Nothing interrupts a sweet moment with your breastfeeding baby like a big bite. How you react to and manage biting can impact your long-term success with breastfeeding.
Why Did My Baby Bite Me?
Babies bite while breastfeeding for several reasons.
What to Do When Baby Bites Your Breast
Remain calm and don’t overreact. When your baby bites you, it’s natural to yell out in pain. However, a big reaction can backfire. You might make your baby scared to nurse. A big reaction can also encourage your baby to bite you again to get the same entertaining response.
Instead, take a deep breath. You can calmly say something such as “no biting” or “ouch, biting hurts mommy” as you remove your breast.
Break the latch and remove your breast. The moment you are bitten, you should break the latch and remove your breast. Don’t pull your baby off too quickly. Removing a baby that is still firmly latched can cause more injury to your nipple.
To break the latch, insert your clean finger at the corner of your baby’s mouth. You can gently pull the corner of your baby’s mouth to break the seal.
Take a short break. For an older baby, it can be very effective to take a short break after the bite. Place your baby somewhere safe and step away from their line of sight. Your little one will quickly learn that biting does not have the desired result of getting a funny response or extra attention.
Preventing Biting During Nursing
The best way to prevent future bites is to identify the cause.
Check the latch. When your baby is latched and nursing correctly, biting will be less likely. With a good latch, your baby’s tongue will cover their lower teeth or gums. This means if your baby bites, their tongue gets bitten as well. A good latch is a natural deterrent to biting.
A good latch requires being in a comfortable position where your baby’s neck is not bent. You might have to experiment with different positions and nursing pillows to get a position that works well for you and your baby. Once you are in a comfortable position, guide your nipple towards the roof of your baby’s mouth. Make sure at least 3 or 4 centimeters of your breast tissue is in your baby’s mouth as they begin nursing.
Be mindful of milk flow. Your baby might bite if your milk is flowing too fast or if it isn’t flowing fast enough. If you are very engorged, express some milk into a bottle before offering your breast to your baby. If your milk supply is low, try to massage your breast tissue to get the milk flowing. Switch sides once you feel the milk has drained from one breast.
Change positions if baby has a cold. If your baby has a cold, try nursing in a more upright position. This can allow your baby to breathe easier and decrease the chance of getting bitten.
Stop nursing as soon as your baby shows signs of being full. Babies will often bite when they become full, so keep a close eye on your baby and watch for clues. A full baby will often take a pause in their nursing. You might notice some tension in their jaw or other unique cues. When you notice one of those fullness cues, quickly but gently break the latch with your finger.
Keep your baby engaged. An older infant might bite if they are bored or to get your attention. If you suspect this is the case, you can remain engaged with your baby during nursing by talking, singing, and making eye contact.
Use teethers. When babies are teething, they will chew on just about anything. It’s important they learn your breast is not an option for teething so keep plenty of safe teethers on hand.
Apply the "no biting" rule to bottles. If you feed your baby with a bottle, make sure your baby is never allowed to bite or chew on the bottle's nipple. You don’t want your baby to associate biting with nursing or anything that looks like a nipple.
Easing the Pain of Breastfeeding Bites
If your nipples are damaged from bites, this can make future breastfeeding sessions very painful. To ease the pain and protect your nipples, you can try:
- Nipple cream, such as purified lanolin
- Cold packs
- Nursing on the unbitten side first — breastfeeding tends to be most vigorous at the beginning of a nursing session
- Pain relievers that are safe for breastfeeding, such as ibuprofen
- Using a pump to maintain your milk supply as you heal
Biting is usually a temporary problem and babies quickly learn to stop. If biting continues, ask your baby’s doctor to refer you to a lactation consultant. A lactation consultant can help you find strategies to continue breastfeeding for as long as you and your baby wish.