There comes a time that every breastfeeding mother dreads. It’s that time when your sweet cuddly baby turns into a drooling, biting monster. Some women fear this moment so much, they stop nursing altogether just to avoid being bitten, but that’s not necessary.
Many babies bite when they’re teething or when they are bored or impatient, and it can be pretty scary. But with the right attitude, some vigilance, and swift crisis management, biting should quickly become a thing of the past.
Steps to Take When Baby Bites
Even before those tiny whites appear, babies can start nibbling on the nipple to soothe the ache of their gums. This is uncomfortable but not yet very painful. Still, it might be a good idea to take action already at this point. When your baby starts to nibble or takes your nipple into a jawlock, calmly take him off of your breast and put him down. Explain to your child that nibbling and biting hurts mommy. Offer him a teething toy or a cold washrag, and let him know that he can chew on those instead.
Try your hardest to remain calm! Crying out might either scare your child (which might result in her biting down even harder) or make her laugh because mommy is making funny noises. Getting angry at your child for biting doesn’t help either. Your baby doesn’t do this to hurt you! She does it because he’s uncomfortable and biting soothes her.1
Observe your child closely when he nurses. Babies can’t bite down when they’re actively nursing, because the tongue is stretched over their bottom teeth and prevents biting. Most babies bite at the end of a nursing session out of boredom or because they are feeling tired/uncomfortable. When you notice your child is no longer actively nursing, take them off the breast.
Some babies bite because they are impatient. Waiting for the let down just takes too long. The same advice applies here: be vigilant, take your child off the breast when you notice he pulls his tongue off his lower teeth. You may also wish to take steps to overcome a slow let-down.2
If you watch your child closely, you will find out when he manifests the biting behavior and you will be able to foresee and prevent it.
My Own Experiences with a Biting Baby
For my daughter, the biting lasted about six months. She now has a full set of teeth and never bites anymore. She did bite down very hard once (on her birthday! She got spooked because the phone rang), and I had blood in my milk for a day – very scary. But we both survived and we’re still nursing away happily at almost 21 months.
With the full set of teeth, sometimes she makes me think of a shark when she latches on.
How about you? Did the teething go smoothly without biting? Did those pearly whites scare you off?
The following resources provide more tips on how to gently handle biting.
Photo credit: csontoslea
Laura ‘Mamapoekie’ Schuerwegen is the expat mother of a very active two year old. She currently lives in Ivory Coast and blogs at Authentic Parenting.