breastfeeding baby

By this point, most of us could recite the reasons why nursing is so good for you and baby (thanks, #BreastIsBest!). But a new body of research has uncovered two unexpected ways breastfeeding can benefit your child long after he's weaned.

For starters, drinking breast milk could help encourage your kiddo to eat healthy foods when he starts school. According to a study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, infants who were breastfed for longer periods were likely to drink more water (and fewer sugary drinks) and load up on more fruits and veggies when they were 6 years old. Furthermore, babies who were exposed to the good stuff when they started solids also tended to continue eating well as they got older, reports the New York Times. The results, published in Pediatrics, were part of a series of 11 nutritional studies aimed at combating childhood obesity in the U.S.

"Our early taste preferences, particularly for fruits and vegetables, and on the flip side for sugary beverages, are lasting," Dr. Elsie M. Taveras, chief of the division of general pediatrics at MassGeneral Hospital for Children in Boston, told the Times. Though she wasn't involved in the research, she added that "these studies are suggesting that in terms of diet quality, the die might be cast in the first year."

But breastfeeding can impact more than baby's diet --  the very act of nursing can beneficial, too, reports U.S. News & World Report. Drawing milk from a breast is tough work. In order to eat, your child's muscles, tongue, and jaw have to work in tandem in a much different way than if he was bottle feeding. Some experts believe breastfeeding is essential to a properly developed jaw and airway and good dental health, according to the article. To wit, one study of more than 1,000 preschoolers found that those who were breastfed were less likely to have an overcrowded mouth or issues with the alignment of their teeth. And more recently, a January 2014 study discovered that 8-year-olds who were breastfed as babies and had a family history of asthma were less likely to snore or struggle with sleep apnea. That could be because sleep apnea is common in people with a high palate and narrow dental arch, which are more likely in bottle-fed babies.

Does all this research mean bottle-fed babies are destined for a life of weight struggles and scary sleep apnea? Of course not. But hopefully, findings like these will help educate moms who are considering breastfeeding -- and encourage women who are struggling to keep at it.

Tell us: If you're breastfeeding, how is it going so far? 

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Image of nursing baby courtesy of Shutterstock