Thursday Tip: Breastfeeding & Biting

Some babies never bite mum, others may do it once or twice and the occasional baby seems to go through a biting phase. This can happen before or after baby gets some teeth. Once there are teeth a bite can be an attention getting (and unpleasant surprise).

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 mum can figure 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.

First check baby’s position at the breast. 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 her in a chin tucked position.

Some other ideas to try include:

Take baby off the breast as soon as he bites or clamps his jaw and set him down gently on the floor. Firmly but quietly tell him “no biting”. Wait a minute or two (an eternity in the baby’s world). Then you can pick him up again and offer to nurse again if he seems to want to. This tells baby that biting will end his nursing session.

Another tactic is to pull baby in closer to the breast when she bites. This sounds counter-intuitive to your initial reaction which may be “get this barracuda off me!” Pulling baby in close makes it harder for her to breath and will get her to open her mouth. To be clear this is a quick pull into the breast and only a second or two of her 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 his tongue position. If you feel it shifting you may want to say his name or rub his back to distract him from biting. You can also quickly put a finger between his jaws and take him 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 she is taking those first few sucks may speed up the first milk release.

Extra vigilance is the best plan for the baby who clamps his jaw as he falls asleep as he is truly unaware of what he is doing. Stopping the nursing session a bit sooner may work or keep a finger ready to slip between his gums as he drops 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 she does 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.

To encourage, promote and provide breastfeeding, chest feeding and human milk feeding support and educational opportunities as an important contribution to the health of children, families and society