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Biting While Nursing: Tips to Save Your Nips

Breastfeeding has been extraordinarily easy for us, right from the beginning. My girl was born, placed on my stomach, and she somehow army-crawled her body up to my right breast and latched on right away. I’ve never had to worry about my supply or fuss with pumping or deal with mastitis (yet). I know many, many new moms who are not so lucky and I count this as a huge blessing! Indeed, all around, I know that I’m lucky to have an “easy baby,” one that sleeps through the night and rarely ever cries. Her demeanor is naturally cheerful, joyous, curious and amused.

However, she does have one thing about her that is not pleasant at all—my child is a biter. Somewhere around 3 months, I noticed that she would give me a good chomp every now and then with her gums.

“I sure hope you don’t do that when you get teeth!” I half-joked, every time she did it. And to my dismay, she’d look up and give me a mischievous gummy smile. 

Fairly early on, I knew I needed to “nip” this in the butt before those teeth arrived because even with only gums, it hurt.

And so I started trying anything suggested by my network of mom-friends and in forums online. I’ll outline them for you below, along with my personal experience with each tip, in case something works for you.

Photo by Mary & Jess Photography

Don’t react

Okay, this is extremely difficult, and often times impossible. The theory is that they find the reaction amusing and are doing it for attention or for the reaction. Bite your tongue. Bite your lip. Inhale a deep breath and hold it. Look straight ahead. (This method did not work for me).

React Dramatically.

Here’s a conflicting theory from the last one: Get over-the-top with your emotions. Scream! Cry! Pout! “Ouch!! You hurt mommy! Boooo-hooo, I’m crying, it hurts so bad!” or “NO. NO BITING! THAT HURTS MOMMY! DON’T HURT MOMMY. BITING IS BAD.” (I often resort to this method without even trying. And then I get a big smile from her and get my feelings hurt. This method has not worked for me).

Numb their mouth.

There are myriad of ways to go about this. And you don’t want them completely numb, or else they won’t even realize they’re biting. But try offering a frozen teething ring before nursing, a frozen washcloth, or a “popsicle” (made of chamomile tea or breast milk). You can rub pure vanilla extract on their gums. And there are teething gels and tablets you may try (research beforehand, though, as some have recently been recalled). 

Momentarily cut off their breathing.

This sounds horrible, but this is really what you do AFTER the baby bites. Everyone offers this as advice for a biting baby and it’s annoying because this does not actually stop the biting—but it does save your nipple from being removed by tiny razor blade teeth. If your baby bites, smush their face into your breast (some people pinch their nose for a second, instead). This momentarily cuts off their breathing and they have to open their mouth in order to take a breath. You can also stick your finger in their mouth to help break the suction. (I’m constantly doing this).

Refuse to give milk after a bite.

Once your baby bites, take them off the breast immediately. Whether you scold or not, they will know that biting means no more milk, and they are not going to like that!

Photo by Mary & Jess Photography

Pump and feed baby with a bottle.

I know this is probably discouraging to read. But this may be something to try either temporarily or permanently, depending on your situation. (I had to do this while I let myself heal from a particularly bad biting injury. I thought it might be our permanent fate, but I honestly loathe pumping and would prefer to gamble with bites instead of fussing with plastic parts).

Don’t breastfeed as often.

Make sure your baby is good and hungry before feeding. If she’s just in a snacking mood, she may just want to “play” with your nipple, and therefore end up biting. If she’s super hungry, she’ll be super focused…and she knows if she bites, it will get taken away from her. (This was one of those common-sense ‘eureka’ moments for me. I had gotten so used to the newborn-stage of cluster-feeding, that I just kept offering my breasts, even when she wasn’t asking for it. I finally realized she had grown up a bit, and that nursing was NOT the solution to every single thing anymore).

Nurse in a specific, quiet place.

Similar to a “bedtime routine,” create a nursing routine. (For us, we have to nurse in our rocking chair, in my quiet bedroom, in a corner that doesn’t have much to look at. I’ve noticed if I try to nurse her while sitting on the couch, she gets distracted by all the awesome things in the living room. If she’s distracted, she’s more likely to bite).

Offer a distraction.

Teething necklaces are awesome! Some are made of wood, but most of them have beads made of silicone, and babies can use them to bite down on, like their teething toys. But they also serve as something to distract them by fiddling with while they nurse. (This helps keep my girl from biting me when she’s just bored or finishing up her nursing session.)

Give your undivided attention.

If you’re like me, you probably have used the “down time” of nursing as your personal-time to catch up on social media…or flip through a magazine, or put on a TV show. Your baby notices. 

Photo by Mary & Jess Photography

Now that I’ve shared with you all the best advice I’ve received and tried, let me just say that I now believe that some babies are just biters. My baby just has the “instinct” to bite. And now I am able to recognize some of her triggers: boredom; not very hungry; full; needs attention; over-stimulated.

But most of all, it is her way of coping with teething. She bit a lot while her first two bottom teeth were breaking through, and then once they were fully through, she stopped biting for a couple months. But once her 4 top teeth started coming down all at once, she started biting so hard that she drew blood! In these cases, the “popsicles” and Baby Motrin are the best option for curbing it. During Round 1 of teething, I projected a vicious persona on her—as if she were just a mean child purposely trying to hurt mommy. Don’t do that! Now, I realize that her teeth are “on the move” inside her gums and extremely painful. She’s simply putting pressure on her gums to relieve the pain (much like we press hard on an injury to reduce the pain).

So, if you are reading this because you are also dealing with “a biter,” keep in mind that they are either trying to communicate with you or coping with pain. There’s no sure-fire “cure all” that will solve this problem. There will likely be a lot of trial-and-error and learning what works best for you and your child.

We are not done with this breastfeeding journey yet. There are many more teeth to come, and so I’m bracing myself for future bites. Do I wean her? Do I keep gritting my teeth through it? We’ll see.

Have recommendations and tips I haven’t heard? PLEASE feel free to comment and let me know!

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