Bite Me!

16 Feb

Some of you may know by now that I am involved in an international breastfeeding support organization. To date, I have breastfed my three children a combined five years and a handful of months. I breastfeed my children in public (a LOT) and oftentimes, I get approached by women.

Some congratulate me on breastfeeding. Some say they do not know how I do it, and then proceed to tell me how something or other caused their ultimate failure (their description, not mine). Lately, women have been commenting about how they nursed their baby until the baby got teeth. At that point, they usually say it hurt, or that the baby persistently bit, and so they decided to start bottle feeding their child formula. I never really had a good understanding of what these women have gone through, until now.

My first two children both started biting when they started getting teeth (at around 8 months). The girls were easy. When they would bite, I would say “Ouch. That hurts mommy. No biting!” and stop them from nursing and put them down. I literally remember only having to do it a handful of times, and the behavior stopped.

With my third child, it has been a whole different experience! He has been persistently biting me for the last two or three weeks, almost every single time I nurse him. I know he is cutting one of his upper front teeth, which is certainly a contributor. When I use my technique, he literally laughs at me. Then he fusses, letting me know he wants to nurse again, and when we start over, he bites all over again. It seems like he is trying to get a reaction from me. I have been persistent in my method, and now, three weeks into it, he is getting the message. When he bites, he stops nursing, so if he wants to nurse, he has to not bite me.

I have definitely developed more empathy for mothers who struggle with a child who is biting at the breast. I understand how, without proper information and support, it would be easy to give up. I just want to encourage anyone who is struggling with this same issue! You do not have to give up. It is a phase, and with some love, encouragement, and repetition, your baby will learn it is not ok!

The method I use with my children is described in more detail in The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding (P. 116). “If a baby shows a tendency to bite down when he is finished nursing, a mother can be alert to signs that he is ready to bite down. She should remove him from her breast immediately. This action, along with a firm, “No biting” is usually all that is needed to convince baby that this behavior is not acceptable. Having another more suitable object ready to offer him will reinforce the message.”

I started doing that with my baby. He likes to snuggle with a blanket when he is sleepy. I would have it handy while I nursed, and when he started to bite, I would remove him from the breast, say “Ouch. That hurts mommy. No biting!” Then I would let him bite his blanket. Sometimes it works, other times it does not.

Sometimes mothers will yell or scream when they have been bitten, because it hurts and can be surprising. I have heard from several mothers who report that this reaction actually caused a nursing strike for their baby, so be aware of that as well. It can also be helpful to pull the baby into your breast, partially blocking the airway. It can be effective if done quickly, because when this happens, they will release the nipple. Babies are very sensitive to even a slight blockage to their nose. Some women do this by gently pinching the baby’s nose, causing him to open his mouth, releasing the nipple. If you try to pull the baby away from the breast (which tends to be most women’s natural reaction), you can cause more damage to the nipple, especially if the baby is clamped on.

Another great resource is the La Leche League International’s The Breastfeeding Answer Book. This book offers the following tips for biting (pp. 478-479):

  1. Give the baby your complete attention while nursing
  2. Learn to recognize the end of a nursing session
  3. Don’t force a nursing session
  4. Give extra attention to positioning an latch on
  5. If the baby falls asleep, remove him from the breast
  6. Keep your milk supply plentiful
  7. Keep breastfeeding relaxed and pleasant
  8. Offer positive reinforcement when the baby does not bite

If the problem becomes more persistent, you can try:

  1. Stopping the feeding
  2. Offer an acceptable teething object
  3. Quickly put the baby on the floor
  4. Keep a finger poised near the baby’s mouth to quickly break the suction in case he turns his head

Sometimes, you can try any/all of these methods and the baby will continue to bite. Be consistent and eventually, the biting will stop. Know that this change in nursing is temporary and it is not necessary to wean when a baby’s teeth begin to erupt.

If you have any ideas that would be helpful for other nursing mothers to know with regard to nursing and biting, please feel free to share those ideas with us!

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