Ouch! Baby biting while breastfeeding is no fun. Trust me – I know. Zephaniah biting me was one of my biggest fears about breastfeeding. I had never breastfed any of my other children when their teeth were coming in so I didn’t really know what the experience would be like. Nevertheless, I was determined to work through it when the time came. My thought on the matter was: If other moms can breastfeed their babies past age 6 months and beyond, then so can I.
Well, a few weeks ago Zephaniah bit me while he was nursing. I let out a loud squeal because yes, it hurt like a #@?! The bite was so unexpected, too. He hadn’t bit me on any other body part before so I was really surprised he had bitten me.
Zephaniah stared up at me after he heard me scream. I looked down at him and gave him a little smile and asked, “Zephaniah, why did you bite Mommy?” Of course, I knew he wouldn’t give me an explanation. He just smiled at me and went back to nursing.
Note: I didn’t scream at my baby. I let out a surprised squeal because the bite hurt. Hey, I’m human! I don’t yell at Zephaniah if he bites me. Yelling scares baby. Gentle actions and words can let baby know biting is not okay.
Every day after that Zephaniah would continue to use his teeth while breastfeeding. His biting got so bad that my right breast was a little bruised and sore. I was beginning to dread nursing him because I was afraid he would bite me again. I even thought about just pumping instead of breastfeeding because I couldn’t take the pain anymore. Thankfully, though, it didn’t come to that and I’m happy to say the biting has stopped.
Here are a few things that are working for me:
Stop nursing early so he can play. Now that Zephaniah is crawling he is a very busy baby. He likes to explore and play, especially when Zhen and Zechariah are near him. His feeding sessions can sometimes be shorter than usual (under 15 minutes) because he wants to get down and play.
Sometimes he will bite because he’s unlatching and trying to get down all at once. When he’s squirming around, I go ahead and help him get down before he bites me. In about 20 or 30 minutes, he’ll be back for “seconds” because he didn’t finish nursing.
Stay in the moment and eliminate distractions. I noticed Zephaniah would also get really antsy if I was on my phone or doing something else. I do my best now to look at him while he’s nursing, talk to him, massage his arms or head (that always seems to make him relax), and just really be mindful of our bonding time.
Adjust his latch. I didn’t even realize I needed to do this because I just assumed since Zephaniah was older, his latch was just fine. Turns out, sometimes baby needs a little help even if he’s a “pro” at breastfeeding. What I did was move my breast in more and then his grip loosened. I think what was happening is he was biting down while nursing because I could feel his teeth. When I first tried this technique, it worked!
Wear a teething necklace. I know it might sound a little silly, but sometimes I will wear a teething necklace to keep his hands busy. Does your baby put her hand in your mouth or pull on your face? Zephaniah does this to me pretty much all of the time. It’s cute and all, but sometimes it can hurt if he scratches me or pulls too hard.
I bought two teething necklaces at Target and sometimes I wear them so he can pull on the necklace instead of my face. They’re about $9 each. I bought the Blush Onyx and Black & White necklaces. It helps him focus and sometimes stops the biting.
Take him off of my breast once he falls asleep. Sometimes Zephaniah will fall asleep while nursing. Now that he has about six teeth, this can be really uncomfortable for me because as he relaxes, I can feel his teeth on my skin. Sometimes when I break the latch, he wants to latch on again. I know he’s actually just wanting to sleep so I will hold him with his head on my chest or shoulder and gently pat his back. He usually goes right back to sleep.
End the feeding session. If the biting continues even after I try several methods to discourage him from biting, then I put him down. I say to Zephaniah, “Okay, no more nursing. You can’t bite Mommy.” Pediatrician Dr. William Sears calls this the “pull-off-and-put-down technique”.
In a Parenting.com article “Ask Dr. Sears: Biting While Breastfeeding”, Dr. Sears advised nursing moms:
When baby bites, immediately take him off the breast and put him down. Don’t do this in any punitive way — just let him know with your body language that biting means an end to the nursing. By 9-months-old, most babies can learn this association.
When I do the “pull-off-put-down technique”, Zephaniah is either happy to be put down so he can play or he gets fussy because he still wants to nurse. If he still shows an interest in nursing, then I’ll pick him back up and try again. If he bites, then back down he goes.
I’ll be honest — there were a few times quitting breastfeeding crossed my mind. It actually made me sad to think of our breastfeeding journey coming to an end. I thought to myself, Is this how our breastfeeding will end? Because he’s biting? I’m not ready for this journey to end and I can tell Zephaniah isn’t ready to stop breastfeeding. It would be such a shame if the biting interfered with this precious moment.
I’m so happy Zephaniah stopped biting me. Those last few weeks of the biting were really hard on me. If he does bite again, then I will keep working with him. We’ve come too far to stop our great progress!
How do you (or did you) handle biting while breastfeeding?
All photographs are courtesy of Jennifer Hamra.