Breastfeeding shouldn’t have to be discontinued because of biting. If your baby is biting, you need to find out why, and you can eliminate the biting, and resume a happy nursing relationship!
One of the major causes of biting is teething. Is your baby constantly gumming items, drooling, and showing other evidence of teething? That could be a major factor in your baby’s biting.
Some babies bite after they’ve started solids, as an experiment. It may be only a single bite, or baby may be excited by your reaction, and want to repeat it.
No matter what the cause, biting can become habitual, and it is much easier to eliminate biting right after it begins, than when several weeks of the behavior has gone on.
Here are a few ideas we have to make baby less likely to bite:
- Just say no to bottles and pacifiers. These nice rubbery nipple substitutes are easy for baby to bite, and they don’t holler back. If baby is in the habit of biting these, baby may become in the habit of biting you. Look for teethers that don’t replicate the shape and feel of a nipple if you do want a teether, or just use a cold washcloth (some babies like them frozen).
- Eliminate teething pain. If baby is in pain, you may want to reduce baby’s pain with an analgesic (topical or internal) on the advice of your health care practitioner. When a baby’s gums feel good, there is less reason to bite.
How to Handle the Bite
Try not to scream. While it will get baby’s attention, it may also be a “reward” for that high need baby who likes lots of action. Of course, sometimes, screaming can’t be controlled!
Pull baby in close to your breasts. Very close. When baby’s nose is all the way covered, baby will need to breathe, and will open up her mouth. This sounds like a punitive measure, but it is not designed to be. When you try to unlatch baby with your fingers, mothers often find that baby wants to continue to bite, and further nipple damage occurs as mom “fights” baby’s jaws for possession of her nipple. Cutting off the airway works quickly and easily. Baby’s are usually so surprised they don’t cry. Hey moms, you have a right NOT to have your nipple bitten, so it’s okay in this instance to take control of the situation! Since your baby wants to enjoy her right to nurse, it’s in her best interests that you take charge and help her eliminate her bad habit.
Tell baby “no biting”, and give baby a teether or other toy or food (depending on baby’s age) to occupy it.
After the biting incident, do not offer to nurse baby again until she is hungry. If baby was still hungry, your baby would not have bitten. While occasionally a baby is still hungry, most of the time, a bite has signalled that baby is bored with nursing or in discomfort.
The next time baby nurses, be sure to praise her at the end of the session for not biting. You can’t lay it on too thick at this point! Let baby know how special and smart she is for not biting, and how proud you are of that behavior.
Preventive measure: If your baby is already in the habit of biting at the end of the feeding, go ahead and unlatch your baby when the nursing slows down. Praise her for not biting and being a well behaved nurser. Let her know you love nursing her.
Consult a lactation consultant or your friendly LLL leader if these measures do not help. Group support can help you get through a difficult nursing period.
A word on bottles. Eliminating bottles can be difficult for moms who work outside the home. If you suspect that baby is biting her bottle, and biting you, then you may want to try switching to a cup, or easy sip cup. If you try a sippy cup, look for something with a hard spout that is not conducive to biting, and with an easy flow. Note that some babies with fast flow nipples bite the nipples to slow flow down, and in that case, they may just need a slow flow nipple so that they have to suck.
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