Breastfeeding is never a walk in the park: It is a journey that is deliberately traversed by mums who make conscious effort to feed their babies- because they know how the whole process can break them (despite the gospel truth, that indeed, breastfeeding can make mothers feel complete). Problems like, low milk supply, sore nipples, thrush, flat or inverted nipples, and plugged ducts are just as common issues as the concerns mothers get when they are pregnant. But in addition to these breastfeeding problems, one surefire hit that reminds mums how hard breastfeeding could be is when their babies start to bite them while nursing. It becomes impossible to enjoy and relax that special bonding moment with their little ones, and makes them apprehensive, if not fearful, when the next bite would happen again.
Many people think that when baby gets teeth and has the ability to bite, then the nursing relationship has ended and it’s time to wean. Not true! If your baby is nursing properly, then you should not feel teeth, even if baby has a mouthful of them. And keep in mind that it’s physically impossible for baby to nurse and bite at the same time, because the tongue covers the bottom teeth/gum when baby is nursing.
So, mums would ask how the biting can be prevented: Here are some tips that would help:
1. Biting at the end of a nursing session: Biting often takes place at the end of a nursing session when baby is getting bored and is no longer hungry. If you start to have a biting problem, watch for signs of boredom, and take baby from the breast before the biting starts. Also, watch for tension in baby’s jaw before he starts to bite down. He may also pull his tongue back from it’s normal position over the lower gum/teeth.
2. When baby is teething: Biting can also be brought on by teething. If baby seems to be teething rather than wanting to nurse, offer her a teething toy or something cold to bite (instead of you). Offer baby a teething toy after a bite or “near miss.” When you do this, tell her, “This is for biting. Be gentle when you nurse.” See also these comfort measures for teething.
3. Biting at the beginning of a nursing session: If baby is biting at the beginning of a nursing session, make sure baby opens wide when latching on. If your teething baby is biting at the beginning of a nursing session, try giving her a teething toy or something cold to chew on before nursing. Praise baby when she latches on correctly, without biting.
4. Distracted baby: When baby is distracted, dont’t force a nursing. If he’s wriggling, rolling, or pushing against you with his arms, he may not be hungry or interested in nursing. Try lying down with him in a quiet room, walking or rocking. See also these tips for nursing distracted babies.
5. Biting for attention: Focus your attention on your baby while nursing, if you’re having a problem with biting. Some older babies will bite for attention. Paying attention will also help you to be aware of when baby is about to bite.
What do Mums do if the baby bites?
TIP: If baby bites, it can be very effective to calmly remove baby from the breast and say nothing (or perhaps make a calm comment like “oh? do not want to nurse right now?”), then end the nursing session for a bit.
1. If the baby bites, stopping the nursing session is generally the most effective way to teach baby that nursing and biting do not go together. Once baby lets go, remove her from the breast for a bit – it may be a few seconds or a few minutes (this is something where you’ll need to gauge your own baby’s reaction). If baby is teething (which is often the cause of biting), this is a good time to hand baby something cold to chew on, a teething toy, etc. You might tell baby something along the lines of, “if you want to bite, we’re not nursing.” If baby really wants to keep nursing, she may get upset when you end the nursing session, at which point you can wait a few moments then give baby another chance to nurse. If baby is not interested in nursing, she might fuss a few seconds but then go on to something else.
2. If baby bites, it’s not a good idea to scream or yell on purpose as a method to stop biting — there are better ways to teach baby not to bite. Sometimes, of course, it’s impossible not to yell in pain if baby catches you by surprise and/or bites hard. Sometimes yelling does stop baby from biting again; however, some babies think it’s so funny that they continue to bite for the reaction, and other babies are so scared that they go on a nursing strike. The chance that this method will stop baby biting is simply not worth the problems it can cause.
3. If baby bites, pay attention to timing. “Do you notice that she bites more towards the end of a nursing session?” asks Cassie C. “It may be that she is done eating and is just figuring out what those teeth are for. She is not trying to hurt you but she doesn't know any better.” As Cassie suggests, babies often bite when they are distracted, bored, feeling playful, or teething.
Try paying close attention to whether your child is actively feeding, suggests Meaghan T.: “If your child is actively nursing it is impossible to bite (the tongue covers the bottom teeth). Most babies will pause before biting - pay attention! Have a handy teething toy available to pop in the mouth before the biting begins!"
Or try Julie B.'s advice: “Keep your finger on your breast while she's nursing so you can quickly break suction and remove her if you see her sucking pattern slow down so you know a bite is coming.”
4. If your baby bites down and does not let go (most let go immediately without mom doing anything), there are a couple of things you can do: First, quickly place your finger between baby’s gums so you can pull away without (more) injury. If that does notwork, pull baby toward you, very close to your breast. This will make it a little hard to breathe, so baby will automatically let go to open her mouth more and uncover her nose to breathe. A variation of this that some moms use is to gently pinch baby’s nose closed for just a second to get her to open her mouth and release the nipple.
What do Mums do if the baby bites and causes damages to the nipples?
It never happens to most moms, but occasionally a mom will get a bad bite from baby. Applying ice right after the injury and between feedings can be very helpful. Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or acetaminophen (Tylenol) are compatible with breastfeeding and can be used as needed. See Healing broken skin in the nipple area for additional information on healing.
Always remember that many mothers have gotten through this stage, and despite the seemingly terrifying and painful nips, they managed to continue. Breastfeeding is a journey (wonderful, at that!), so no matter how difficult it can become, try your best to enjoy it. There are so many support groups available nowadays that give assurance and encouragement to mothers that they do not walk on this (breastfeeding) path alone. You can join Breastfeeding Mothers Support Group on Facebook to seek support from other breastfeeding advocates. (And do not forget to like our Facebook fanpage to know more about breastfeeding and motherhood tips! )