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Breast Feeding

What to do about biting while breast feeding

09/12/2000

Question:

My 6 month old son bites very hard while breast feeding it is so painful I must stop feeding him. What can I do? What does the biting indicate?

Answer:

Ouch! It is not fun to be at the other end of an older baby`s new teeth! Many babies will bite at some time between 6 to 12 months when "cutting" teeth. Babies also become much more efficient breastfeeders around 6 months. If a mother doesn`t realize that her baby can now get a good meal in 5 to 10 minutes (or less) at breast, she may be surprised that the baby seems to get frustrated and bites at the end of a feeding if "forced" to continue. A baby who is getting a lot of bottles, which provide instant gratification when placed in the mouth, or getting too many solids or other liquids, may protest a "too long" wait for a let-down of milk (milk-ejection reflex) by biting. Some babies chew or bite down on bottle nipples or pacifiers and think they can do the same to Mom. Biting also may occur when a baby is suffering with the pain or congestion of an ear, nose or throat illness or condition.

Some mothers of young babies say they plan to stop breastfeeding when their babies get teeth and start to bite, but babies can`t bite when actually suckling during a breastfeeding. When a baby is suckling, or actively moving milk from the breast into his mouth, the baby`s tongue is over the bottom gum (and any teeth). The baby does not have to clench or bite down to hold the nipple in place or to remove milk. When a baby bites, it tends to be at the end of a feeding or, less often, at the beginning--prior to active breastfeeding.

Fortunately, it`s usually fairly easy to overcome biting; however, it requires a consistent response on a mother`s part. First, try to avoid biting by going back to the basics of good positioning and latch-on techniques; it`s easy to get "sloppy" about this with 6-month-olds who can essentially latch-on without help and nurse while twisting around like pretzels! Be very attentive to the baby during feedings. Most older babies enjoy interacting with their mothers while breastfeeding, so make eye contact, talk to and touch your baby. When he indicates he is finished, believe him! End the feeding. He`ll let you know if he wants more in a little while. If he falls asleep, remove him from the breast after breaking the suction. (See next paragraph for technique.)

If he bites, say "ouch," which usually is easy to do under the circumstances, and stop the feeding by putting your finger at the corner of his mouth between his gums. (Don`t remove him without first breaking the suction, and keep your finger in the "ready" position until sure of the cure!) Put the baby down as you say something to the effect of, "No biting. It hurts Mommy." (Say it in a firm, but calm voice. A yell or over-reaction really scares some babies and they need a lot of coaxing to breastfeed the next time!) Offer a teething ring or some other biting substitute. Wait several minutes before letting baby breastfeed again if he "asks." Whether he bites again in 5 minutes, 5 hours or 5 months, repeat the same action. Stop the feeding, and tell him biting is not allowed as you put him down for a few minutes. Most babies want to breastfeed more than they want to bite, so this method usually works quickly.

Consider using breast massage and expressing milk, by hand or breast pump, for a minute or two if the baby tends to bite early in a feeding. Also, look at the breastfeeding to see if you may be offering too much solid food too fast or too many other liquids that may be causing a decrease in milk production. Call the baby`s pediatric care provider and get her/his recommendations for treating the symptoms if an ear, nose or throat issue seems to be contributing to biting.

All the best for continuing an enjoyable breastfeeding relationship with your son.

Reference:

Mohrbacher N & Stock J (1997). The breastfeeding answer book (rev. ed.). Schaumburg, IL: La Leche League International.

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Response by:

Karen Kerkhoff Gromada, MSN, RN, IBCLC
Adjunct Clinical Instructor
College of Nursing
University of Cincinnati