with a soft toothbrush and a small amount of fluoride toothpaste every day.

  • Schedule a visit to the dentist when your child turns one. Let the dentist examine your child’s oral health and provide information on suitable dental hygiene practices. 

  • Teach your child the correct technique to brush his/her teeth by the time he/she is two years old. 

  • Limit the number of sugary foods and drinks in your child’s diet, as these can contribute to tooth decay.

Though it is natural to get caught up with taking care of your child’s needs, it is important that as a mother, you do not neglect your health, including your oral health. 

Continue basic dental hygiene practices such as brushing, flossing, and visiting your dentist regularly. It is important for you to prevent cavities so that you do not transfer bacteria to your child. 

If you notice any worrying symptoms in your child or yourself, seek advice from your dentist immediately. 

Disclaimer: This article is written by the Practitioner for informational and educational purposes only. The content presented on this page should not be considered as a substitute for medical expertise. Please "DO NOT SELF-MEDICATE" and seek professional help regarding any health conditions or concerns. Practo will not be responsible for any act or omission arising from the interpretation of the content present on this page.