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BREASTFEEDING AND SLEEP DISORDERS: The link from a dentist’s perspective

Updated: Mar 19, 2022

It’s estimated that 25 percent of kids suffer from some level of sleep disorder. That’s a big deal considering lack of sleep is associated with a multitude of health concerns: significant, behavioral problems, #headaches, ADHD diagnosis, and learning disabilities. Also, the growth #hormone is formed during sleep, so if your kiddo has disruptive sleep it may have an effect on his or her overall growth.


With many sleep disorders resulting from a narrowed airway – our eyes turn to lack of breast suckling as a contributing factor.


Most new moms understand the advantages of breast milk. There’s oodles of evidence that it helps babies defend against infections, prevent allergies, and protect against a number of #chronic conditions.


But for a variety of reasons, including moms sharing the primary caregiving role with dads, grandparents, daycare providers, etc., babies are often getting mom’s milk from a bottle instead of directly from her breast. Does it matter?


Oh yes! The anatomic structure of a woman’s nipple makes it more challenging for the baby to receive her #milk than through the baby bottle nipple. Because the baby has to work harder at the mom’s breast, it strengthens and conditions the tongue. In turn, a strong tongue pushes up and forward, naturally expanding the palate to make a resting place for itself. Without a strong #tongue, the palate remains narrow and “vaulted”. Now, where does the tongue rest? Low and back, sometimes blocking the airway during sleep.


To counteract this we often intervene with pre-orthodontic therapy called palatal expansion at 6+ years old. And sometimes with a tonsillectomy to gain more airway. If those fail we recommend a CPAP machine for obstructive sleep apnea.


What can you do to prevent sleep-disordered breathing? If you are an expecting mom, try for more one-on-one breastfeeding time. If your baby has a failure to latch, consult with a lactation specialist, and if there’s a tongue or lip tie, she might refer for an almost painless laser procedure called a frenectomy. If your baby starts preferring a bottle to your breast because it’s easier to eat through the bottle nipple, don’t give in. Put the bottle away for a while to get that one-on-one time.


And if you need to use a bottle, choose the Nuk*; it has an exclusive on the most real shaped bottle nipple. It also comes in graduated sizes which adjust the flow for growth and development.

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