An NPN reader asks our natural parenting mentors:
My five-month-old son is biting when nursing. It usually happens at the beginning of a session, prior to letdown. He’ll latch on properly, begin to suck, then pull back quickly and chomp down (and then sometimes pull back with my nipple still trapped in his gums). Ouch!
I’ve tried stopping the nursing session when he does this and saying “No biting.” I’ve tried pressing his head into my breast briefly to block the air through his nose so he’ll let go. I’ve tried being vigilant to unlatch him before he does it, but he’s so darn fast! I’m now trying various teething remedies to see if his mouth pain is the culprit.
I do believe that his latch is usually a little shallow, but every time I get him to latch deeply, he pushes his whole body back (with his hands against my chest) until he has less breast in his mouth. This may be due to hyperactive letdown. Maybe it’s easier for him to manage the fast flow with a shallow latch?
Any help would be very much appreciated. I love nursing my baby and don’t want this to sour these precious moments.
Here is what our natural parenting mentors had to say:
Amy: Many mothers question their commitment to breastfeed when teeth arrive. I commend you for working through biting so you can enjoy the breastfeeding relationship.
It sounds like you have a couple of issues presenting. Since the biting is taking place in the beginning of the feeding it certainly may be related to teething. The idea to soothe any potential mouth irritation with a cold toy right before a feeding is definitely worth while. This lessens the desire to bite all together.
A strong letdown can also cause a baby to latch a little farther back on the nipple and fuss at the breast. I use the term ‘strong’ instead of ‘hyperactive’ on purpose. It has less of a negative connotation. A strong letdown can be worked with. When you first notice the letdown or your baby beginning to arch, remove him from the breast by putting the tip of your finger in his mouth to break the suction and allow some milk to spray/drip into a cloth. A few other tips for reducing frustration with strong letdown are: feed him before he gets too hungry and sucks hard resulting in a stronger flow, deep breathe and imagine the flow slowing to a pace he can handle (the mind is powerful), and burp him a time or two during the feeding.
When it comes to biting, the less of a reaction the better. The experience of learning cause and effect is really interesting for babies, but they have little mental context for what they are learning. You may take a few moments to consciously breathe before latching your baby on while remembering a feeding when he didn’t bite. That helps you have a calm energy for the nursing experience and baby responds to how you feel. If your baby does bite, a quick pull into the breast to briefly block the flow of air to the nose will open the mouth so you can stop nursing and start again or wait a bit.
Overall, keep a positive attitude that you will get through this. Focus deeply on the times that nursing goes well and hold the image and feeling of those times in your heart when you begin to feed at other times. Our babies feel how we feel so taking a few moments to breathe deeply while focusing positively will impact the experience you have with your son. Enjoy the journey.
Acacia: Chances are that you do have an over-active letdown but that your son could also be responding to teething pain. I have just experienced this with my now seven month old so I can share with you what worked for me to ease both issues. What made the greatest difference was changing the positions in which I breastfed. Instead of a typical cradle, try switching to an position in which you are half reclining or “uphill.” I often cradled him with my knee up and my leg supporting his bottom he laid on me tummy to tummy as I halfway reclined against some pillows. At night we nursed side lying with a towel beneath us so that extra milk could dribble out of his mouth. At this point, your body is likely to have already regulated the amount of milk you are producing based on what your baby needs, but if you think your supply needs some adjustment you may try nursing more frequently or nursing for an entire feeding on one side only. You can read more about this in articles on forceful letdowns and oversupply at Kellymom.com.
For the possibility that he is also biting down to relieve teething pain, try letting him chew on your finger or a teething ring previous to nursing. Since he is probably developing his ability to sit he may like to nurse in an elevated football hold. Have him sort of sit beside you with his legs pointing towards your back, while you are slightly reclined to his level. This will also allow you a free hand to slip your finger into his mouth and depress his lower jaw until he stops biting down. I found that depressing my son’s lower jaw, as Dr. Sear’s recommends, was more effective than pulling off entirely and ending the nursing session.
Dionna: My mom loves to tell the story of when I used to do this same thing while nursing – except the way she tells it, I had a mischievous glimmer in my eyes right before chomping down and pushing back. Ahhh, breastfeeding memories.
Since you said that baby is biting at the beginning of the nursing session, and because you suspect a shallow latch, I would start by trying to reteach him to latch deeply. Babies often need reminders on effective ways to latch on after they have been teething – they might adjust their latch to deal with teething pain. Kelly compiled a great list of resources in “Latching and Positioning Resources” on kellymom.
If you’re concerned that he is doing this in anticipation of a forceful letdown, you might try positioning him sitting up so that he doesn’t feel choked by your letdown. There are suggestions to help baby deal with a fast flow, as well as how adjust your supply (which you may or may not want to experiment with) in this kellymom article called Forceful Let-Down (Milk Ejection Reflex) and Oversupply.
Good luck, and let us know how it goes!
Photo Credit: Lactation 3