Breast feeding and sleep disorders: Guest Post from 2017 Greater Lansing Baby Fair Sponsor Susan Maples, DDS

24 Apr 2017

Got Milk?

It’s estimated that 25% 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 influence their overall growth.

With many sleep disorders resulting from a narrowed airway—our eyes turn to a 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.

What many moms may not know, however, that it is not just the CONTENT of the milk that is healthy for development, but it is the actual ACT of feeding from the breast impacts how well a child sleeps!

Oh yes!  The anatomic structure of a woman’s nipple makes it more challenging for the baby to receive her milk than through a baby bottle nipple.  Because a baby must work harder at the 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 interventions fail, we recommend a CPAP machine for obstructive sleep apnea.      

What can you do to prevent sleep disordered breathing?  Try for more time feeding at the breast. If your baby is struggling with their latch, consult with a lactation specialist.  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, try not to give in.  Put the bottle away for a while to get more one-on-one time. And if you need to use a bottle, choose a slow flow nipple, so your baby must work harder while feeding. 

The mission of Dr. Susan Maples and her team, is to make a difference in the lives of each child seen through a collaborative approach to dental care.  Contact us today to schedule your baby’s airway assessment.  It is a significant part of the infant oral health exam and should be accomplished under the age of one.


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