What to do when your breastfeeding baby bites

Should I stop breastfeeding now my baby has teeth?

There’s no need to stop breastfeeding once your baby has teeth. Though babies’ first teeth usually come through at about six months, some take longer. A few are even born with teeth.

Though many breastfed babies have teeth, most never bite their mums. In fact, if your baby’s well attached, he can’t bite, because his tongue covers his lower gum ridge while he’s feeding. To bite you, he’d need to pull his tongue back to expose his teeth, which is impossible while he’s latched on.

He shouldn’t bite you with his top teeth, either. Babies, like everyone else, bite up, not down. Their bottom jaw moves, but their top jaw stays fixed.

To get the best possible latch, make sure that your baby’s mouth is open wide (gaping) and ready to take in your breast. His head should be tipped back, with his chin leading. If his head is tipped forward, his top teeth may press down on your breast.

Why does my baby bite when he’s breastfeeding?

Apart from being poorly attached, there are other reasons why babies bite:

  • Older babies can be easily distracted. If they turn to look at something, they can forget they still have mum’s breast in their mouth, and then close their jaws.
  • Some babies bite at the end of a feed. As soon as you feel your baby starting to withdraw his tongue, make sure he lets go of your breast completely.
  • Your baby may bite if he falls asleep during a feed. Keep an eye out for when his jaw movements slow down and weaken, and then ease him from your breast before he dozes off.
  • Your baby may have a cold, or an ear infection, that’s making it hard for him to swallow. Try holding him more upright while he’s feeding, to make it easier for him, and less painful for you.
  • Babies are curious, and some bite just to see what happens.

If you notice your baby’s jaw tightening before he bites, put your little finger into the corner of his mouth, between his gums. He should then bite your finger, rather than your breast. Don’t pull him off while he’s biting, though, as it will make your sore.

How can I stop my baby biting?

You can try various tactics to stop your baby biting. The approach you take will depend on your baby’s age and how much he can understand.

Your baby’s new teeth are sharp. If they graze or fasten on to your breast, chances are you’ll let out a yell! Your strong reaction might shock your baby so much that he won’t do it again. He may even be so startled that he refuses your breast.

The more usual reaction to your scream, however, is that your baby is curious and repeats the bite to see if it works again. For him, it’s a bit like experimenting with a push-button toy or rattle.

If this happens, try to stay calm and quiet, but stop feeding him. Make eye contact and say “no” firmly. Your baby needs to associate biting with losing your breast. Most babies will dislike this separation.

You may be tempted to wean your baby if he’s biting, but there are lots of things you can try first. Here are some tips on how to discourage biting:

  • If your baby keeps biting, put him on the floor for a short time straight after he bites.
  • For an older toddler who’s a regular biter, be positive when he doesn’t bite. Give him hugs, kisses and praise.
  • If you think your child is after attention, give him lots of eye contact, and talk to him while he’s feeding.
  • Try feeding your baby in a different position.
  • Learn to recognise when he’s finished feeding.
  • Don’t feed him unless he’s really hungry.
  • Take him off your breast if he’s falling asleep.
  • Give him a teething toy before or after feeds.

The World Health Organisation recommends breastfeeding for a child’s first two years. If you decide to continue feeding your baby into toddlerhood, you and your child will soon get used to bite-free feeding.

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