“Look at those teeth! So I guess you’ll be stopping breastfeeding then?”
"I hear this quite a bit and I always suggest that mothers calmly just explain that teeth play no part in breastfeeding thanks to tongue positioning and that if they have no plans to stop feeding then just say so proudly, knowing that World Health Organisation (WHO) advises breastfeeding for up to two years or beyond. If we don’t have teeth by age two, there’s something a little awry…
But let’s talk about biting. A bite from little teeth on the nipple is not for the faint-hearted and can make a mother shoot through the roof of her living room. There are a number of reasons why your baby might bite during or after a feed and there are things to try to prevent them doing it again.
Firstly though, it’s rarely a reason to wean and if you’re supporting a mother who has come to you with a story of her biting baby, it’s really important to remember to show bucketfuls of empathy with lots of positive reinforcement and encouragement. After all, if a breastfeeding journey has been rocky, and now the baby is biting, it could be all she needs to give up, whereas a little information might keep her going and achieve all her feeding goals and dreams.
I would also find a way to reassure her that her baby did not bite to hurt her, but most likely to do with another reason. Let’s take a look at these:
Reasons your baby might bite
1 -Distracted - maybe he has been distracted by something, lost concentration on the feed and had a little nibble.
2 - It could be that he is teething
3 - Has he got an ear infection or a cold that is making him congested? Swallowing is hard for breastfeeding babies with a blocked nose.
4 - Is he biting to try to slow a fast flow of milk?
5 - Is baby getting used to having a little chew on the teat of a bottle or a pacifier in between breastfeeds?
How do I reduce the chances of my baby biting me again?
If a baby or toddler is biting they aren’t feeding so I would remind the mother that it is actually impossible for a baby to feed effectively and bite at the same time. So:
Positioning - revisit good feeding habits and good positioning and latch
Act Fast - watch out for clues that he might be about to bite down, i.e does he look up (for your impending reaction)… so he move your nipple around in his mouth or move to the nipple tip as opposed to having a mouthful of breast? Does she tense her jaw and pause? If you see the signs, gently but quickly break the seal with a finger and pull her off (carefully so as not to damage nipple.)
tell him “no” firmly with a cuddle, do the ‘no’ sign if baby signing, stay calm but clear
Comfort. Offer a cold teether instead so she has something to bite on that isn’t the mother’s nipple
Expressions. Keeping the milk flowing means she won’t have time to bite so suggesting some gentle compressions to increase milk flow might help.
Distractions? Saying his name, singing or humming a song while feeding and play a game to get him to release the breast when done feeding and not tempt him to bite.
Above is the PACED approach:
If baby has a cold and is a little congested why not try feeding him a little bit more upright to help with draining the congestion, maybe even in a sling? A humidifier in the bedroom might be a good idea to help open the airways and ease breathing and being in the bathroom of a steamy shower or bath can help with this too.
If baby is tugging at her ear she might have an ear infection (or teething some more…) so consult your GP if you feel it’s an infection.
How can I heal my damaged nipple?
If a nipple is damaged, cracked or splitting in any way, it needs air to dry, scab over and heal, right? Ordinarily YES, but a breastfeeding nipple is going to be fed from multiple times a day so as soon as a scab forms, it will be ripped off every time the baby feeds potentially causing more damage than before.
Moist Wound Healing is where we keep the soreness wet and aim to heal it from the bottom up, as opposed to top down, much like a cracked lip or sore in the winter months. Applying a tiny amount of gloopy balm to a sore nipple, keeps it wet, seals it and stops a scab forming.
If you are continuing to have problems with breastfeeding seek help from a Breastfeeding Counsellor near you - face-to-face support is absolutely necessary for making those small or big adjustments that make all the difference to you and your baby.