New Study Highlights the Downside of Extended Breastfeeding

breastfeeding babyAs long as you can make it work and your baby is eating enough, breastfeeding is usually considered all good. There are no drawbacks to it, health-wise, for your baby ... well, except for possibly, maybe, their tiny little teeth. Breastfeeding at night has been linked with tooth decay, though the research has been inconclusive. But a new study shows there might be a connection after all: Breastfeeding more than two years is linked to tooth decay. Here's what scientists found and what it means to nursing moms.

A study of low-income families in Brazil followed 458 babies from 6 months to 38 months old. Of the breastfed babies, 40 percent between the ages of 6 and 24 months had some tooth decay. Of the babies who were still breastfeeding at 38 months, even more had tooth decay: 48 percent. Keep in mind, by that age, the babies were not still feeding exclusively on milk; they were also eating solid foods and juices.

More from The Stir: Dads Try Breastfeeding in Ultimate Show of Support (VIDEO)

Lead researcher Benjamin Chaffee is quick to point out, "Our study does not suggest that breastfeeding causes caries." He speculates that refined sugars in a baby's diet could be reacting to breast milk, though.

Meanwhile, a pediatrician not involved in the study thinks this may also be about practicing good oral hygiene for your baby. Breast and bottle feeding give babies less time for their teeth to get cleaned naturally with their saliva. It's not the breast milk! It's what's not happening while your baby is breastfeeding.

If you're doing extended breastfeeding, it's especially important that you get on the good baby oral hygiene routine. You know the drill: Take your baby for their first dentist checkup at their first birthday. Clean your baby's teeth with a damp washcloth after they eat food.

What is your oral hygiene practice for your baby?


Image via Christine Rogers/Flickr



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nonmember avatar blue

I'm willing to bet these kids have tooth decay, because they are poor kids living in Brazil...

Pinst... Pinstripes4

Pediatric dentists often warn against milk at night when the teeth come in. It would probably show similar results if the babies were formula fed at night as well.

nonmember avatar Erica

The studied babies from poor families in Brazil? No shit they're going to have more tooth decay due to not having as much access to dentist and having parents who may not be aware of how important good oral hygiene is. I didn't see anything about what percentage of formula fed babies had tooth decay at those ages either. They should do a study in America showing the difference between extended breast feeders and toddlers who are allowed to suck down koolaid and soda like it's oxygen.

TheSi... TheSilence

I always brushed my sons teeth after henurser at night.

nonmember avatar fg_2009

I am from Brazil and I have seen folks from low income to give all kinds of stuff for toddlers - including soda and all kinds of sweet stuff - the level of ignorance is high and again I am from there so I know what I am talking about. Make a study with a different sample (different moms from different socio-ecnomiv brackgroudns) and I think you will get a more robust result. This study only helps with policies towards low-income groups. But again the title of the articl - very misleading

Einyn Einyn

Erica, very few are formula feeding at age 2-3. And the study was on poor kids across the spectrum for breast feeding and extended breast feeding past two years, so the results of them having more tooth decay than the poor kids who stopped breast feeding by 2 are valid.

nonmember avatar Vriska

CALM DOWN BOOBIE POLICE! It's well know the effects of formula at night on children over the ages of 1, so calm your tits. This is a new study over breastmilk because formula has been done 1000 times.

Kellie Limeburner

I think all factors need to be considered in this case. Socioeconomic factors that key affect access to dental and healthcare. Quality of solid foods given, mineral status of the children concerned. My son breastfed until he was four and a half years. He had early dental check ups, no sugar or fruit juices in his diet. A good quality nutrient dense diet, no nutritional deficiencies and he fed at night. He had and still has, no dental caries. Extended breastfeeding is certainly one risk factor for dental caries, but only one factor in a sea of many:)

nonmember avatar Concerned mom

Well maybe that is my 23 month olds tooth problem. I am not poor i am a clean cut mom of 8 and have had 5 nursing babies of which their front top four teeth suddenly started to fall apart and decay. I was so concerned and felt terrible. I'm not sure why this happened but wondered if anyone else went thru this. I had to have dd four teeth pulled and the adult teeth came in great. Ds might also have those pulled. I for understand bc the other three did not suffer this way.

nonmember avatar Francesca

Just another irresponsible (and poorly executed) attempt at a breastfeeding smear campaign.
First of all, a sample size less than 1,500 is hardly worth a glance, period.
Secondly, these are low income families. What did the non breastmilk portion of their diets consist of? Was each family practicing identical oral hygiene routines?
And lastly, it is already common knowledge that ingesting anything with sugar throughout the night makes teeth more susceptible to cavities. If an 8% increase in cavities were actually real, I bet the other benefits of extended breastfeeding far outweigh one potential drawback.

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