Breastfeeding a baby with teeth – things you can try to stop the biting
If you are a breastfeeding mum who is starting to worry about breastfeeding a baby with teeth, then first of all, WELL DONE, MAMA! You have done so well to get through the initial difficulties of establishing your breastfeeding journey, and you have your sights set on breastfeeding past the newborn phase, which is in line with the World Health Organisation’s guidelines.
The mere thought of having your nipples anywhere in the vicinity of tiny, new, sharp little teeth that are being “controlled” by a tiny human (and I’m using the word “controlled” very loosely, because it takes babies a little while to learn to control their bodies). But many women breastfeed their children into toddlerhood and beyond, so you’re probably thinking there must be some tips that will help you through the teething phase. There are! Let me share with you what I have learned throughout my own breastfeeding journey about biting.
It’s better to prevent the biting, rather than reacting after it’s already happened
As I mentioned above, babies take a little while to learn to control their bodies. If your baby is just starting to cut teeth, they are unlikely to have much impulse control. It’s my personal opinion that “disciplining” your baby for biting is probably not going to be effective in preventing further biting. I have seen suggestions of a firm “no”, tapping teeth, removing baby from your breast and sitting them away from you while you count to ten, pinching or even biting your baby back. These suggestions don’t feel logical to me. If your baby is biting, there is probably an underlying reason why. Once you have identified the reason, you can decide on an appropriate plan of attack to prevent the biting. The added bonus is that you don’t need to wait for your baby to actually bite you before you can start being proactive in protecting your nipples!
Babies don’t normally bite while they’re actively drawing milk from your breast
In order for your baby to be correctly latched on and suckling the milk from your breast, their tongue needs to cover their lower gums. You will note from the image below, courtesy of “Milk & Baby” that the tongue is thrust past the lower gum, all the way to the front of the mouth so it is able to stimulate the breast. If you have one of those adorable babies that occasionally smiles at you mid-feed, you may have noticed you can see their tongue in the corner of their mouth when their lips part. If your baby’s tongue was not in that correct position, then it would be further back, behind their lower gum and not visible to you. The biting feeling is worst when your breast is crushed between the top and bottom gums. If your baby is actively feeding, then their tongue would cushion the impact between the gums, and you should not feel pain. If your baby is well attached to your breast, but then changes the position of their mouth, they may be preparing to bite. If your baby is biting, it’s very likely that he or she is not actually feeding at that time.
Does your baby want to breastfeed right now?
My son went through a phase of biting as soon as I put my breast near his face. This was a major problem for me, as breastfeeding has always been a big part of the way I parent. If he was hungry, I gave him boob. If he was tired, I gave him boob. If he was crying, I gave him boob. Boob, boob, boob. Sometimes I didn’t know what the problem was, but boob was my go-to solution. I could tell he was biting me because he didn’t want boob at that time, but if I was actively offering it to him all the time, how could I protect myself?
I had to stop offering him breast when he didn’t want it. It was a tough habit to break of waving boobs in his face in all situations, but my son had discovered he had power over when he would and would not be having milk, and he was enjoying exercising it! I backed off with the offering, and instead relied on his cues more. And sure enough, he would let me know when he was ready for a breastfeed (usually by tapping my breast, sticking his hand into my shirt, or, if all else failed, putting his face onto my clothed breast and pretending he was suckling). Not only were my nipples no longer being bitten, but my son had learned new ways to communicate his needs to me! Note, this was not a permanent situation. It was a phase, and after a few weeks of him letting me know when he wanted a breastfeed, he reverted back to his earlier behaviour of happily accepting a breastfeed whenever it was on offer.
Biting from teething pain
If you know your baby is in pain from teething, offering your preferred method of pain relief before breastfeeds can help a lot. Some mums use conventional or homeopathic medication, breastmilk icy poles, a cold teether toy – there are a wide range of options available. We used a facewasher wet with icy cold water. Both of my kids love chewing on a facewasher, and I would sometimes put the facewasher over my finger and give their gums a bit of a massage. Offering relief before a breastfeed will help your baby breastfeed without pain.
Biting from teething pain will usually happen towards the start of a breastfeed, and may be accompanied with your baby looking upset, wincing or even crying. If your baby is very agitated and appears to be unable to relax and breastfeed, find other ways to calm them down, and offer breast again when they are more relaxed.
Biting later in the feed
These bites were tricky for me to make sense of. We would have a lovely, peaceful breastfeed, and it felt like we were both calm and relaxed, then out of the blue my son was biting me! What a way to ruin the moment for me! After paying more attention (instead of zoning out, which is what I’m normally doing while I breastfeed my kids), I noticed that my son stopped swallowing milk after a while, but continued suckling. I could tell this by watching his throat and mouth. His mouth was making the suckling movements, but I couldn’t see his throat moving like it usually did when he was swallowing mouthfuls of milk. I realised that he was no longer actively breastfeeding when he was biting me, so I learned to remove him from my breast once he stopped swallowing milk. If he got upset when I removed him from my breast, I would switch sides and let him continue feeding. It seemed to me that he was biting because milk was no longer flowing freely from my well-drained breast. The faster-flowing milk from my fuller breast made him happy. Again, this was not a permanent situation. After I learned to put him on the other breast when he stopped swallowing milk from the first side, he soon followed suit and learned to stop feeding from a breast when he was not happy with the flow, and indicated to me that he wanted the other breast.
Biting for your attention, or as a “game”
It can be quite distressing to feel the pain of a bite to your breast, only to look down and see your baby thinks it’s hilarious. As I previously mentioned, I don’t believe disciplining your baby for biting is appropriate, however while I don’t agree, I can see why some people believe it’s appropriate in these circumstances – they think the baby is being “naughty”.
I don’t think a biting baby is naughty. I don’t actually think any baby is naughty, but we can save that for another blog post. I think in these circumstances, we have a baby who really wants your attention. Watch your baby during the breastfeed. Talk, hold hands, stroke hair. This is your baby’s way of asking you to put the phone down, stop fiddling with the tv and enjoy this precious moment with them.
Biting to bring on a letdown
I have not personally experienced this, however a close girlfriend of mine did. Her daughter was biting as soon as she got on because she learned it made the letdown happen faster. As my friend had a very forceful letdown, she allowed the biting to continue so she didn’t spray milk across the room. My friend didn’t realise why her daughter was doing this straight away, and by the time she worked it out, her daughter was biting at every feed out of habit. To break the habit, my friend would unlatch her daughter when she bit, and would reattach her, ensuring she had a good, deep latch. There were a few times when her daughter wouldn’t cooperate, and I watched my friend catch a few letdowns into a breastpad, which was very frustrating for her. But she was firm with her daughter, and they were able to break the habit. There are circumstances where your baby may bite due to an issue with low supply. If you believe you have a low supply, you should seek advice from an IBCLC, who would consider a number of factors (including your baby’s weight gains and nappy output) in determining whether your supply is adequate for your baby’s needs.
You don’t need to stop breastfeeding
The information I have given here are based on my own experiences as a breastfeeding mum, and admin of the Breastfeeders in Australia Facebook group. If you don’t feel like any of my suggestions apply to your situation, please don’t despair – you can get further advice from an IBCLC or by ringing the Australian Breastfeeding Helpline on 1800 MUM 2 MUM.