Updated: Jan 12
by Alissa Pemberton – Midwife & International Board Certified Lactation Consultant| www.suffolkbreastfeeding.com
After months of blissful breastfeeding, just when you think you’ve got a handle on things it always comes as a shock the first time you feel that excruciating pain. The next words out of your mouth…”He just bit me!”. Biting whilst breastfeeding can be very distressing for mamas and babies alike, and can have a number of different causes. The most important thing to remember is that it doesn’t have to mean a nursing strike or the end of your breastfeeding journey. Read on to find out more about why your baby is biting you, and more importantly - how to stop it. Teething One of THE most common causes of biting while breastfeeding is teething. You know what your little ones are like, they will bite ANYTHING! So desperate for relief for those
poor little gums (and lets face it - who wouldn’t be! Any adult who has ever felt wisdom teeth coming through, had a root canal etc. will know how painful anything to do with your teeth can be) they search for anything cool and hard to put pressure on them. It almost becomes driven by instinct for them to get relief from that pain. Unfortunately sometimes, that relief comes while they’re breastfeeding. Whilst a teething toy might not yell out in pain, it’s very hard to stop ourselves from doing so!
If the biting is sporadic (that is to say not at a particular point during each feed, not happening at every feed) and it’s start coincides with other signs of teething such as red/flushed cheeks, excessive drooling, irritability, difficulty sleeping then chances are it’s just caused by teething. The good news with this is it tends to be transient and babies will stop on their own once the teething pain has improved.
What to do:
- Try to tone down your reaction (as much as possible) when your baby does bite. Sometimes a loud yell/cry out in pain, shouting at your baby etc. can scare them and lead to a nursing strike. - Use a finger to break the suction and take them off the breast. Sooth them if they’re upset and offer them something cool or a teething toy to chew on. Give them a few minutes break from the breast and then relatch them. - Pay attention to how your baby is latching - often as our babies get older we stop putting the same effort and attention into how they latch as they’re more able to do it themselves, but if they’re extending their tongue over the lower gum and latching deeply they shouldn’t be ABLE to bite you, as their tongue will be in the way. Biting at the end of a breastfeed One common cause for biting whilst breastfeeding is that baby is bored or no longer hungry. Some babies might also bite part way through a feed out of frustration at a slow letdown. What to do: - Look out for signs that your baby is no longer efficiently feeding - you might notice tension in the jaw as they pull their tongue back from it’s normal feeding position, they might start to fidget, pull back while holding onto your breast or get distressed. - When you notice these signs, remove your baby from the breast and offer them a teething toy or something else they can bite on. - If your baby still appears hungry but is biting or pulling back on the breast with it still held in their mouth, try relatching them so they’ve got a deep mouthful of breast, then commencing some breast compressions using your thumb and fingers in a C shape, about half way back on your breast. Compress, hold for a few seconds then release. Keep repeating this process to help stimulate another letdown and increase milk flow. Habitual biting Babies spend a lot of time with something in their mouths. From teething toys, to
regular toys, to blankets, muslins, dummies, sippy cups, bottles & of course, the boob. The majority (except for one!) of these items they can easily bite. They can gnaw and chew and chomp to their hearts content, and their dummy never screams out in pain when it’s bitten. If you notice your baby has started biting at the breast, and there’s no discernible pattern to it (i.e. it’s not always at the beginning, or the end of a feed), they’re not teething, they don’t seem distracted etc. it might be that they’re biting because they’ve formed the habit of biting other things, and aren’t able to understand why they can’t do that to you. This is particularly true of babies who use dummys/pacifiers, bottles or soft teat sippy cups. What to do: - As with any form of biting, stay calm, remove your baby from the breast and give them
something they can bite on. - In this situation the most effective fix is to remove the other objects which they’ve become accustomed to biting. - Try to wean them off the dummy, switch the soft teat sippy cup for a hard plastic top or an open top cup (like the Doidy Cup) and observe them carefully (or ask family/childcarers to) when they’re bottle feeding. Apply the same principle that you would at the breast - if they start to chew/bite on the teat of the bottle, remove it from their mouth and take it away for a few minutes. Tell them very clearly that it’s not okay to bite. Behavioural Biting As babies get older they are more able to develop habits and behaviours, and for some this translates to biting. Try to focus your attention during breastfeeding as some babies will bite for attention! Particularly if you’re having a conversation, using your phone or otherwise focused on something other than your baby, they might bite as they know it will get instant attention and eye contact. What to do: - Try to ‘check in’ with your baby every few minutes whilst breastfeeding. Even if you’re having a conversation or engaged in another activity, make it a habit to look down at them, make eye contact, speak to them, hold their hand - do something to let them know you are paying attention to them. - If your baby does bite, take them off the breast and (particularly with older babies) calmly tell them that hurts and not to bite mummy. Give them a few minutes break, so it’s clear to them that if they bite, they will be taken away from the breast. You can then help them to latch on again and continue the feed if they’re still hungry. - If this behaviour continues and you’re sure the biting isn’t related to teething or milk flow, it may help to completely cease a feed once they bite, so they start to get the message that biting means the end of a breastfeed. In the event of any biting:
- try to stay calm, and don’t deliberately yell or shout at your baby for biting. For some babies this will scare them into going on a nursing strike, for others they may continue to bite because they get a reaction. Either way, best to try to stay calm. - DO tell your baby not to bite you. Make them aware that if they bite, that breastfeeding will stop for that feed, or for a period of time. - DO sooth your nipples with lanolin cream or expressed breastmilk. - DO pay close attention whilst they’re feeding. When they stop sucking/swallowing or begin to fuss, take them off the breast before they have the chance to bite. If they’re still hungry you can then rematch them. - DON’T think you need to give up breastfeeding when your baby gets teeth or starts to bite. Almost all biting during breastfeeding is temporary and babies will go on to breastfeeding comfortably without biting for many months to come! If you are struggling with your baby biting at the breast, or any breastfeeding issues contact an IBCLC. You can contact Alissa via www.suffolkbreastfeeding.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org for private, personalised breastfeeding support.