Some babies never bite during a feed, others may do it once or twice and the occasional baby seems to go through a biting phase.
Why do babies bite the breast that feeds them?
The reasons can include teething, earaches, stuffy nose, allergies and positioning. Some babies’ jaws tighten involuntarily just as they fall asleep. Sometimes there is no reason that can be figured out. Remember that babies don’t understand that clamping their jaw or biting hurts you. While your urge to yelp may be strong try to work towards a gentle solution.
Some other ideas to try include:
- First check baby’s position. Babies nurse best with their heads slightly tilted back so the chin is forward rather than tucked in toward the chest. Baby may have grown and your old nursing position may need a slight adjustment so it isn’t putting them in a chin tucked position.
- Take baby off as soon as they bite or clamp their jaw and set them down gently on the floor. Firmly but quietly say “no biting”. Wait a minute or two (an eternity in the baby’s world). Then you can pick them up again and offer to nurse again if they still want to. This tells baby that biting will end the nursing session.
- Another tactic is to pull baby in closer to the breast when they bite. This sounds counter-intuitive to your initial reaction which may be “get this barracuda off me!” Pulling baby in close makes it harder to breath and will get their mouth to open. To be clear this is a quick pull into the breast and only a second or two of the nose being buried in your breast. This tactic works best with babies under six months. They start to associate biting with being unable to breathe and will quickly stop clamping down.
- Babies can’t bite while their tongues are forward in the nursing positon. If baby is clamping down a lot you will want to pay close attention to the tongue position. If you feel it shifting you may want to say their name or rub their back to distract them from biting. You can also quickly put a finger between their jaws and take them away from the breast.
- A baby who tends to bite at the start of a feeding maybe impatient for the milk to start flowing. Some breast compressions before you latch on or as they are taking those first few sucks may speed up the first milk release.
- Extra vigilance is the best plan for the baby who clamps their jaw as they fall asleep as they are truly unaware of what they are doing. Stopping the nursing session a bit sooner may work or keep a finger ready to slip between their gums as they drop into a deep sleep.
- Avoid using pacifiers and bottles if baby is doing a lot of clamping down. It is hard for baby to understand why one sucking source doesn’t react to being chewed on and the other shrieks when they do it.
- Biting rarely involves skin damage. If it does just wash the area with soap and water and used a bit of anti-biotic cream.
If you are having problems with a biting baby and these tips haven’t helped call or e-mail a La Leche League Leader to brainstorm a solution that will work for you and your baby.