April 22, 2014 | Posted in:Babies and Kids, Parenting

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Did you now bottle feeding affects athletic ability?  Singing ability, too?  So, it could affect their chances of being a world-class opera singer.  Or an internationally competitive athlete.  Or of living with tight muscles and chronic pain –  Regardless of whether the bottle contains formula or breast milk.  The magnitude of impact will vary from person to person, with some experiencing little tangible impact, but the possibility is there.

How Bottle Feeding Affects Athletic Ability

It’s pretty well documented that the activity of a baby’s oral cavity and jaw is completely different for bottle feeding compared to breast feeding (great explanation here).   The height, shape and function of your palate, mandible and maxilla are all developed during the early years – and they’re developed by breastfeeding at the breast, particularly during the first six months of life.

Bottle Feeding Affects Athletic Ability, Risk of Injury & More: REGARDLESS of what's in the bottle (formula or breast milk). Contains tips for ditching bottles, even if you formula feed.

 

Just as rolling, sitting and crawling are the developmental activities of the body, suckling at the breast is the developmental activity of the oral cavity and jaw.  Your jaw and mouth affect the function of your neck, which affects the function of your shoulders and everything beneath them.  This means that poor development of the jaw affects every physical structure down the line. Thus, bottle feeding affects athletic ability, risk of injury and more. 

*EDIT on 4/14/2015:  This post has received a LOT of traffic lately, and I’m amazed at the comments by people who have clearly NOT read the article.  I’m happy to host all opinions in my comments and will not delete comments, but please do me the courtesy of actually reading the article and remember this major point before you comment:

This article is NOT about breastfeeding versus formula feeding.  It’s about the impact of using a bottle compared to the breast.  A bottle has the same impact whether it has formula OR breast milk in it!  This is not a pro breast milk post – this is a pro-feeding-at-the-breast post!  Formula CAN be fed at the breast and delivering it at the breast is a better choice than delivering it from a bottle.  If you are a formula-feeding mom, please use this information to make choices about how you deliver formula to your infant.

 

 

Physical therapists, paleo living advocates  and exercise scientists like Dr. Patrick Davidson and Katy Bowman believe that poor development of the oral cavity & jaw can change the way your core muscles work.  It can also change the resting tightness of your muscles and your overall nervous system function.  This isn’t a huge deal for everyday folk and general sport competition, but what if your child wants to be more than average?

They’ll probably be OK if they dream of becoming an engineer or a writer (although they may not be safe from the possibility of chronic pain from muscle tension or misalignment of the neck).  But what if they dream of becoming a world-class athlete, like a power lifting  Olympic champion?  Or they want to set a world record for the deadlift?  Maybe your son will try to sprint his way to a gold medal at the Olympics?   The difference between a gold and silver medal can be a tenth of a second – as small of a difference as breast milk from a bottle or breast milk from the breast, formula from a bottle versus formula delivered at the breast.

Maybe your small daughter dreams of being a pop star or singing on stage at Carnegie Hall?  An oral cavity of a certain shape  is important for having a beautiful singing voice. The tone and quality of a voice is manipulated by moving the palate, the jaw and the bones of the face.  Some aspiring singers go through therapies like craniosacral therapy and Feldenkrais to recover normal tension and rearrange their oral cavities.  Some orthodontics can help change the shape of the oral cavity, teeth and jaw.

Overall, the capacity for physical and technical greatness is really determined by overall genetics and a human’s ability to compensate for their inherent weaknesses (Ref: Athletic Body In Balance)  – so, a “great adapter” can overcome their genetics and physical disposition to do just about everything.  That’s why some top-level runners appear to have bizarre running form yet still succeed at their sport.   (AFTER NOTE: It seems like a lot of people skimmed this part before they made comments.  This is fancy talk for just-because-you-bottlefed-doesn’t-mean-your-kid-is-going-to-be-a-troll.  They might even be an athlete or a musician).

Again, I’m really talking about international-level competition here – you likely won’t see the impact of oral mechanics at your seven year olds soccer practice, so if you’re saying “I formula fed and my child is a great athlete” you’re probably right – it’s the context that’s different.

But it’s not really about the bottle.  Or the thought that bottle feeding affects athletic ability.

While I find this topic fascinating, it’s really about a bigger picture.  We need to stop assuming we’re smarter than nature.  You don’t need to know about all the technicalities of dental occlusion, a vaulted palate, the angle of spee… I mean you could research all that if you really want to, but do you have time for all that?  Do you have the passion for all that?  Would you ever think about palate mechanics & breast feeding on your own??  Probably not.

So make it a point to live your life according to nature.  Make a bumper sticker, a sign in your house, write a song about it, whatever:  I will be guided by nature in all decisions about my body and my health.    You don’t need tons of knowledge to do right by your kids’ and their bodies – just look at the activity of human beings in nature and mimic it.  If you’re a middle class American then you probably know that babies naturally get their nourishment from breast milk, which comes from the breast.  We all want the very best for our children, but it can be intimidating to figure out exactly what the best is.  You’ll always choose the best, however, if you’ve made a point to live your life as a reflection of nature.  Can’t breastfeed?  Find an option that mimics breastfeeding as closely as possible (some options are listed at the end of this post).

