Breastfeeding and Speech Development


  • Promotes normal oral-facial development
  • Improves coordination of the mouth, lips, tongue and jaw muscles

Since breastfeeding promotes normal development of the face and mouth, it would make sense that breastfeeding would enhance speech development and help to prevent speech problems. The research on this topic is mixed. Several studies have shown breastfeeding to enhance speech development and speech clarity, and others have shown no speech differences between breastfeeding and bottle-feeding.

Following are links to various journal articles on the subject (latest listed first):

Pivik RT, Andres A, Badger TM. Diet and gender influences on processing and discrimination of speech sounds in 3- and 6-month-old infants: a developmental ERP study. Dev Sci. 2011 Jul;14(4):700-12. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-7687.2010.01019.x. Epub 2010 Dec 16.

Barbosa C, Vasquez S, Parada MA, Gonzalez JC, Jackson C, Yanez ND, Gelaye B, Fitzpatrick AL. The relationship of bottle feeding and other sucking behaviors with speech disorder in Patagonian preschoolers. BMC Pediatr. 2009 Oct 21;9:66.

Dee DL, Li R, Lee LC, Grummer-Strawn LM. Associations between breastfeeding practices and young children’s language and motor skill development. Pediatrics. 2007 Feb;119 Suppl 1:S92-8.

Fletcher K, Ash B. The speech-language pathologist and lactation consultant: The baby’s feeding dream team. The ASHA Leader. 2005 Feb. 8;8-9,32-33.

Neiva FC, Cattoni DM, Ramos JL, Issler H. Early weaning: implications to oral motor development (Review). J Pediatr (Rio J). 2003 Jan-Feb;79(1):7-12.

“In addition to several benefits of breastfeeding, it contributes to a proper oral motor development and also avoids speech-language disorders, regarding oral motor system.”

Thorpe K, Rutter M, Greenwood R. Twins as a natural experiment to study the causes of mild language delay: II: Family interaction risk factors. J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2003 Mar;44(3):342-55.

“Family features that might have been influential, but which were not, included parental depression, breast-feeding, family size, and style of sibling interaction.”

Vestergaard M, Obel C, Henriksen TB, Sorensen HT, Skajaa E, Ostergaard J. Duration of breastfeeding and developmental milestones during the latter half of infancy. Acta Paediatr. 1999 Dec;88(12):1327-32.

“Early language development was defined as the ability to babble in polysyllables. The proportion of infants who mastered the specific milestones increased consistently with increasing duration of breastfeeding.”

Palmer, B. Breastfeeding: Reducing the Risk for Obstructive Sleep Apnea. Breastfeeding Abstracts. 1999 February;18(3):19-20.

“Breastfeeding is important to the proper development of the swallowing action of the tongue, proper alignment of the teeth, and the shaping of the hard palate.”

Palmer, B. The Influence of Breastfeeding on the Development of the Oral Cavity: A Commentary. Journal of Human Lactation. 1998;14(2):93-98

“There is another compelling benefit to exclusive breastfeeding: positive effects on the development of an infant’s oral cavity, including improved shaping of the hard palate resulting in proper alignment of teeth and fewer problems with malocclusions. The purpose of this commentary is to stimulate further research as well as to propose the importance of breastfeeding to developing and maintaining the physiologic integrity of the oral cavity.”

Obel C, Henriksen TB, Hedegaard M, Secher NJ, Ostergaard J. Smoking during pregnancy and babbling abilities of the 8-month-old infant. Paediatr Perinat Epidemiol. 1998 Jan;12(1):37-48.

“Smoking 10 or more cigarettes per day during pregnancy almost doubled the risk of the infant being a non-babbler at the examination at 8 months. Among children who were breast fed for less than 4 months this risk was even higher.”

Smith VL, Gerber SE. Infant feeding and phonologic development. Int J Pediatr Otorhinolaryngol. 1993 Dec;28(1):41-9.

“This study fails to replicate earlier researchers’ findings of an association between breastfeeding and phonologic development.”

Taylor B, Wadsworth J. Breast feeding and child development at five years. Dev Med Child Neurol. 1984 Feb;26(1):73-80.

“Breast feeding had no discernable effect on speech problems during the first five years.”

Broad FE, Duganzich DM. The effects of infant feeding, birth order, occupation and socio-economic status on speech in six-year-old children. N Z Med J. 1983 Jun 22;96(734):483-6.

“Differences in clear speech were associated with birth order and socio-economic status. Controlling for these effects, the association of breast-feeding with clear speech was different for the sexes. It was negligible for girls but strongly positive for boys.”

Broad FE. Further studies on the effects of infant feeding on speech quality. N Z Med J. 1975 Dec 10;82(553):373-6.

“The combined studies showed that: 1. Breast feeding is associated strongly with improved speech clarity in the male child and the tendency for breast feeding to be associated with improved tonal quality is sustained. 2. Reading ability is associated with breast feeding for the entire group, boys showing the effect more clearly than girls. 3. A high degree of association was found between reading ability and speech clarity. 4. There is an association between breast feeding and confidence. There is evidence that the feeding effect is different for both sexes and that differences exist between the two regions.”

Broad FE. The effects of infant feeding on speech quality. N Z Med J. 1972 Jul;76(482):28-31.

“There was a distinct relationship between breast feeding and clarity of speech in the male. Breast feeding was associated with improved tonal quality in both male and female children with a more marked improvement in the case of the male… The dramatic effect of breast feeding on the development of speech and reading in boys as revealed in this study suggests that the natural breast feeding method accelerates the rate of maturation of the male infant.”

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