Breastfeeding provides countless benefits for both mom and baby. For starters, breast milk is packed with vitamins and nutrients that help your baby grow and it can play a role in a preventing SIDS. And for new moms, breastfeeding saves money, helps burn extra calories, and can reduce the risk of breast and ovarian cancer. However, doing it for too long may also have some negative side effects as new research suggests that extended breastfeeding can give your baby cavities later in life, if they are fed this way for two or more years.
As the New York Daily News reported, researchers followed more than 1,000 children in Brazil until they turned 5 years old and analyzed their dental health, by focusing on both breastfeeding habits and sugar consumption. At age 5, dentists examined the kids for decayed and missing teeth as well as cavities, according to the study published this week by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
The researchers found that children who were breastfed for two years or longer — nearly 25 percent of the kids included in the study — had a higher number of cavities. They concluded that they had a “2.4 times” higher risk of getting cavities in their early childhood — which is considered between the ages of 3 to 8 years old — compared to kids who were breastfed for less than a year.
Meanwhile, they also found that there was no link to an increased risk of cavities for children breastfed between 13 and 23 months.
While the researchers noted that the underlying the reasons for these findings need to be investigated more deeply, they do have some theories.
"There are some reasons to explain such an association," Dr.Karen Peres, lead author of the study and associate professor at the University of Adelaide in Australia, told CNN. "First, children who are exposed to breast-feeding 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."
As breastfeeding has been linked to certain dental benefits — such as straighter teeth and a reduced risk of tooth decay — experts say nursing moms who want to prolong breastfeeding should be extra vigilant about preventative measures.
Dr. Ruchi Sahota, a family dentist and spokeswoman for the American Dental Association, told CNN that parents should make sure they're "wiping down baby's gums after they eat with a moist cloth" and "then brushing the teeth twice a day, when they come in, with a rice-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste."
According to the American Dental Association, while breast milk is totally natural, it does contain sugar, which is why infant dental care is important from the very beginning. While more research needs to be done to determine why extended breastfeeding has this risk, experts say keeping your baby's mouth and teeth clean is the best way to help prevent cavities.