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The Breastfeeding Health Risk No One Talks About

Photograph by Twenty20

Women who breastfeed may putting their babies at risk for something that's rarely on a newborn mother's radar: cavities.

According to a recent study published in Pediatrics, despite the fact that breastmilk is nutritional AF (and 100 percent free of charge!), moms should be wary one of the common downsides, particuarly for those who nurse their babies well beyond their first 6 months.

For the study, researchers analyzed breastfeeding behaviors and sugar consumption of 1,129 children. What they found was that kids who were breastfed for two years or longer were 2.4 times more likely to experience severe cavities than those breastfed for less than a year.

The study's author, Dr. Karen Peres told CNN, “There are some reasons to explain such an association. First, children who are exposed to breastfeeding beyond 24 months are usually those breastfed on demand and at night. Second, higher frequency of breastfeeding and nocturnal breastfeeding on demand makes it very difficult to clean teeth in this specific period."

The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests breastfeeding your little sweetheart for six months before introducing foods or fluids (unless medically required). Beyond that, they recommend continuing to breastfeed for a year or for as long as is mutually desired by the mother and baby. But that seems like extended breastfeeders are setting themselves up for long-term problems down the line.

And yet, there are a lot of things other than breast milk that can lead to tooth decay. Take flavored water for example. Though packaged as a wholesome alternative for kids, these drinks often contain high fructose corn syrup or other artificial chemical sugar substitutes that may not be the best substitute—at least, not everyday. And juice? Naturally occuring fructose is still sugar.

As strange as it may seem, the best way to avoid stressing over breastfeeding deadlines is to start brushing baby’s teeth long before they exist. By wiping off a baby's gums after each feeding with a warm, wet washcloth or dampened gauze, the odds of experiencing tooth decay later in life (when they actually have teeth) will be significantly reduced.

The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry also urges mothers to avoid nursing children to sleep or putting anything other than water in their bedtime bottle, since both can lead to tooth decay, once they start coming in. Experts recommend scheduling a child's first pediatric dental visit by their first birthday and having their teeth and gums checked regularly.

In the words of dear old Mom, "It's never too early to start brushing." (By "early," she means before it’s too late.)

Meanwhile, enjoy bonding without fear. Your kids will thank you later.

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