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My baby bites
My daughter is almost a year old and we had been happily breastfeeding until recently when she started to nip me every now and then while she is at the breast, seemingly out of the blue, for no reason I can tell. A couple of times she has drawn blood. Ouch! I really don’t want to stop nursing her but if she keeps doing this I may feel compelled to. Please can mothers share their experiences and how they have stopped their babies from biting?
It is always a shock when breastfeeding has been going well and then your baby bites. Ouch, as you say! Both my nursing toddlers bit me—the first only a couple of times and the other whenever he began cutting a new tooth. I feel for you.
It might help to remember that your baby isn’t biting to hurt you, or even aware that she is hurting you. On the contrary, it is likely soothing for her in some way, so impossible for her to imagine it might hurt mommy.
It’s easy to say but try, if possible, not to cry out. Mothers of sensitive babies often date a “nursing strike” from a yell in response to being bitten. More curious babies may be interested in the response and repeat the action in order to see if it happens again—little scientists in the making, no doubt.
You have a right not to be hurt when you are nursing your baby, so take immediate action—this is an early example of loving guidance. How will your daughter meet her own needs without impeding the needs and rights of others?
Here are some ideas that have helped other mothers.
• Try calling her name rather than saying “No.” It may attract her attention and
distract her long enough for you to intervene.“No” is OK too, if necessary.
• Think about pulling her closer even though your natural reaction might be to pull away. She may open her mouth wider and either stop biting or give you the chance to do something.
• Be ready to remove her from the breast, explaining that people are not for biting. You may need to break the suction by inserting a finger.
• Give her a chance to reposition, paying attention to the latch as you did when she was newborn: wide mouth, tongue forward.
• Try changing breasts: sometimes a baby is frustrated by a slower flow but nurses properly on the other breast.
• Have something to hand for biting on—biting itself isn’t wrong, only biting your breast—and say, “If you want to nurse, don’t bite. If you want to bite, bite this.”
• If you have started doing other things at the same time as nursing, give them up for a while and focus on your baby. She may want your attention and giving it might also reveal the cues to biting that most babies give (a pause in breathing, a look …) These may sometimes allow you to react before the bite happens.
• Nurse somewhere calm and quiet for a while.This stage will pass.
• Take a break from nursing and do something else.You can offer again in a short while with the reminder about positioning.When she is hungry and the milk is flowing, she’ll be more likely to nurse properly.
This is a stage many mothers and babies pass though and not an indication of what it is like to breastfeed a baby with teeth. Good luck.
Eileen Harrison, Rennes, France
I have an 11-month-old nursling, who has three and a-half teeth. He bites me hard enough to draw blood when his gums hurt from teething, or he is bored and does not really want to nurse, or feels mommy is not paying attention because I am multi-tasking—talking on the phone or looking at my laptop. I have found that being attentive when nursing my baby helps, but it can be hard to read his cues sometimes.
Paying attention and unlatching my baby when he stops breastfeeding actively works pretty well, but my nursling loves comfort nursing, so this strategy is not always effective. My fail-safe solution is to nurse my baby while wearing him and walking around, either singing or talking to him at the same time. Every time a new tooth emerges incidences of biting increase, so a day or two of nursing in the carrier really helps us. He never bites during “dream feeds,” when he is almost asleep and these tide us over until he gets used to the new tooth in his mouth.
Lalitha Acharya, Madhya Pradesh, India
Biting is horrible. I find myself feeling so tense while nursing if my baby is going through a biting phase. My youngest (nearly nine months) just bit me again this afternoon. My four-and-a-half-year old asked why I had said “ouch,” so I explained. He turned to his brother and said, “Don’t bite because mummy will have to go to hospital and get new boobies and they’ll have to put them on with screwdrivers.” Biting isn’t sounding too bad in comparison!
I find that paying attention to my babies while they nurse helps. They then don’t nip to try to attract my attention and I am more likely to spot when they are about to bite. If they do bite, I pop them off, saying, “Oh, you must be finished then?” and put my breast away. I never let them get upset and I do continue to nurse them after a moment, but my eldest quickly realized that biting could signal the end of a nursing session.
Your baby may be biting because of teething discomfort. In this case, some moms find that addressing the discomfort prior to nursing minimizes the biting. Others find offering a toy to chew as an alternative when their baby bites helps.
I hope this phase passes soon.
Anna Gladstone-Buchanan, Harrogate, North Yorkshire, UK
When your baby is latched on correctly and nursing actively, getting milk from your breast and swallowing, it’s physically impossible for him to bite you. Your nipple is far back in your baby’s mouth and your baby’s tongue extends over his gums, between his lower teeth and the breast. He can’t clamp down on the breast tissue.
Be extra careful about positioning and give your baby lots of positive reinforcement for latching-on well and releasing your breast gently. Saying “thank you” or “well done,” and smiling, hugging, and kissing can really help even if your child is preverbal.
Pulling him in as close as possible to the breast will cause him to release your nipple because he will feel he cannot get air if his nose is against you. Gently pinching your baby’s nose may also get him to open his mouth and release the nipple.
Jane Bromlow, Amsterdam, Holland
When my baby had a cold and his nose was congested, he would lose his grasp because his airway was blocked, so that my nipple would slide to the front of his mouth and, in his frustration trying to breathe, he would bite down. Feeding in a more upright position and in a steamy bathroom helped him to breathe more easily, but it was a relief when he was better.
Pamela Smithson, Dubai, UAE
My little one started biting me while breastfeeding around six months. I would yell, “Ow,” and unlatch him. I would put away my breast and end the nursing session for at least a few minutes. After a few more bites, I noticed that biting was occurring after the most intense part of my let- down, when my baby was suckling in a more relaxed manner. I found that when I looked at my baby and talked to him, he wouldn’t bite. Sometimes he would start to gently bite and I would say, “Don’t bite mama,” in a sternish voice, raising my eyebrows. I had to keep looking and talking to him because if he was distracted by something else, he would loosen his latch.
When the latch wasn’t perfect he was more likely to bite, so I would take him off every time I noticed him slipping and make sure he had a wide gape when latching him back on. I noticed that if I was looking away, and not paying attention while he was nursing, then he was more likely to clamp down. Luckily this phase barely lasted a few weeks. Like all the other challenges our babies throw at us, try to remember it will pass.
Weronika Dubois, Kingston, Ontario, Canada
Mother’s New Situation
My baby is four months old and I am happily breastfeeding him after a tricky start. I have been fortunate to get six months maternity leave from my job but am feeling conflicted about whether or not I want to return to work at all. It had always been my intention to put my baby in a daycare so I could go back to my job, but now that I am a mom, even leaving my baby long enough to go to the bathroom is a struggle!
Breastfeeding is going well, I am finding my feet and really enjoying the slower pace of life, but I cannot make up my mind what is the best thing for me and for my family, whether to return to the office to earn money and improve my future prospects or stay home and take care of my baby.
We can just about manage on my husband’s salary if we economize. I have always pictured myself as a career woman, but the thought of handing over my baby to someone else is not what I want now. How have other mothers who are lucky enough to have a choice made the decision whether to return to their job or remain home with their baby? Please, can moms share some of their experiences of doing either or both to help me decide what I want to do?
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