Worried about teeth? Here’s what you need to know about breastfeeding a teething baby.
Baby biting nipple while breastfeeding?
Breastfeeding a baby that has started biting you can be a really difficult experience. It can be really draining knowing that your bundle of joy has suddenly turned part vampire and wants to chomp down on you when you’re going to the trouble of providing him or her your breastmilk!
You don’t need to stop breastfeeding
It’s completely natural to keep breastfeeding all through baby’s first teeth.. and second.. and third… and for however long you both want to breastfeed! Most women will continue to breastfeed through teething with no issues at all. For an unlucky few though, your baby can start biting or chomping at the nipple which can be really tough to manage. If you’re dealing with this right now, take comfort – with some tips, you will get through this and you can keep breastfeeding as long as you like. .
Your little baby is not being ‘naughty’
Although you may get a bunch of stories about how baby is doing it for attention, or fun, and that you should say ‘No!’ or treat it as a behavioural issue, a baby that is very young (under 10 months or so) will not be biting as a deliberate act. It is usually a reaction to teething. Think about how weird it felt as a kid when you had a missing tooth. A teething baby is going through that times 100. All of a sudden the shape of their mouth is changing and they somehow have to figure out how to nurse despite all the changes going on. On top of that, it can be super, super painful, and grinding the jaw or chomping can provide relief. It’s just hard for an early teething baby to navigate teething + breastfeeding, so bear that in mind when your little darling going all zombie on you and wants to chomp on your delicate bits.
What to do if your baby starts biting while you’re breastfeeding
There are a few methods you can try to discourage biting while breastfeeding depending on when your baby bites and his or her age.
If baby bites at the beginning of a breastfeeding session, watch carefully as your baby goes to latch. With practice (and you will be highly motivated!) you will notice that the shape of the mouth when a baby is going to bite compared to when a baby is going to latch. When you see your baby coming towards you with that ‘I’m going to chomp’ shape, stick your little finger down the side of his or her mouth and gently intervene so she can’t make contact. Keep doing this until she successfully latches – it may take a few tries. if baby continues trying to bite rather than latch:
- Try feeding lying down – a more relaxed baby will often be able to nurse rather than chomp
- Just give up and delay nursing for 30 mins – a baby who continually tries to chomp rather than nurse is probably not quite hungry enough
- If baby is on solids / water, consider whether it makes sense to offer those instead – especially if baby led weaning, having a carrot stick to chomp on may work.
If baby bites at the end of a breastfeeding session, that means your baby might be bored or done nursing. Pay close attention to your baby when suckling slows. Is your baby falling asleep (some babies bite as they fall asleep) or showing signs of boredom or distraction? Then now would be a good time to use your finger to break the latch.
Some older babies and toddlers bite for attention. This is especially true if biting causes an interesting reaction out of mom. As much as possible (and it’s not always possible) avoid screaming or yelling when baby bites. Try distracting to your baby or toddler while nursing, either by making eye contact or communicating with them. Some toddlers will enjoy a game of pointing while nursing: Try pointing to baby’s nose and saying “nose,” then pointing at your nose and saying “nose.” Point at and name other parts of yours and baby’s face. Your baby might start participating by pointing at your face. A simple game like this can keep your baby’s attention long enough to get through the breastfeeding session without boredom. A baby who is bored enough with breastfeeding to bite may be ready to move on to something else.
Some babies bite when they’re experiencing teething pain. This is a normal reaction because the act of biting will relieve some of that pressure – AND so does the act of sucking! If baby is biting seemingly randomly, or pauses while nursing to bite, this is a good sign that he or she is experiencing a surge of teething pain. This is a good time to end the nursing session and give baby something soothing to chew on like a teething toy or cold wet rag. You might find baby will try to bite other parts of your body, like your shoulder or arm (or bite their own hands), if he or she is in a lot of pain. Therefore it’s good to keep some items ready and nearby for your teething baby. Consider wearing a silicone teething necklace made just for baby while you’re nursing.
If you have teething toddler or older baby, you can unlatch and say “No thank you!” every time it happens. If they’re at the age when they’re starting to talk they’ll be able to better understand the language correlation to the action.
When will baby get teeth?
Teeth can come in at any time. There’s a wide range of what’s considered normal. The majority of babies begin teething at around 6 or 7 months of age, and these are usually the bottom or top front teeth. That said, babies can start teething at 3 months or earlier, or not until well after their first birthday. Every baby is different, but most will have gotten all of their teeth in by their third birthday. One of the Pumpables team member’s babies didn’t get teeth until 17 months old – but then caught up by getting a new tooth almost every week for the next 3 months! Another one of the team had all her babies with teeth by 5 months and definitely experienced the biting thing!
If you’ve seen no signs of teething (see below) by about 18 months, it’s worth a call to your child’s pediatrician just to make sure everything’s going on track.
Signs baby is teething
There’s a pretty good chance you’ll know your baby’s teeth are coming well in advanced of any opportunity to bite while breastfeeding. Here are a few common signs of teething you can be on the lookout for.
- Baby is gumming on everything. Your baby’s hand, your hand, your hair, your phone, pens and pencils – you name it, and it’s in your baby’s mouth getting nibbled on. You might even feel your baby gumming down on your breasts while breastfeeding, which is a great opportunity to stop the habit of biting before it even starts.
- Fountains of drool. Teething is often accompanied with LOTS of liquid, much of which has to do with baby constantly having his or her mouth open and chewing.
- Waking often at night. Teeth move more when baby is sleeping, at night. If you’re finding baby is waking abruptly and more often than normal (usually accompanied by screaming) there may be teeth in there.
- Gums are no longer soft. A newborn baby will have soft gums. When the teeth move closer to the surface of the gums, they will feel harder to the touch. Some babies can take bites out of crackers with just their gums, which is a good sign that teeth are not far off.
- You can see outlines of teeth. Especially with the top, front teeth, you can see the outlines of the teeth under the gums. Sometimes you can see these a couple months before they surface!
- Dark spots and white spots on the gums. When the areas on the gums where teeth would be begin to darken, this is a good sign that teeth are moving in. When you see a white spot, this is actually the tooth right under the surface!
We hope these tips help. Remember, your baby is not trying to hurt you! Just like being a mum, being a baby can be confusing and trying to figure out breastfeeding when your mouth (and brain!) are changing almost daily can be hard! Be kind to yourself, and kind to baby, and make sure your support network know you’re going through a tough time right now. Biting when breastfeeding sucks (is that a pun?) but it won’t last forever and you will get through it.