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Breastfeeding and Biting

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Breastfeeding and Biting Photo © Cecile Lavabre/Getty Images

Once your baby starts teething, you may begin to wonder if he's going to bite you and if you can continue to breastfeed. While some babies do nip and bite at the breast, many infants nurse through the eruption of a mouth full of teeth without ever clamping down and biting their mother's breast.

Actually, biting does not occur when the baby is feeding. When latched on correctly, the baby's tongue will be laying over his bottom teeth. So, as long as the baby is sucking, he will not be able to bite and nurse at the same time. Biting tends to happen when the baby is at the breast but not actively feeding.

Reasons For Biting

Teething: When your baby starts to get teeth, her gums may become swollen and irritated. Chewing and biting help to relieve the discomfort, even if it's on your nipples.

Distraction: As your baby begins to notice the world around him, he may start to look around while he's nursing. He may bite down on your nipple to keep a hold of your breast as he moves around.

A Cold: When you're nursing a baby with a cold, you may get an unintentional bite. Infants breathe through their noses, but when their nose gets clogged, they have to breathe through their mouth. This makes nursing more difficult. The baby may bite down on your nipple so she can hold on to the breast while taking a breath.

Attention: Sometimes biting can be your baby's way of trying to get your attention.

Things You Can Do

  • If your baby is teething, you can provide comfort measures before and after feedings to help relieve some of the pain and discomfort. Rub your baby's gums with your fingers before feedings, provide teethers between feedings, and talk to your baby's doctor about using acetaminophen or ibuprofen for teething pain.

  • Nurse your baby in a quiet area and try to keep distractions to a minimum.

  • Take the baby off your breast as soon as the feeding is over. If she begins to fall asleep or linger on the breast after a feeding, she is more likely to bite down.

  • Give the baby your full attention when you are nursing him.

  • If you notice the baby starting to bite, pull her in close to your body. Once her nose gets blocked by your skin, she will need to open her mouth to breathe.

  • If you get bitten unexpectedly, try not to react too strongly because the baby may get scared and refuse to nurse. Instead, stop the feeding, remove the baby from your breast, and sternly tell him “No.”

Babies usually begin cutting teeth between 4 and 7 months of age, although some will start earlier and some later. It is not necessary to wean your baby just because his teeth are coming in. Biting can usually be prevented or stopped fairly quickly by taking the actions listed above.

Most of the time, if you do get bitten, it will probably be a little painful but nothing to worry about. However, if the bite breaks through your skin, it could be a problem. You should wash the area with soap and water and contact your doctor. A break in the skin could allow bacteria to enter your breast and cause mastitis. Your doctor may want you to take an antibiotic to prevent an infection.

Sources:

American Academy of Pediatrics. New Mother’s Guide To Breastfeeding. Bantam Books. New York. 2011.

American Academy of Pediatrics. Your Baby's First Year Third Edition. Bantam Books. New York. 2010.

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