Our bodies are uniquely and exquisitely designed, from conception in the womb to birth and beyond, to seek and utilize resources and nutrients available to us from nature. If we listen, we then understand that our bodies remind us almost constantly through important clues, to do what is good for us. The resources that nature makes available to us match perfectly to our needs at any given moment in our development.
Breast milk is one extraordinary example of a perfect food for a pivotal time in our development, and breastfeeding becomes the greatest and earliest opportunity to build a strong foundation for lifelong health. The nutrients and immune elements present in mother’s milk equip a growing infant for optimal long-term health. It is important to understand that the mother’s body makes exact calculations of the food it can spare to make the milk. For example, if the mother’s body is vitamin D deficient (which is a common deficiency seen throughout pregnancy), the breast milk will also be deficient. This could be the case for other vitamins such as A and K2 as well. It is crucial that the mother’s prenatal diet ensures plenty of these fat-soluble, vitamin rich foods to create a state of abundance.
The act of breastfeeding promotes and develops strong jaws and airways. The rooting reflex, which triggers breastfeeding in infants is the result of the dynamic interaction of five cranial nerves that innervate the face and jaw and represents the earliest form of facial exercise. This exercise is critical for the development of strong tongue muscles which in turn, support the baby’s airway for optimal oxygen delivery to the developing brain and growing body. One of the first signs of poor airway development is snoring, and signifies airway collapse due to poor tongue posture and consequently promotes decreased oxygen delivery to our vital organs. Improper oxygen delivery is associated with many chronic conditions we see in children from behavioral to attention deficit, poor digestion and more.
Breastfeeding also influences digestion because it exercises the vagus nerve which is a major player in intestinal motility throughout our entire lives. Poor vagal tone has consequences on our ability to break down and absorb nutrients in our gut and one of the first early signs of such disturbance in childhood is constipation.
In order to extract the milk from mom’s breast the baby has to push the nipple with their tongue against their palate, which exerts a pivotal force for upper jaw development and prevention of crooked teeth. Also, while breastfeeding, the infant learns to breathe through their nose which mixes the oxygen they breathe with nitric oxide. Our nasal passages produce nitric oxide which improves our lungs’ ability to absorb oxygen and increases its transport throughout the body including inside our heart.
Understanding and appreciating the extraordinary benefits of breastfeeding from a developmental and health perspective is extremely important for two reasons: first and foremost, we want to encourage mothers to breastfeed, but moreover we want to present solutions for those moms who were not able for different reasons, to offer their children the health benefits of breastfeeding. Caregivers can recognize the early signs and symptoms of poor airway development (snoring, poor jaw development, crooked teeth), digestive issues (constipation, restricted diets to only a few items), psychological (behavioral, attention, focus) and seek solutions through a holistic approach.
At NMR, we recently established a productive collaboration with Dr Nemie Sirilan, a holistic dentist who offers innovative and holistic solutions to oral health and recognizes its impact on whole body health. Along with Dr. Sirilan we are able to support families in need of such solutions by offering prenatal education, clinical nutrition, postural restoration to support a healthy airway among others.