Note:  I guess I need to say it again. I honor all mothers, whether they choose to breast feed or bottle feed.  This article is not a judgment of the value of a mother based on which way she chooses to feed her child.  However, it’s important to acknowledge that decisions DO have repercussions, some small and some large.  It’s also important to acknowledge that THAT’S OK!  It’s impossible to take perfect action all the time, whether because of inability or lack of knowledge.  I may breastfeed my kids, but I do a lot of other things poorly.  A mom who breastfeeds her child exclusively at the breast might not provide other advantages for her child and vice versa.  Do the best with where you are and what you’ve been given.  Accept imperfection instead of fighting it.

SOLUTIONS

Here are some things you can do to minimize these drawbacks in an infant, whether they’re drinking breast milk or formula – all of them emphasize less (or no) time on a bottle and more time on a breast (even if there’s no milk in it!).

1.  My favorite option: Consider syringe feeding your baby at your breast – they can suckle at the breast and work towards the same developmental motion, all while receiving their formula/breastmilk through the syringe that’s held close to the nipple.  You don’t need to have any milk in your breasts for this. It takes a few feedings to get used to the mechanics of holding the syringe, injecting the milk, etc., but this is a very doable option for mothers and babies – even in the long term.  Medela makes a great supplemental nursing system that’s also easy to use – you can attach a small tube to your breast, with the outlet by your nipple, so the liquid is fed to baby while he sucks.

2.  Consider using a wet nurse part time or full time, so your baby still has the opportunity to suck at the breast.  This option isn’t necessarily limited by socioeconomic factors, as I’ve met moms in La Leche League groups who would happily do it for free.  I’ve heard of female family members (aunts, for example) “relactating” and nursing as a favor to mom.  If some family members donate kidneys or act as surrogate mothers and egg donors, why not for breastfeeding?  The biggest barrier to using a wet nurse is mom’s reservations about it – which are certainly reasonable.

3.  If you’re feeding both at the breast and at the bottle, make an effort to spend as much time at the breast as possible during the course of a week.  The more time at the breast the more chances to use the mouth & jaw adequately.

4.  If possible, switch from a bottle to a cup when mom isn’t around.  Many babies can learn to drink from a cup at a young age and it will help prevent them from developing a preference for the bottle.

5.  Consider regular appointments with a craniosacral therapist or other bodyworker who specializes in lactation, infants, the mouth & the jaw.  Some craniosacral therapists are very skilled at manual therapy for the palate and jaw.

6.  If you’re well past the breastfeeding years, find a very experienced orthodontist who can assess your child’s jaw and mouth from a functional perspective.  Most orthodontists only focus on aesthetics.  The right orthodontist can help reshape the relationship between the jaw, oral cavity and mandible.

RESOURCES FOR HOW BOTTLE FEEDING AFFECTS ATHLETIC ABILITY

Dentistry for babies – “Breastfeeding”

REFERENCES FOR HOW BOTTLE FEEDING AFFECTS ATHLETIC ABILITY

1) Breastfeeding and non-nutritive sucking patterns related to the prevalence of anterior open bite in primary dentition, CC Romero et al. (2001), SciElo Brasil.

2) Relationship between breastfeeding duration and prevalence of posterior crossbite in the deciduous dentition, Kobayashki et al. (2010), Elsevier

17 Comments

  1. Vanessa
    April 22, 2014

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    Interesting information here. Have you seen any information for how thumb or finger sucking would also affect it? As many babies who don’t get a pacifier will turn to these as sucking (not just at the breast) is a soothing mechanism.

    I think it’s good to note we’re certainly not all destined to be these things – operatic singers or star athletes – and no infant will yet have those dreams. Unfortunately, nature does not always work out, and it’s not always a simple decision for a mother to choose the bottle. Sometimes there really is no choice. For the infant who struggles to nurse, for the infant born premature, for the mother who underproduces (despite everything she tries), for the mother who has to work full time to help support her family, etc etc… for these women I’m thankful science and technology have stepped in to allow them to feed and nourish their babies — even if it’s not the decision they desire. :)

    • laurensaglimbene
      April 22, 2014

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      Hi Vanessa – yes, I have heard about the finger sucking & thumb sucking but I didn’t relate it to the same problem until now (most of what I’ve read is about how finger sucking/thumb sucking is related to early weaning, when little ones still desire the emotional comfort of suckling).

      I’m going to make an edit to this post because all the wonderful comments have me thinking about the things we CAN do to minimize problems with the oral cavity & jaw, even if a mom can’t breastfeed.

  2. Suzi Satterfield
    April 22, 2014

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    I understand that the intent is not to “slam” moms who are bottle feeding for whatever reason… but that’s still exactly how it comes across. I’ll just have to accept that my children will have sloping foreheads, weak muscle tone, and be idiots of society because I could not breastfeed.

