Little is more frustrating than a baby who bites during breastfeeding. In fact, I've had many moms tell me that they plan to stop breastfeeding once teething starts in order to avoid this unpleasantness. While biting is a challenge that many mothers will face when breastfeeding, there are options to help you through—and it doesn't have to mean the end of your breastfeeding experience.
Here are some reasons your baby may be biting, and what you can do to stop it.
Biting to increase milk flow
In the early days of breastfeeding, before you have to start worrying about teeth, biting may be used as an effort to increase milk flow. You may find that baby bites (or more accurately gums) at the beginning of a breastfeeding session to try and get the milk to start flowing. They may also bite toward the end of a session when the milk flow starts to dwindle.
If your little one is biting at the beginning of a breastfeed, you can try using hand expression/ or breast massage before latching them on. This will get things flowing, and baby will get milk as soon as they latch on the breast, likely making them less impatient.
If you notice that baby is biting toward the end of a feeding session, time your feeds to see when this occurs typically. At your next feed, switch them to the opposite breast right before the biting would normally happen.
Biting because your baby is teething
Biting also occurs when babies start teething. This can be much more painful and damaging to your nipple, but it can still be remedied. Most babies start teething around six months.
Some signs of teething are:
- Increased drooling
- Bringing toys or hands to the mouth
- Increased fussiness
If you notice these signs, you can try to prevent biting by alleviating some of the symptoms before bringing the baby to the breast. Provide baby with a chilled teething ring or washcloth to chew on before your feeding session. Just before latching baby on, use a clean finger to gently rub their gums to ease discomfort.
What to do when your baby bites during breastfeeding
If the baby does bite during a feeding session, try not to have a big reaction. I know this is not an easy thing to do! But it will pay off in the long run. If you have a big reaction, the baby may take it as a game and then continue biting to keep getting reactions.
Big reactions to biting could also scare the baby, and they may go on a nursing strike, where they refuse to breastfeed.
So, if and when the baby does bite, calmly and firmly tell them, "No, that hurts mommy." Unlatch them from the breast and repeat, "No, that hurts mommy." You can then re-latch them and continue feeding.
When you re-latch them, you may want to switch them to the other breast. This will allow you to inspect your nipple for any potential damage and give it a little time to recover. If you are consistent with this reaction to biting, they will quickly understand that biting means stopping a feeding session and stop biting.
Taking care of your nipples with a biting baby
All this gumming or biting may lead to nipple soreness or even nipple damage if the baby is teething. It's essential to address these issues quickly so that you can continue breastfeeding. Using a high-quality nipple cream after each feeding can help soothe and protect sore nipples.
If you are having more severe pain or nipple damage, you may want to use a gel pad. They provide instant cooling relief and help heal. If you have a particularly traumatic nipple injury or if you notice any signs of infection (redness, pus, severe pain, or bleeding), it's important to reach out to your healthcare provider. You may need further medical treatment. Just be sure to let your provider know that you want to continue breastfeeding if they prescribe any medication. That way, they can be sure to provide you with options that are safe for breastfeeding moms and babies.
Many moms think that teething or biting means the end of breastfeeding, but it doesn't have to. By using these tips, you, too, can successfully navigate the challenge of a biting baby and continue toward your breastfeeding goals.