A bite from your baby can be truly painful, and makes it hard to relax and enjoy breastfeeding for fear that it will happen again. Mums often think that when their baby gets teeth it’s time to stop breastfeeding.
But what can you do about it??
Get back to basics – a good deep latch prevents a bite.
Practice perfect positioning. Bring baby to breast chin first, head tilted (which ensures baby’s chin is not on his/her chest). It’s even worthwhile doing the nose to nipple and wide “O” mouth of early days when starting out breastfeeding. It can be helpful to say “big ‘o’ for mummy” and make the shape with your mouth for him/her to copy.
Using the flipple technique can help: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=deKN3wJ17Mk
It is physically impossible for baby to breastfeed and bite at the same time, because the tongue covers the bottom teeth/gum when baby is nursing.
In order to bite, your baby has to adjust his/her tongue and allow your nipple to slide forward towards his/her teeth.
As soon as you notice this change, slip your finger into the corner of your baby’s mouth, between his/her teeth, and let the nipple come out all the while keeping your finger in your baby’s mouth to protect your nipple.
Check when it’s happening. Is it at the start, middle or end of a feed? Sometimes the bite can be due to factors in the flow of the feed.
START: If it’s at the start it is usually an attempt to reduce a fast flow. You can try hand expressing a little to start to counteract a forceful let down.
MIDDLE: If it’s at the middle it is usually due to slow flow. It can be due to looking for a second let down. Watch for less swallowing. Try some breast compressions to encourage flow or switch breasts.
END: It can be boredom and tiredness as baby is finished feeding. Unlatch to prevent bites.
If biting is not related to fast/slow flow it could be teething.
You can try:
- A teething ring.
- Rub baby’s gums with frozen breastmilk, icecubes or frozen fruit/veg. A clean cooled wash cloth to suck on (keep it in a sandwich bag in the fridge!)
- Teething powder rubbed on the gums is often recommended before a feed (note: many contain lactose so not always suitable for allergy / intolerance sufferers).
- Using teething gels that have an aesthetic effect are not advised as they can interfere with latch and feeding.
If actually bitten either calmly take baby off or pull baby in close.
Try not to shout or yelp as this can be a source of amusement that baby might like to repeat or worse, upset baby enough to cause a little feeding aversion.
When the worst occurs pull baby gently into your breast. Bringing their face closer into your breast means their natural reflex is (as would yours be) to open their mouth to take a breath. You can then release your nipple.
Vigilance is the key for a few days and during fussy periods.
5. Know that this is a common phase. You can get through this and when you do you can enjoy your breastfeeding relationship for as long as you both desire, teeth and all!
Sources of information.
Personal experience, having breastfed beyond infancy along with resources from La Leche League and Kelly Mom.
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Complied in collaboration with Max Donohoe, an inspiring mother and friend.