I’ve been breastfeeding for nearly 6 years now straight. Breastfeeding through pregnancy, from newborn, through struggles and all the way through toddlerhood. One question I get asked frequently is about biting. What to do when baby bites while breastfeeding, how to stop breastfeeding biting and how to let baby know that Mom’s nipples aren’t a great place to teethe.
I didn’t grow up in a breastfeeding friendly family. I grew up hearing remarks like “When baby gets teeth he’s too old to breastfeed.” After breastfeeding my own babies I know that this is not true. Babies develop teeth early and the World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding until at least the age of Two. Have I been bitten? Yes I have. My nipples are still intact, I’ve developed some methods for communicating with baby about biting and want to share them with you! Post contains some affiliate banners for Amazon.
Teething has to be a painful experience for babies. I know my children have all had a difficult time teething. It seems like we’ve been teething for a long time here! At 8 months, we suddenly had 4 teeth pop through but the teething process started long before that. I noticed a dramatic increase in drooling around 3 months and not long after that felt hard areas, what I believe to be teeth, under baby’s gums. With my 4th baby, I’m prepared. I’ve been through this 3 times before and know how to communicate early to my little one that I don’t want to be used as a teether. Here are my methods for deterring biting during breastfeeding:
The most effective strategy for me has been gentle unlatching. When baby bites, I take my finger and gently break the seal and unlatch. I make eye contact, say “no biting” wait a second. I then allow baby to return right to nursing. Think Pavlov. Baby quickly associated being unlatched from his most favorite activity in the world; Breastfeeding!
The first time my son bit me while nursing I yelped. A giant smile came across his face and he giggled. He thought I was having fun! Who wouldn’t want to make Mom have fun by biting again? I learned that keeping my voice calm and my expression not-funny helps. Baby is learning cause and effect and getting a yelp out of me can turn into a fun activity, one he mistakenly thinks I enjoy!
Every so often when baby is nursing, he seems to be spending more time trying to soothe his gums then breastfeeding. I think back and try to remember his last time nursing, wonder if he’s really interested in eating or needs some gum relief. If it’s teething relief he’s seeking, I keep some teething toys handy and gently place them in his hand. I offer the toy instead of my breast for gumming and always keep his favorites handy!
Timing is Everything
I have breastfed my children all the way through toddlerhood. One child would clamp down right as he really fell asleep! Ouch, that hurt! I learned to watch him and his sleepy ques. As soon as he started to drift off I unlatched him by hooking a finger behind his front teeth and side molars to unlatch before the clamp. He got to nurse to sleep peacefully, I avoided being bitten and he was able to nurse until he self-weaned.
(Pinnable Image Below)
There have been a few times when my baby was extremely unhappy. Crying, fussing and trying to bite on my breast. I offered my finger, rubbed his gums, offered teething toys and couldn’t help ease his comfort. While I am generally not a fan of medication, especially in babies, I have given the occasional half dose of dye-free acetaminophen (ingredient in tylenol) when all else failed and baby was in real teething pain. Usually a one or two time thing, the relief was noticeable within 20 minutes and we were both relieved!
Remember: Nipples are Tough
The first time I was bitten hard I thought I had lost a nipple. I was horrified to look. To my surprise, I had two little teeth marks and just a hint of bleeding. (Refer to the chomper in Timing is Everything.) I thought, WOW, nipples are tough! Think about it. Our nipples are designed for breastfeeding. The average age of weaning around the world is Four and people do all sorts of things to their nipples. From nipple clamps, piercing and general other non-nursing activities (cough cough) nipples were built to be tough.
What NOT to Do
I’ve heard all sorts of crazy advice. The primary piece of advice being to hit baby. Do not hit your baby. This doesn’t teach baby to not bite, this teaches him that when he’s in pain Mom will hit him. Find other ways to help him relieve his teething gums other then while nursing. Another common piece of advice is hear is to yell at baby, punish by removing from your comfort and give a baby sized time out. I don’t agree with this either. In my experience, Baby is not biting because he is being ‘bad,’ he’s biting because he’s in discomfort and this is the only way he knows how to help himself.
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