I receive a lot of calls from mothers whose older babies have bitten them. They are, understandably, upset and dreading the next feed. Some are concerned that they might have to stop breastfeeding before they feel ready, others ring me to ask how to stop immediately.
It might help you to know that breastfeeding is designed to continue even when your baby has a mouthful of teeth, and that when they are actively nursing they can’t bite because their tongue has to cover their bottom gum. However, biting is still a common phase which generally does not last more than a couple of weeks. It happens most as the first tooth appears.
Some babies are really interested about how to use this new thing in their mouth, and they experiment with a bit of a bite. If their mother says “no biting” and calmly stops nursing, or, more likely, screams out in pain, they tend to stop doing it pretty quickly.
Screaming at your baby is not the recommended strategy because some babies panic and then refuse to nurse. But, frankly, it is a pretty normal reaction.
If your baby bites, here are some things that might help you.
Remember that it is usually temporary!
It is really common for babies to bite for a while, the phase usually lasts from a few days to a couple of weeks.
Biting is soothing for your little one’s sore mouth – so give them something more appropriate to chew on
There are many teething toys on the market that you could offer your little one outside of feed times, or if they look like they are about to bite, or if they have bitten and you stopped the feed.
If biting becomes a habit, think about when it happens during the feed and be ready to detach your baby.
Biting at the end of a feeding session – be alert and ready to intervene
Many mothers find that their babies feed fine while the milk is fast flowing and their babies are busy drinking, but that they bite when they get a bit bored or frustrated towards the end of the feed. Some women take care to watch their babies at this point, and have a finger ready to detach their baby when the sucking slows down. It might be a good to swap breasts a little sooner, to work with the fastest flow available. Praise your baby when they don’t bite, and offer a teething toy to chew on when they start to look like they might!
Biting at the start of a feed
You might consider offering a teething toy before a feed, and praising your little one when they then latch on well and don’t bite. If they are distracted and fidgeting, probably best avoid feeding and do something else to calm them first. Tips for feeding a distracted but hungry baby include actively rocking, bouncing on a birth ball, walking (if they aren’t too heavy) or going to a quiet room for a lie down with them.
If your baby bites for attention
Sometimes a baby will bite just to get mummy to focus! They might even think it is a brilliant game. The only real advice here is to be on guard. If baby bites, end the feeding, and either say nothing or calmly try something like “ok, you don’t want to feed now?” Stopping the feed is the best way to show that feeding and biting do not go together. If you have stopped the feed, try offering a teething toy, or restart after a few minutes if your baby is keen to continue drinking.
If baby is older and receptive, you might deliberately distract your baby with something else while they are nursing.
It is not a great idea to scream at your biting baby on purpose
Try not to shout as a training method. Mostly because babies either think it is a game, or get too fearful to nurse. It might happen by instinct though, so don’t beat yourself up.
If your baby won’t let go!
The ideal way to break the seal is to wiggle your finger into baby’s mouth and between their gums. If that does not work, bring baby in much closer to you so that they actively have to let go. Obviously don’t put your baby in any distress or danger! Some mothers pinch their baby’s nose for a second to get the same effect.
If you really want to stop breastfeeding
I understand. You might find that this is absolutely the last straw. Or perhaps you were thinking about stopping anyway and this feels like a sensible time to do it. You might consider handing your baby to someone else for a bit, and have a drink or a walk, and have a think about it. I discussed this recently with an experienced breastfeeding counsellor and mother of three. She said, “it is best to stop breastfeeding on a good day.” There is wisdom in that.
If you plan to stop, it is kindest to your breasts to wind down gradually. Skip a feed a day, wait a few days, skip another one. Or do half feeds and top up with formula. If you want to go “cold turkey” that is fine, but be prepared to express to comfort if you feel full and engorged, so that you don’t risk blocked ducts or mastitis. Some babies don’t bite as much when things are calm at night, or at other times you might notice, so you may consider retaining these feeds for as long as you both feel comfortable with that.
If any of this resonates with you, please reach out to me or one of your local breastfeeding support groups. None of us will judge you, whatever your decision.