Don't bite the boob that feeds you: Breastfeeding a Teething Baby
Updated: Apr 5, 2021
The word on the street is that you don’t have to worry about your baby having teeth or potentially biting while breastfeeding until they're about six months old. However, some of us are not that lucky. Take it from me, my son started teething and biting at just two months of age when two teeth popped up out of nowhere. This was followed by one tooth per month, three more teeth at 8 months, and many severe bites.
Whether you’ve got a biter on your hands already or there are no teeth in sight, it’s better to prepare now so you know how to handle it. It’s important to know what to do if your baby bites while breastfeeding, how to prevent your baby from biting, and the best remedies for sore nipples so you can focus on fixing the problem from the moment it happens. Hey, you might even be able to prevent your baby from biting in the first place.
Does biting mean it’s time to wean?
Not in the slightest! Biting while breastfeeding can be resolved; it is not the tell-tale sign that many think it to be. All it takes is a little bit of correcting, and a little bit — or quite a lot— of grit, and biting while breastfeeding will be a thing of the past. A biting baby is not a breastfeeding dealbreaker.
Why do babies bite while breastfeeding?
One of the first conclusions we come to when our baby practically bites our nipples right off is that they are teething. This is a fair assumption, teething is a leading cause that urges babies to bite while nursing. It may be helpful in this case to keep a cool cloth on hand to soothe your baby’s gums, either before you nurse or after your baby takes a chomp at you.
It is a little-known fact that it is actually impossible for babies to bite when they are latched and feeding correctly. Biting is a sure sign that baby’s latch needs to be corrected.
Change in milk flow
Biting could be your baby’s response to a change in milk flow. Whether it is done out of frustration that the milk flow is slowing down, or it is a knee-jerk reaction from a sudden increase in milk flow, biting is one way that babies try to stimulate or stop the flow of milk.
Poor positioning is one cause of an improper latch. If your baby is positioned too far from your breast, they may clamp down in an effort to keep their suction. On the contrary, if your baby is uncomfortable because they are too high on your boob, biting may be their way of trying to push your nipple out of their mouth.
Have you ever been sipping through a straw and suddenly notice that you’ve gnawed the thing to destruction? Just as some grown adults subconsciously bite their straw, some babies bite nipples just for funsies. It is a sad truth for some of us. Biting in this way happens primarily when your baby is distracted while feeding.
What to do if baby bites while nursing
First things first, stay calm. Reacting out of shock could be dangerous for both your baby and your nipple. Instead, keep your finger ready. Keeping your thumb or pointer finger near babies mouth will allow you to quickly and calmly unlatch your baby from your breast when they go to bite.
Keep in mind, this tip works best if you catch your baby before he or she clamps down. It’s not very easy to pry open locked jaws with one finger. There are signs you can look for to know when your baby is about to bite you. This is baby-specific, so it might take some trial and error, but a look of over or underwhelm, a tight jaw, or a decrease in suction are common red flags.
Depending on your baby's age, removing baby from your breast each time he or she bites will signal to your little one that biting is not beneficial to them. You can even say, “no biting” once they are unlatched. I know, verbally reprimanding an infant may seem pointless, but babies do learn rather quickly. They will eventually make the connection that biting leads to no more milk.
How to prevent biting
A good latch and proper positioning are key when you have a little biter on your hands (or your boob). La Leche League, the internationally renowned breastfeeding association, recommends positioning your baby so that their head is tilted back and their bum is close to you. This will allow you to have control over the positioning. When your baby opens their mouth wide, hug them close while aiming your nipple at the roof of their mouth.
If your baby is teething, soothe their gums before breastfeeding. Teething or not, while you are nursing, be attentive and prepared to remove your baby from your breast by watching for biting cues.
Keep calm as to not scare your baby off from future feedings, or cause your nipples extra trauma by pulling them through clenched teeth. That thought alone is almost too much to bear.
If your baby is a distracted biter, keep them engaged in the feeding by gently encouraging them. It may be helpful to talk to them, rub their back, or dim the lights in the room.
My nipples are sore from being bitten while breastfeeding. How do I go on?
If your nipples are sore or wounded from a bite, there are some things you can do to help speed up the healing process. A cold compress for 20 minutes will reduce inflammation, as will Tylenol. Applying nipple cream, such as lanolin, will help treat the damage done to the outside of the nipple.
The real pain comes when it’s time to nurse again. Experts recommend that you nurse on the uninjured side first, because babies often take more milk from the first breast offered to them during a feeding. Additionally, experimenting with positions will help you find the most comfortable angle for your injured breast while ensuring that your baby gets a proper feeding. Keep in mind, the first minute or so is often the most painful, and the pain usually subsides after your baby has settled into their feeding. With this being said, if you feel that the pain is too much, or if you are at risk for infection, it may be best to pump or hand express your milk rather than breastfeed directly.
PS: Check out the picture of my 4 month vampire who liked to bite everything!