Help! My baby has his first two teeth and he has started biting when I breastfeed. How can I stop him biting or will I have to wean him?
Ouch! Being bitten on the breast really hurts but thankfully, there are strategies to minimise and even stop your baby biting.
Babies can’t actively feed and bite at the same time so generally when your baby starts to bite it is usually towards the end of a feed which means that you can simply remove her from the breast. However, some babies do bite at other times. If your baby has a blocked nose for instance, she may find it difficult to latch on and may bite as the nipple starts to slide out of her mouth. This can also happen sometimes if babies become drowsy at the breast and their positioning changes. If your baby seems unwell at all, it is sensible to get her checked but if she is well it is time for some bite prevention tactics.
Offer an alternative to bite on
If your little one is teething, she may be chomping to try and help relieve the discomfort of sore gums. You could try offering her alternatives (to your breast) to gnaw on – a clean, wet face washer that has been in the freezer or a cool teething ring. If she is eating solids, a frozen bagel or frozen slices of banana or cool watermelon can feel good to swollen gums. If your baby bites at the start of a feed you may find offering cool food to chomp before breastfeeding helps relieve sore gums and baby then feeds ‘nicely’.
Some babies bite when they become distracted or they take a nipple with them between their teeth as they turn their heads to look around. Try breastfeeding in a quiet space and give your baby your full attention as she nurses – make eye contact, stroke your baby and encourage her to be gentle by talking quietly and telling her, ‘good girl, gentle, gentle’. Many mums have found another great way to help older babies stay focussed on breastfeeding, especially when out and about where it is difficult to find a quiet space, is to wear baby safe ‘Boobie Beads’. Babies are engaged by the bright focus beads and tend to touch and play with these during feeds instead of pulling off and on the breast to look around.
Try not to react
Yelping in shock when baby bites may frighten a sensitive baby and could encourage breast refusal or it could simply make your baby laugh and try biting even more to elicit such a hilarious reaction. Instead of reacting (easier said than done!) it is better to carefully slide your finger into baby’s mouth between her jaws and remove her from the breast. You can gently but firmly tell her “don’t hurt mummy”. Then distract her. If you feel she may still be hungry try feeding again in a few minutes. If an older baby bites and laughs at you or your baby is a persistent biter, it is reasonable to remove him from the breast and pop him on the floor for a few minutes – this will soon give him the message that biting means the feed is over.
Push baby closer
If your baby seems to be biting as he ends a feed and gets tired or starts slipping off the nipple, instead of disengaging him, it can often be more effective ( and less painful to you) to try pushing him closer to the breast. As his nose pushes against the breast he will need to open his mouth wider to breath so will reposition himself at the breast and re-latch correctly.
Watch your baby closely
By watching your baby closely as he breastfeeds, you will get to know the cues that tell you he is almost finished feeding and/or likely to bite - some babies will start to fidget, pull off the breast and look around, or even tense their jaws right before they clamp down. Keep your finger ready to pop between baby’s jaws and remove him from the breast before he starts to bite. This may mean that your baby gets fewer comfort feeds for a while, which is a pity as a teething baby is easily comforted at the breast.
However, in the long run it could mean that the breastfeeding relationship will continue longer. After all, even the most devoted mother won’t want to keep breastfeeding a persistent biter.
Pinky McKay is Australia's most recognised and respected breastfeeding specialist. She's an internationally certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) and best-selling babycare author. Pinky is also the creator of Boobie Foods, all natural and organic foods, including Boobie Bikkies and Boobie Brekkie, delicious tosated muesli, to nourish breastfeeding mums. Download her FREE ebook 'Making More Mummy Milk,Naturally' .