Expert Q & A Time!
Q. My baby is biting my breast. Is it time to wean?
A. The dreaded breast biting! This is one of those things I think we have all probably heard from random people who have negative things to say about breastfeeding a baby past the newborn phase. “Once your baby has teeth- it’s time to give them a bottle.” “Once your baby has teeth, they’re just going to bite you.” “Babies aren’t meant to breastfeeding once they have teeth.” I’ll be honest- I really thought this was going to be the most awful thing about breastfeeding and the thing that would plague me throughout the entire journey.
I was actually only bitten once by my son in almost 3 years of feeding him. Most of our clients and customers have similar experiences of never having to deal with biting or that it happened once or rarely. However, there are some kiddos who just wanna bite. What’s a parent to do?! To wean or not to wean? To switch to bottles or not?
Do teeth=the end of breastmilk?
We know that countless mammals feed their babies for many years with teeth. We also know that there are numerous positive physiological, emotional, and psychological benefits to continuing to breastfeed your child for as long as both you and the child would like to and that the World Health Organization recommends the continuation of breastfeeding until at least 2 years of age.
Weird factoid: Did you know that some human babies are actually born with a random tooth or teeth??
So when asked “is it time to wean,” our answer is always first THAT IS ALWAYS UP TO YOU! No one can ever make that decision for you and you know we’ll always support you in whatever choices you make.
However, if you don’t want to wean or if you want to continue to direct feed at the chest or breast, we do have some tips to help keep your baby from going all kujo on you.
Get down to the source
Sometimes babies bite because they’re teething. Try to determine if your s/he is displaying other signs of teething or oral discomfort (chewing on fist, mouthing more things than normal, more drool than normal, etc.). Your baby might be trying to nurse more to relieve some of that discomfort so see if you can offer a teething toy, something cold, a frozen wet washcloth, or something else to sooth the gums.
Some babies bite for other reasons. Their latch could be getting lazy (more on that below). They may simply be bored. They may be fascinated at your reaction.
But it’s important to understand that your baby it not doing it to hurt you. They do not understand cause and effect yet in the same way that you do and they do not understand that them simply closing their jaw causes you pain. So it’s important to keep this in mind that your baby is not malicious or trying to hurt you!
What not to do
We do not recommend hitting your baby, biting them back, trying to choke them with your breast, or trying to deliver any pain or discomfort to your baby (we’ve seen a lot of these recommendations out there unfortunately). We get it- someone biting you can bring out a seemingly instant primal reaction but try your very best to grit your teeth and remember that your baby is not purposely trying to hurt you and does not understand this concept and won’t for some years.
So what can you do??
Adjust the latch
The older babies and toddlers get, the sloppier their latch gets. Most parents find that they adjust and don’t tend to notice it like they would have early on in the beginning of their feeding journey...unless something is amiss. Like biting.
If your nipple is far back in your baby’s mouth, where your nipple is hitting the soft area of their mouth (what we call “the comfort zone”) they should be unable to bite you. If you’ve never done this before, take your own tongue and feel around on the top of your palette. You’ll feel hard palette close to your teeth then the further back you go you’ll find a soft area. That’s where your nipple should ideally be in their mouth. This will cause their jaw to be wide open and at an angle where they simple cannot bite down.
Now, what about those creative babies who find a way to unlatch and bite as they come off?
Save the nipple through anticipation
So you’re going to have to pay some extra attention for a while. But remember, this is typically a phase and won’t last forever.
Maybe you’ve heard of the social media campaigns to free the nipple. Well, here we are going to try to save the nipple by protecting it! If you’ve noticed when your baby is most likely to bite down, while taking her off for example, anticipate this and prepare by putting a knuckle in the side of her mouth before doing so.
Does your baby bite when they get bored? Look for signs that he is just hanging out, slowing down, or looking around excessively. If a baby is actively sucking and drinking, he cannot bite so if he stops, it may be time to take him off.
Does it seem like your baby only bites when you’re distracted? Try to nurse when you can give her more intent focus, even if this means holding off a few minutes for a nursing session until you can focus.
You can also pay attention to signs like clenching of the jaw, or if your baby seems distracted before a nursing session, don’t force the feed and just let them do their thing.
My baby is still biting. Now what?
It’s simple. Remove your baby, calmly, and put him/her down.
Some parents will choose to tell the child a simple phrase like “no bite, that hurts,” or something similar.
However, we often find that many of our clients find success with not saying anything at all. If your child was seeking attention, entertainment, or some other reaction, this will ensure you are not reinforcing the behavior.
Some parents choose to end the session entirely until the next feed, as age appropriate, and some may choose to then put the baby back to breast after a minute or two and try again.
You may only have to do this once but it’s most likely you will have to do this several times before your baby starts to “get it.” So stick with it. And remember- your baby is not trying to hurt you.
And like we always say when we’re working toward practical parenting- practice makes better, not perfect, and better is usually plenty good enough. That goes for us AND our babies.