Biting While Breastfeeding Sucks, But There's Help
“I’ll wean as soon as the first tooth comes through.”
As a new mom, I remember hearing people say this about breastfeeding, and I honestly wondered if things would change once my little one got his first tooth. But when my son popped his first pearly white at 7 months, nothing really changed in terms of breastfeeding. No pain, no biting — just a whole lot of sleepless nights and crankiness.
Soon after that, I became a volunteer breastfeeding counselor, and then a lactation consultant. I learned that when a baby is latched on well, the gums shouldn’t really even make contact with a mom’s nipple or breast, and so having teeth is pretty much a non-issue.
I counseled mothers to just ignore the rumors, to not listen to the people who try to tell them that they should wean their babies as soon as they get teeth. I mean, some babies get teeth as early as 3 months old. Some are even born with a few teeth (Google it: It’s freakishly true). Why should teeth be cause to wean?
I had sympathy for the moms whose babies bit them, I really did. I explained to them that even though it sucks, biting is always a passing phase.
But when my second child was born, I was in for a rude awakening. This kid started biting me fresh out of the womb (and no, he was not born with teeth, thank the good lord!). I knew from my work as a lactation consultant that some babies come out a little chompy for various reasons, and I knew how to fix his latch, open up his tight jaw, and basically minimize the chances of his clamping down on my poor postpartum nipples.
Those things helped, but he still bit from time to time, and let me tell you, it was among the sharpest, most startling, most excruciating pain I’d ever experienced. I’d always known there were a million nerve endings in nipples, and I’d known women whose nipples had been mangled by a biting baby. But it was only when it happened to me, right there with my cute, milk-guzzling-baby-barracuda, that I truly understood why some moms wanted to throw their babies across the room when they bit.
Of course, I hadn’t seen anything yet. After his newborn chompy phase, my son didn’t clamp down too often. But once he started getting teeth at just 4 months old, that was a different story. Neither of my kids were happy teethers, but this kid decided that biting down on his precious milk source (me!) would somehow alleviate the throbbing pain inside his gums.
No, just no. There were some more high-pitched screams from me, and I’m pretty sure I woke the whole neighborhood.
But then I got down to business and worked on teaching my kid not to bite.
Here are some tried and true tips that worked for me:
Anticipate the times that the biting is about to happen and unlatch before the clamping starts. To unlatch safely, put your finger in the corner of your baby’s mouth and break the seal.
Offer frozen teething rings or other cold/frozen baby-proof stuff before nursing so your baby gets all the biting out of their system — and so their gums are a little numbed as well.
Talk to your baby (they understand more than you think). Tell them it hurts Mommy when they bite.
If your baby bites, unlatch right away, and make your baby take a short break from nursing to teach them that nursing and biting do not mix. If possible, try to stay calm and comforting during this. It’s a lesson, not a punishment.
Use whatever you’re comfortable using to soothe your baby’s aching gums. Hippy dippy stuff might work; OTC pain relief almost definitely will (with doctor’s approval, of course).
If at all possible, try not to scream your head off if your baby bites. Believe me, it’s human instinct to do so, and you almost certainly will the first time it happens. But it actually can cause your baby to want to bite more, because they find your screaming ridiculously amusing. (It’s like, “Let’s see if we can make Mommy do that again!”)
Screaming also runs the risk of causing your baby to refuse the breast, or go on a nursing strike, which neither you, your baby, or your painfully engorged breasts want.
I will tell you that even when you’ve gotten all the advice in the world, there will be times that your baby bites anyway. Hopefully not too many times. And for sure, some babies just don’t bite at all.
If you find yourself with a baby who is biting despite your best efforts, take a deep breath, rally all the breastfeeding-friendly support you can get, and remember this: Everything is just a phase. It applies to biting babies and just about everything that stinks in parenthood.
Now, if you’re ready to wean, by all means, go for it. All moms should get to choose how breastfeeding ends for them. But if you’re not ready to wean, please don’t fall for the myth that biting or teeth means immediate weaning. It’s just not true, and you deserve to wean when the time is right and on your own terms.
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