Fun fact: I breastfed both my girls until they were each 3 years old. It’s recommended that breastfeeding should go on for at least 12 months and the WHO (not the famous band, the World Health Organization) even recommends it for 2 years. Many people disagree on when you should stop breastfeeding, but there’s one thing every breastfeeding mom agrees on: when baby bites while nursing, it hurts!
I’ve been bitten many times by both my girls when they were breastfeeding (even in public). It didn’t really faze me with my second child, but with my first, I nearly dropped her out of my arms because it startled me. Luckily, I had a breastfeeding coach who volunteered with La Leche League (look them up if you’re breastfeeding or planning to for fantastic facts and helpful tips) and she gave me some hints for how to handle a biting baby during nursing.
But first, why do they do it?
Why Babies Bite While Nursing
Your baby isn’t trying to be mean. She doesn’t hate you, I promise. In fact, world-renowned pediatrician Dr. Sears says it’s done out of affection! Here are the reasons why they bite while nursing:
This is an obvious one, but your baby is getting used to these and her gums are sore and swollen. If you notice teeth coming in, try to find other ways to soothe her beyond the breast. It’s one thing if it’s time for her to eat, but if it isn’t, a baby-safe teething toy can really help. Click here to learn how to help a teething baby sleep at night.
Yes, even babies get bored! Though unlike the ages of my girls now who each have a room full of toys to play with and still proclaim boredom, as babies get bigger, they tend to grow bored during the end of a nursing session. Little distractions may lead her to nip and bite. You may find a solution to this by going somewhere quieter to nurse.
Older babies know how cute they are and they want that attention. If your baby feels like you’re not giving enough attention to her, she may bite. To keep her from doing so, try to keep eye contact with her. If you notice she starts pulling her tongue back from her lower teeth, she’s likely finished her liquid lunch and is ready to play. By paying attention, you can get her off your breast to prevent her from biting.
If your milk supply starts to run lower, your baby may bite and then pull back, hoping to be rewarded with more milk. You may have had certain things going on like stress or the return of your period, which can change your milk supply.
How to Stop Baby from Biting While Nursing
Regardless of why she’s doing it, you’ll want to stop her. After all, it can lead to mastitis, which is most unpleasant. Stop the biting now so you both can enjoy the time your nursing.
- Control how you react
It’s so tempting to yell, “Ouch!” Or after the 10th occurrence, perhaps a, “Why you little…” like Homer Simpson. But it’s very important even if it surprises the dickens out of you to not yell out. Your yell could spook the baby and cause a bit of a nursing strike.
Some babies do get the message though even if you yell and pull them off your breast. It’s all a bit of their personalities so you never know what you’re going to get. Try to squelch that “ouch” down and instead, keep your voice steady and say, “No, we don’t bite Mommy,” then gently remove her. She’ll start to figure it out really quick.
- Provide something else for biting
As I mentioned before, baby-safe teething toys are a fantastic way to help little biters. A lot of biting begins during this stage of teething so giving them approved things to bite can be a big help.
- Bring baby in closer
I know this sounds like the opposite of what you want to do right now, especially since you’ve just been bitten, but instead of yanking her off your breast, push her closer so that her nose is just temporarily blocked by your breast. Your baby will release the tight grip so she can breathe. She learns that if she bites, this is what happens and she then stops with that awful biting.
- Pop her off gently
Another way is to, with clean fingers, put it between your baby’s teeth or gums and pop her off, breaking the suction.
- Take your baby off your breast at the end of the nursing session
Remember how I said babies get bored? Whether you know if she’s bored or not doesn’t matter. If you notice her patterns during feedings before you get bit, you can predict them and simply pull her off your breast before it happens. You don’t need to be cruel or punishing either. Just take her off and set her down when she bites you. She’ll get it.
You can still breastfeed your baby even if she has teeth. Some women, unfortunately, give up breastfeeding during this time, but these early years are a great time for bonding and nourishment.
She should absolutely be eating some solids at this point, and more and more with each week, but you can and should supplement her meals with breastmilk until you’re both ready to wean for her healthiest start to life.
Sore nipples? Put nipple cream on them to help relieve the pain and prevent infection!
Good luck, Mama!
Leslie Berry lives with her husband and two young daughters in Los Altos, California, where she loves helping other moms get comfortable with motherhood and embracing the insanity with facts peppered with laughs.
She loves eating too much sushi, exercising, and jamming out on her Fender. Read more about Leslie here.