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.
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.
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
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