By Catherine Watson Genna, BS, IBCLC
Mothers sometimes worry about breastfeeding when their baby has teeth. Most babies do not bite, but a few do. There are things moms can do to stop baby from biting.
It helps to know a little about how breastfeeding works. In order to suck, a baby needs to keep his tongue over his lower gum. This places the tongue between the teeth and the breast. Having the tongue over the gum stops the bite reflex. If the baby is latched properly, the nipple is deep in the mouth and protected from baby’s teeth. However, sometimes a baby may release the normal, deep latch and clamp down on the mother’s breast.
• Some babies bite to reduce the flow of milk if it is too fast for them. Try leaning back while feeding. Putting the baby in more upright feeding position helps manage a fast milk flow. Avoid pressing on the baby’s head. This allows him to let go of the breast if he needs to take a breath.
• Some older babies bite because their gums are sore from teething. Keep the gums clean with a soft baby toothbrush and plain water, or gauze moistened with cold water. This can reduce swelling and make baby feel better. Allow the baby to chew on a teething ring.
• Sometimes babies bite because they are not really interested in feeding at that moment. Older babies sometimes bite at the end of the feeding when they get distracted or want to play. Wait until the baby really wants to eat and don’t encourage the baby to stay on if he grows restless.
• Occasionally, a baby will bite if they are teething and receiving bottles…as they can bite on an artificial nipple without causing pain. When they try to do this with mother, her reaction may be surprising and confusing. Switching the baby to a sippee cup instead of a bottle may help.
Try to teach the baby not to clamp down on the breast before the teeth come in. If baby closes his gums on the breast, remove him from the breast and end the feeding for at least a few minutes. In a firm tone, say: “Don’t bite.” Some mothers also follow, in a gentler tone, with “Gentle with mom.” or “Open wide.” Babies are smart. They learn from the consequences of their actions. If clamping down on the breast means it is taken away, most babies will stop clamping. If your baby bites, keep a finger ready to remove baby if he clamps down on the breast. Some mothers briefly pull the baby in close to block his nose. This will cause him to open his mouth to breathe, allowing mom to safely unlatch him.
If baby does bite, and mom reacts strongly, some sensitive babies might refuse to breastfeed for a little while. This ‘nursing strike’ can be overcome with patience. .
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An IBCLC or LLL Leader can help determine the reason a baby is biting and help you teach your baby not to bite.
Barbara Wilson Clay, BSEd, IBCLC
Last edited 06/07
Mohrbacher N, Stock J. The Breastfeeding Answer Book 3rd Edition, La Leche League Int. Shaumburg, Il. 2003. Pg.478-480.