When Baby Bites While Breastfeeding

Your sitting enjoying your 7 month old baby when out of nowhere, he clamps down, biting your nipple. You impulsively let out a high pitch shriek due to the sharp pain, which of course startles the baby, and both of you look suddenly dazed and confused.What in the world caused that you may ask?  Your baby now has teeth, and with that teething process comes biting…on everything including you! So what does this mean for your breastfeeding relationship? A lot of moms think this means they have to wean, even if they don’t want to. This could not be further from the truth! Biting should not be a reason to quit breastfeeding. This is a temporary problem, with an easy fix. If your baby is nursing correctly , you should not feel his/her teeth, even if there is a whole mouth full. The tongue covers the teeth while nursing, so it is physically impossible for a baby to nurse and bite at the same time. Babies bite for several reasons, and it often varies based on their age.

A newborn may bite or clamp down (long before having teeth) simply due to a position change. Clamped or compressed nipples (one that looks like a brand new stick of lipstick) is often due to the baby not latching deep enough onto the breast. If a baby is at all on her back while nursing, with mother leaning towards the baby, the infant will be in a “sense of alarm” and will bite down out of fear of losing the food source. The most effective way to fix that is to follow the “7 Simple Steps to Latch a Baby” by leaning back, have good pillow support, bring the baby to you, and make sure the baby is “tummy to tummy” with mother. The baby’s ear, shoulder, and hip should all be in a line. Gravity will then aid you in helping the baby get a deeper latch.

Another reason new babies bite or clamp down is due to a fast flow. If the nursing mother has a fast let down, or a fast flow, the baby may feel more inclined to bite in order to control the flow of milk. Similar to clamping down a hose, to slow down the gush. If this is the case, pumping or hand expressing for a few minutes prior to latch may help reduce the strong spray into the back of the baby’s throat resulting in the biting. This will also result in less gassiness from the baby due to unnecessary swallowed air from gulping. A nipple shield may prove to be helpful in this case, since it will help control the spray and protect the nipple from further damage, but in most cases simply fixing the mother’s posture seems to do the trick.

Biting is a behavior that most babies will try, especially while teething. Some babies will never bite, but rest assured that if your little one is a nibbler, this learned behavior can be stopped with a little persistence from the mother. Usually, biting is a temporary issue that only lasts for a few days to a couple of weeks. Each baby is different, and it may take different attempts and various strategies to find a solution that works for both of you. Keep in mind what works will most likely depend on the baby’s age, temperament, and personality. In the meantime, here are a few steps to help you through:

1. PRIOR TO FEEDING: If the baby is known to bite at the beginning of a nursing session, it may be due to tension in the jaw or sore teething gums. Teething is of course the most common reason that babies begin to bite down. Their little gums are sore. Try some gum massage, by sticking a clean index finger inside the baby’s mouth, and gently massage the lower gum lines. Encourage the baby to bite down on your finger to release that tension. Be sure to stay along the gum line so you don’t gag the child. If teeth have erupted, you may want to use a cool teething toy vs. your finger as these little ones, as cute as they are, have been known to cause some fierce marks…better the toy or your finger then your nipple though! Make sure you practice good latching techniques, that the baby is latched deeply, and be sure to give positive reinforcement when the baby latches correctly! Even at this young of age, babies will respond well to high praise.

2. BITING AT THE END OF  A FEED: The majority of the time, biting happens toward the end of a feed when the baby is getting bored or is no longer hungry. This behavior is most common in older babies vs. newborns. If you notice a pattern of biting towards the end, watch for cues that your baby is giving you, telling you he/she is bored. This way you can end the nursing session with little to no damage to your breast. You should be able to tell right before the baby bites based on rising tension in his jaw. Simply remove him from the breast and end the nursing session. If the baby is simply biting out of boredom he will happily move on to another activity.

3. A DISTRACTED BABY: If your baby is seeming easily distracted (which is very common as babies get older) don’t force a feeding session. If he is wiggling, pushing against you, or pops on and off several times in a row, he may be having difficulty staying focused on the task at hand. Try going into a dark, quiet room, eliminating as many sensory distractions as possible. Lay down with your baby and attempt again. If the baby is still seeming distracted, it very well may be he isn’t hungry.

4. BITING FOR YOUR ATTENTION: Some babies choose to bite as a way of getting mom’s attention. If you notice that the biting seems to happen when you are talking on the phone, or simply talking in general, it may be that your baby is requiring a little extra alone time with his momma! Put down all distractions and look at your little one. Welcome the quiet distraction to your busy day. This will also allow you a chance to be able to watch for those “biting cues”.

So what to do if the biting continues? Simplest and most effective way is to end the nursing session. This will help teach the baby that nursing and biting do NOT go together. Calmly remove the baby and gently tell him “No Thank You!” It is not a good idea to scream at the baby as a means to get him to stop, although totally understandable if the baby caught you by surprise! Yelling on purpose however, may have a reverse reaction to the problem. Either the baby will think it is funny and continue to bite for a reaction, or he will be frightened and then decide to go on a nursing strike. Both options are not fun for mom.Ending the nursing session will send the message and eventually end the behavior.

Positive reinforcement of course goes a long way with nursing babies, even the newborns. Praise your baby when he latches correctly. A little gentle encouragement can go a long way!

In the meantime, if your nipples are super sore, you can use some lanolin (unless you are allergic to wool as this will cause more soreness) or even place some expressed milk as a solvent. If the skin has been broken, then I do recommend using some gel pads until the abrasions have healed. Some mothers have found that using a nipple shield temporarily may help, however an older baby may feel the texture of the silicone as an invitation to clamp down more.

Bottom line is this is temporary, and with a little perseverance on mom’s end, with a sprinkle of patience, you can continue to have a positive long lasting breastfeeding experience for however long you and you baby desire.

Copyright© 2012 Danielle Gauss,IBCLC,ICCE/ JustBreastFeeding.com. All Rights Reserved

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One Response to When Baby Bites While Breastfeeding

  1. Sally Risner says:

    I’ve tried everything you’ve said twice! Lol my daughter will not stop biting!!!!! She refuses my milk in a bottle or a sippy cup!!! I’m not sure what else to do. She has bit me so hard that it’s broken the skin & now both my nipples bleed. I’m to my end and I’m not sure how much more I can take as being a chew toy because lol it’s seriously hurts!

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