My Baby Won’t Stop Biting While Breastfeeding: Tips to Navigate this Frustrating Experience
My firstborn son was a very late teether. His first tooth did not erupt until he was close to 10 months old. Unfortunately, his sleep was disrupted from chronic ear infections, but at least I didn't have to worry about his chompers hurting me while he nursed. When his teeth finally started to come in, we were close to the end of our breastfeeding days. He was weaned around a year, and I never experienced what it felt like to be bitten while nursing.
Fourteen months after I weaned my first son, my second son was born. He got his first tooth at 6 months, went from three to seven teeth in his ninth month, and at 1 year had nine razor sharp teeth. My fast and furious teether was a biter as soon as his first little tooth bud made its appearance. At first, I thought the phase would pass quickly. Because he was just 6 months old, I knew he wouldn't understand “no.” Instead I pushed through it, curling my toes and grimacing in pain each and every time I felt his teeth on my tender boobs.
When the teething persisted, I became desperate for some relief. I tried everything to guide him away from using me as his teething toy, but nothing seemed to work.
His favorite technique was to chomp down, squeeze my boob with his grip of steel, and then pull away with my tender bits still in his mouth!
The older he got, the worse the biting became. By the time he was 9 months old, the pain was unbearable and brought me to tears several times. It’s an awful feeling to be nursing and tense, waiting for little jaws to strike. Because I was working full-time, the only time I was able to nurse him during the week was in the early morning and before bed. He seemed to bite most at bedtime nursing sessions. When I just couldn't take the pain anymore, I started pumping before his bedtime feeding and giving him a bottle.
As much as I was happy to have a break from being bitten, I also felt an overwhelming amount of sadness. Being away from him during the day was hard enough, having to pump while at home took away time I had with him. Because I wasn't ready to be done nursing, I stuck with this routine for about a month. When his teething slowed down around 11 months, we resumed our before-bedtime nursing session and he stopped biting. Surprisingly enough, our breastfeeding journey lasted well into my son's second year of life. My struggles and persistence to get through the hard parts of breastfeeding him through the first year were well worth it.
If your little one was a biter while breastfeeding, what did you do about it? We have some additional tips from our resident lactation counselor here at EverydayFamily if you're looking for strategies for your biting/nursing toolbox.
If you have a biter, the first step is to try to avoid the biting in the first place, right? Here are some things to consider.
- A baby who is actively nursing can’t bite. Their tongue placement prevents it. So, bites typically happen at the beginning or end of feeds, when active nursing isn’t taking place.
- Watch for cues. If your baby bites early in the feed from frustration or impatience, hand express some milk before latching to ease into a feed. If your baby eats, then gets distracted or bored and bites, remove him from the breast before he has a chance. As soon as the active suck and swallow process stops you can break the latch and share some cuddles.
- If you know your little one is struggling with teething, try providing something he can gnaw on before and after a feed to satisfy that urge.
Of course, you can’t always prevent a bite. It can be surprising and painful when it does happen, so it’s best to think ahead and have a plan of action.
- A big reaction can sometimes be a negative. A yelp of pain can startle a little one, making them reluctant to nurse. On the other hand, it can entertain them, encouraging them to try to make mommy do that funny thing again. While it’s almost impossible NOT to react, try to follow up with calm but firm words that you repeat every time it happens. That hurts. We don’t bite. We’ll try nursing again later.
- End the nursing session. This can be for a few moments or for longer, depending on where you were in the feed and your preferences. The idea is that your little one learns that a bite = no more boobies for a while.
- If baby bites and won’t let go the urge can be to yank him off. Don’t do it! Ouch! Instead, gently hold him tighter, pressing his nose closer to the breast. He’ll have to open up and pull back to catch his breath, freeing your skin from further damage.
Most of all? Hang in there. For most little ones biting is a temporary phase. If it continues or you suffer any skin damage, seek out a lactation counselor or consultant for further advice.