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The biting stage in breastfeeding

The biting stage in breastfeeding

“My baby is 8 months old. He has started to bite me, and now I’m scared to breastfeed him. I don’t know what I should do to stop him from doing this, and, most of all, I don’t want to stop breastfeeding. Is there a solution to prevent biting?”

Almost all mothers will experience some biting during the course of their breastfeeding journey. Some people think that this stage marks the time of weaning and that if the baby has teeth, it is time to stop breastfeeding. But in reality, we do not know the natural age of weaning in humans because we are conditioned by the society and culture we live in. If we look for references in other disciplines, such as anthropology, history, and ethnology, we discover that weaning in humans should occur between two and a half and seven years of age. Thus, even with teeth, babies can continue to breastfeed.

Biting is a frequent situation that can be part of breastfeeding, and you just have to learn how to stop the process and redirect the situation to enjoy breastfeeding again. It is important to end this quickly because if it is not stopped in time, the situation can get more complicated, and then it can sometimes mean the early end of a breastfeeding journey.

My baby bites me when it falls asleep

When breastfeeding babies bite, we can differentiate the situations into two types: intentional and unintentional bites and each type of biting has different solutions.

Unintentional bites occur when the baby falls asleep or relaxes while breastfeeding and closes their mouth abruptly. This situation can also be experienced before the baby has teeth or if they have difficulty sucking or latching on. In these cases, the baby will look for ways to get the milk they need and may not latch on well. They may even damage the nipple when closing their mouth simply with the pressure they put on their gums.

Teething can cause unwanted biting during the night. In these cases, you need to be patient and try to remove the breast at the right time (when they are well asleep), so they do not keep the nipple in their mouth.

Some mothers place a finger between the baby’s teeth and the breast when the baby is falling asleep; thus, if the baby closes the mouth, the bite is taken by the finger, which always hurts less than a bite on the breast.

In this case, not much can be done to redirect the situation. With time and sometimes this is a matter of days or weeks, the biting will stop.

What to do when biting is a game for them?

This tends to occur when the baby has reached around 8 or 9 months of age. It usually starts with an accidental bite, which happens as the baby closes its mouth, to which the mother reacts. This reaction surprises and fascinates the baby and triggers a “game” for them. So when the baby bites and looks at its mother, they laugh and expect a reaction. In this situation, it is important, unless caught completely off guard, to try not to scream or push the baby away abruptly. Those bites hurt, but when you see your baby with a cheeky face, a smile might escape you, and this encourages the game: let’s see what happens when I bite. Staying as neutral and unimpressed as possible is the best option to end this unpleasant situation.

Before continuing, we would like to clarify that babies are not manipulative; they do not bite to annoy or hurt on purpose. This is a very common situation, which is related to the development of the baby, who is now discovering the world around them and this phase, like many others, will pass.

To stop this from happening, refocus on the feeding process; talk to your baby, engage and do not lose eye contact. Many bites are caused by a demand for attention. Recognize that as the months go by and the breastfeeding journey progresses, as mothers, we normalize this as almost mechanical action, and we start doing other things while the baby feeds at the breast. We become less aware of what they are doing. If we stop everything we are doing on the side and just concentrate on the baby during the feed, it is likely, that they will not bite anymore.

Start to intentionally put the baby onto the breast as if they were a newborn during their first weeks of breastfeeding, which is: very close to the breast; try to make them open their mouth as wide as possible like a “lion” and position them in a “classic” breastfeeding posture. So, for example, don’t let them feed while standing up, on their side or moving like a little gymnast. Try to avoid your baby getting its mouth in a sucking spaghetti or straw position because, with a closed mouth, it is very easy to bite.

Use toys or read a story to try to keep them relaxed and not thinking about biting.

I have tried everything, and my baby still keeps biting

If you have followed all of the above suggestions, but your baby still keeps biting, you must go further. Breastfeeding in fear of being bitten or having pain while breastfeeding puts an expiry date on your breastfeeding journey, which you might not want. Here are some ideas to stop the biting as respectfully as possible. Keeping the feeding sessions as short as possible is better to prevent your baby from getting bored or too relaxed. Warn them before you start: “if you bite, no more breast”.

And most of all, remember to keep a neutral face and tone of voice as calm as possible to remind the little one that they must not bite the breast.

On other occasions, “saving the breast for later” is more than enough for them to understand. Avoid continuing with the feed and calmly tell your baby that if it continues to bite, there will be no more breast.

As a last resort, an option is to move away from the baby after a bite, leave them in a safe place or in the care of another adult and get out of sight where you can cry or scream without them seeing or hearing you. But avoid doing so in front of them.

My baby bit me, and I screamed. Now it doesn’t want to breastfeed anymore.

It’s a fairly common situation when a baby does not want to breastfeed anymore after this experience. They get a big scare and do not want to repeat this experience, so they stop feeding. They reject the breast and all contact with it.

This type of weaning or breastfeeding strike may be temporary. It is not ideal for a baby under one year to wean, so with a little effort, the baby usually starts to breastfeed again. Just don’t try to force them to suckle; they should feed on their own initiative. Do not offer directly or put them in a position to suckle, especially if this makes them uncomfortable.

It is better to “seduce”, to try to make them relax near the breast, to make them fall in love again and to achieve that, it is great to make them laugh a lot, to take a bath together, to tickle them and to wait and have patience.

Such a temporary weaning or breastfeeding strike can last anywhere between a few days and a month. Depending on what you want to do and what the baby is eating at this stage, it may be necessary to express breastmilk to offer to the baby in another way to avoid any difficulty at the breast and an excessive drop in your milk production.

How do I heal a wound from biting?

Biting wounds on the breast get infected very easily. Therefore you must maintain good hygiene on these wounds, clean them thoroughly two or three times a day with water and neutral soap and dry the wound by patting it dry with a paper towel.

If the wound doesn’t get better, consult your midwife, gynaecologist or primary care centre to get a prescription for a topical antibacterial cream that will heal and close the wound.

Any other questions?

You can find more information about all things breastfeeding in our free app, LactApp, for iPhone or Android. In the contact section of the app, you can find an in-app consultation channel where our experts will answer your questions.

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