When a breastfeeding mother’s baby cuts his first tooth, she may be worried about what this might mean for breastfeeding.
This is often the case if her baby has bitten her nipple or if people have told her that biting can mean the end of breastfeeding.
Biting does not mean that breastfeeding has to stop. In fact, when a baby is breastfeeding correctly, he cannot bite as his tongue is over his bottom gum (and teeth).
If your baby does bite your nipple, it would be when he is not actively feeding such as at the start of the feed or when he is coming off.
Also, if your baby bites, it is most likely a temporary (albeit painful) phase. Many mothers get through a biting phase and continue to breastfeed for a lengthy time thereafter with no further issues. So there is no need to take old advice to bite your baby back. Not only can it be painful (babies feel pain just like adults do), but it's unnecessary.
How To Deal With Biting While Breastfeeding
Here are 5 tips to help stop your breastfed baby from biting:
#1: Pay Attention To Your Baby
Paying attention to how your baby attaches to your breast and to him coming off, can help stop him biting.
At the start of the feed, waiting for your baby’s mouth to open wide before hugging him onto your breast can help prevent him biting as he comes on.
Then, watching him as he feeds can help too. If he seems to be playing, or gets a mischievous look on his face, you could break the suction and take him swiftly off.
#2: Breastfeed Away From Distractions
From a few months of age or so, many babies get distracted by what is going on around them when they feed.
Feeding away from distractions can help you and your baby to fully focus on breastfeeding. Your baby is more likely to attach, actively feed and come off when he is done. In this way, feeding your baby away from distractions could help stop him biting.
#3: Give Your Baby Something Cold To Chew On Before Feeds
The gums of a teething baby may be sore and he may feel like biting or chewing more. This may make it more likely for your baby to bite your nipple with breastfeeds.
Hence, if your baby is teething it can help to offer him something cold to chew on before feeds as it can help relieve his gum soreness and hence could stop him biting. Depending on your baby’s age, you could offer a cold teething ring or a piece of cold fruit for example.
If you feel your baby has a lot of pain from teething, you could speak with a pharmacist or doctor about other options.
#4: Focus On Basics Of Positioning And Attachment
Some babies whose top tooth/teeth have come through ‘rest’ it/them on their mother’s breast while feeding. This can leave little indentations there. While not a bite, this can still be painful for some mothers.
If this happens, it helps to go back to the basics of positioning and attachment. Hold your baby in close, chest-to-chest. Wait for his wide open mouth and as you hug him on to your breast, aim for your nipple to be pointing toward the roof of his mouth. When your baby attaches in this way, his chin will be in touching your breast and his nose free (i.e. his head/neck is tipped back) – this gives him less leverage to be able to rest his top tooth/teeth on your breast.
#5: Stimulate Your Let-Down Reflex
A baby might bite if the milk doesn’t let-down fast enough. This may be the case if your baby bites at the start of the feed and appears to be impatient for the milk to start flowing.
If this happens, it can help to get your milk flowing with some expressing just before starting the feed. This might only be necessary at certain times such as when your baby is tired or very hungry.
What To Do If Your Baby Does Bite
If your baby does bite, you could take him off your breast and say “No!” Try not to yell as it may scare him or he may think it is funny and so be more inclined to do it again.
First Aid For Your Nipple
If your nipple is damaged due to your baby biting it, it can be treated in the same way as a sore cracked nipple. For example, a few drops of your own expressed breastmilk, fresh air and regular changing of your breast pads.
See a doctor if these simple measures don’t work or if the wound becomes inflamed or infected.
What To Do If Your Baby Refuses To Go To The Breast
If your baby seems to be suffering a lot of discomfort from teething, this may lead him to refuse to breastfeed. Or, if your baby gets scared from your reaction to being bitten, he may refuse to breastfeed.
Breast refusal can be a very distressing time for mothers. However, most cases of breast refusal are temporary and there are many things that can help to get your baby breastfeeding again. Read here for more information.
It’s always helpful to talk with an Australian Breastfeeding Association counsellor or see a lactation consultant if biting is a problem or issue that persists.