    • laurensaglimbene
      April 22, 2014

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      Suzi, I’m sorry if the post offended you, although I stand by the content. Though it may be hard to hear (and it sounds like it dredges up some old feelings) it doesn’t change the science just because it’s disappointing to you. In fact, it’s nature’s intent that each person experiences different advantages and disadvantages – that’s how our gene pool stays diverse and healthy. What I should have mentioned in the article is that parenting comes a long way in making up for not breastfeeding – maybe you took extra care to cuddle your baby close and chose the best formula for them. After learning this information, some moms might choose to go alternative routes like using a wet nurse instead of a bottle – or scheduling regular appointments with a craniosacral therapist that schedules in an infant’s oral cavity. There’s no room for improvement if we don’t acknowledge the physical impact of feeding choices.

      • Suzi Satterfield
        April 23, 2014

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        It’s not actually the science that irritates me. I don’t have the slightest bit of guilt for not breastfeeding. It’s the tendency to extrapolate from it, particularly when that is done to somehow suggest that those who didn’t breastfeed for whatever reason have failed.

        • laurensaglimbene
          April 23, 2014

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          Well extrapolations, correlations and relationships ARE science. Anyways, to each their own. And again, you’re missing the major point of this article: It doesn’t matter whether it’s formula or breastmilk in the bottle, the outcome for jaw and neck development is the same. Happy blogging and parenting!

  3. Michelle F.
    April 22, 2014

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    Wow I would I have never known that! Great information.

    • laurensaglimbene
      April 22, 2014

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      Thanks! I think so too!

  4. Kathy
    April 22, 2014

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    Very interesting read. Thanks for posting

    • laurensaglimbene
      April 22, 2014

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      Likewise, thanks for reading!

  5. Angel
    April 23, 2014

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    I breastfed with both my kids, but my son does use a pacifier. Hopefully one will balance out the other 😉 Thanks for the info!

    • laurensaglimbene
      April 23, 2014

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      Same here, Angel – I breastfed my son almost exclusively at the breast for two years but he used a pacifier a LOT. I didn’t think much of it at the time, not having gained the knowledge at have now. I wish I had, though, because it’s really important to me now. I was bottle fed and I have a Type II dental occlusion. I’m not in pain from it, but it has had its effects on my performance!

  6. Anonymous
    April 23, 2014

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    To be honest, this is ridiculous. Just because my child was not able to be breastfed doesn’t mean they won’t grow up to do great things. Something as small as that will not determine what they want to do when the grow up. They can do anything they set their mind to. I mean what parent is going to be like, “I’m sorry honey you can’t be an olympic star even though it’s your dream, because mommy didn’t breastfeed you.”

    I would be interested to see a poll of all the Olympic gold medalists and all the popular singers out there and see how many were breastfed and how many were bottle fed. Guaranteed there are some that were bottle fed.

    • laurensaglimbene
      April 23, 2014

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      I’m not really sure why you think this is “ridiculous.” – go onto google scholar and actually read the research articles I’ve posted.

      Researchers are very clear on the impact of breastfeeding on oral and jaw development (the citations I posted are just two out of several research studies).

      Similarly, scientists have established the importance of all these things for musicians. This quote is from an article in the journal “Special Care in Dentistry” “Oral health maintenance for the musical performer is an essential component of the training and experience. Normal tooth and dental arch development permit vocalists. and players of wind instruments and chin-held wind instruments to achieve their optimum acoustic and esthetic musical performance.”

      As I wrote in the article, ” Overall, the capacity for physical greatness is really determined by a human’s ability to compensate for their inherent weaknesses (Ref: Athletic Body In Balance) – so, a great adapter can overcome their genetics and physical disposition to do just about everything.” Is that ridiculous, too? Be specific.

      I’d love to do a poll on the Olympic gold medalists who were breasted versus bottle fed breast milk. Unfortunately, it’s not enough of a sample size to do an accurate research study.

      Next time please have the guts to post without being anonymous. I put my name on my comments and so should you.

  7. Natasha Rodriguez Mom 2 5321
    April 25, 2014

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    Interesting, I was able to breastfeed two and with the other it just didn’t happen. I feel science and research are there to help us make sense of things but they do not define us. :)

  8. Naiara
    April 14, 2015

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    Unfortunatelly, my baby wom’t latch and i am not going to stop pumping the 26-30 oz of milk I produce everyday and go through the struggle of lookoing for and managing the logistics of a wet nurse. I understand that the post did not intend to point fingers but unfortunately, the moms who are trying te hardest will probably get affected te most by this type of information and make us feel even worse.

    • laurensaglimbene
      April 15, 2015

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      Naiara, I’m sorry that you’re struggling with breastfeeding so much. I’ve been through that, too and struggled for months for my son to gain weight. Unfortunately, I do have to disagree with you on one thing: It’s not the information that’s making you feel bad. You’re doing that yourself. You’re also missing the biggest point of the article: This is not about breastfeeding versus formula. It’s about providing food at the breast versus from a bottle, whether that food is formula OR breast milk. Breast milk provided in a bottle causes the same complications as formula provided from a bottle. As someone who was very nearly unable to breastfeed traditionally and who may find myself challenged with my next child, I hope that you take the positive information from this that can help you use formula in the best way possible for you and your child.

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