If you're reading this, it's probably because you've experienced the blight of the nurseling bite. And it hurts, just like they said it would.
Baby may have gummed your nipple a few times in the months you've been breastfeeding, which in itself is an undoubtedly unpleasant experience; but the first time they take a chomp with their sharp little teeth, mid feed, you may just let out a startling cry, because: IT HURTS!
There are a few myths and quite a bit of conflicting information about your nurselings + biting. We hope to clarify this issue, give you strategies to avoid it, and help you carry on your merry way without fearing the next unsuspecting chomp…
The Myth: When baby bites, it’s time to wean.
Your baby biting isn’t an indication that their time at the breast has run out. Biting while nursing is usually a sign of teething, boredom, impatience or simply experimentation at the breast. Most baby’s will try out a nibble or two at some time or another in your nursing relationship. The minimum recommendation for nursing is 1 year, and World Health Organization suggests nursing until age two.
There are a few reasons that biting might happen.
- Teething: there's a good chance your baby is just looking for a good place to soothe those throbbing gums.
- Impatient: your letdown might not be as quick as baby wants to drink milk, causing them to bite out of impatience and frustration
- Bored: if baby is finished feeding, or distracted by the environment, this is a likely opportunity to get a bit lazy, or try something a little different (like latching onto your nipple with their teeth - fun for them, perhaps, but not for you!)
It's important to realize that biting can't happen if your baby is latched on properly. When your baby bites, he's lost his latch on your nipple, and is no longer trying to drink from your breast. So what can you do?
- Pay attention to his cues. Baby's will often bite at the end of a feed. If you notice your baby seems to be finished at the breast, unlatch him before he can bite. If biting happens at the beginning of a feed, try some hand-expression to get the milk flowing before you latch baby on the breast.
- Try minimizing distractions: try (if you can), to nurse in a quiet, uninteresting environment so that baby doesn't get distracted from breastfeeding and pull your nipple along with a curious head turn (we like to call this, "nip lash", and it's often accompanied by biting)
- Offer something for teething before hand - a cold cloth, teething oil, or whatever comfort measure you have been using for those sore little gums that may be causing him to bite.
What to do if it happens (again)
Try your best not to startle baby with a yelp or a shout. This is often upsetting for your baby, and can cause them to refuse the breast (otherwise known as a nursing strike). Instead, unlatch your baby carefully, take them off the breast, and tell them a firm but gentle, "no". This shows them that biting means that milk goes away, and hopefully will help break the cycle. Some baby's will be entertained if you give them a strong reaction, and bite to get that reaction out of you again (they're smarter than we think!)