Updated: Jan 19, 2022
I was recently invited to write a short essay for a book. The topic was, “How does myofunctional therapy relate to birth and breastfeeding?” I thought I’d share my research. Breastfeeding and proper oral rest posture (tongue resting on the roof of the mouth, lips together) are nature’s myofunctional therapy for babies.
I also want to preface this essay with acknowledging that breastfeeding may not be possible for all women. Deciding to breastfeed or formula feed is a personal decision and we fully support what you decide on what is best for you and your baby. I’d like to recommend two wonderful books by speech therapist Diane Bahr. “Nobody Ever Told Me (or my Mother) That!” and “Feed Your Baby and Toddler Right”. Diane provides valuable information on ways to promote good oral function when bottle feeding. I wish I would have known this for my children!
Mouth development in children is extremely important to their health and wellbeing. This begins at birth. Research supports breastfeeding as the preferred feeding method for the first year 6 months baby’s life. Most of the research has focused on the benefits of breastmilk. Less attention has been paid to the importance of the coordination of muscles used in breastfeeding and how these muscles affect infant jaw development, oral health and overall health as children grow.
Breastfeeding requires baby to coordinate a suck, swallow, breathe pattern. Muscles of the mouth and face, cranial nerves and the jaw bones, all work together to make this happen. The newborn palate (roof of the mouth) is soft at birth and will harden over time. The shape of the palate is formed by the baby’s tongue. When baby is at rest, the tongue is lightly suctioned to the roof of the mouth. During breastfeeding, the baby must use its tongue to press against the palate, deeply drawing the mother’s breast into the mouth. The orofacial muscles form a vacuum to release milk from the breast. This rhythmic wavelike movement helps to maintain the palates’ broad “U” shape, widening the upper jaw, creating space for the tongue and the upper teeth.
When the milk is released, the tip of the tongue pushes the breast against the palate. This pressure grows the middle of the face and upper jaw forward. The lower jaw moves in a back and forth motion, stimulating forward growth of the lower jaw. As the jaws and face grow forward, so does the airway.
The benefits of breastfeeding are many. In addition to the nutritional qualities of breastmilk the oral health benefits include:
· Wide jaws that allow the teeth to come in naturally may reduce the need for braces in the future.
· The palate is the floor of the sinus cavity. A broad shaped palate provides room in the sinus cavity for optimal breathing.
· Jaws that grow forward allow room for the tongue to rest on the roof of the mouth. This supports nasal breathing and grows the airway.
· Nasal breathing, with lips together, eliminates mouth breathing. Mouth breathing is a risk factor for cavities, poor health and sleep disordered breathing.
· Fewer ear infections – the wavelike swallow pattern pushes the tongue against the palate helping to drain the eustachian tubes.
Every child deserves a chance to grow to their full potential. Having the knowledge of newborn and early infant oral development, provides a foundation for best feeding practices that promote optimal facial growth and jaw development in babies and young children. Establishing good oral function and proper oral rest posture sets the stage for healthy children who grow into healthy adults.