Biting and teething during breastfeeding

AllisonMS, RDN, CDN

Biting tends to happen towards the end of a nursing session when your baby is no longer hungry and becomes bored, distracted, or ready for the next activity. If you’re trying to multi-task, older babies may bite to get your attention (“Hey, down here, mama!”). Other babies bite to relieve sore gums while teething or discomfort from a cold or ear infection. Some experts say babies may even bite as a sign of affection!

Whatever the cause, you can avoid these painful nips and continue a mutually pleasant breastfeeding relationship for as long as you and your baby desire. If your baby is latched properly and drinking – with your nipple deep in their mouth, lips flanged and placed around your areola – it is actually impossible to bite. Babies can’t bite while sucking, and their tongue covers the bottom teeth. That means in order to bite, baby needs to stop sucking, move their tongue, and slide their head back so that your nipple is near their gums. If you watch baby’s mouth and jaw carefully while breastfeeding, you’ll start to recognize the little changes that precede a bite.

The most important thing to remember if your baby bites is to control your reaction as much as possible. Tough to do when you’re in pain and taken by surprise – but a strong negative reaction from mom can cause even more unwanted behavior from baby. For example, a strong reaction may alarm your baby to the point of even initiating a nursing strike. On the other end of the spectrum, a strong reaction may delight and even entertain your baby who may then continue to bite to elicit your exciting response.

When baby bites, calmly unlatch your little one and end the feeding for a short while. You may say something like “mommy is not for biting” or “if you want to bite we’re not nursing now.” Your steady body language and the termination of the nursing session will send a message. Your baby will eventually learn that biting means no more breast. It may take a few days or a few weeks, so be persistent.

What to Do

Soothe sore gums

If teething is the culprit, try to give your baby relief before nursing sessions so that they are less tempted to use you as a teething ring. Offer a cold toy or frozen washcloth to chew. You can also massage baby’s gums with a clean finger.

Focus on a good latch

Go back to basics. Make sure your baby’s body is well supported, and that your little one is positioned close to your breast. Prompt baby to open your little one’s mouth wide before latching, and make sure your breast is drawn deep into their mouth. If the latch feels shallow, unlatch your baby and try again. You can also try varying positions while feeding.

And see Breastfeeding Basics 101: Learning an effective latch for even more tips.

Minimize distractions (for you and baby!)

Nurse baby in a quiet, dark room. If your baby seems restless and disinterested, don’t push it. Try to use this time to take a break and connect with your baby to prevent biting for attention.

Watch carefully and offer an alternative

Watch for changes in your baby’s jaw or mouth, especially at the end of a feeding when sucking has slowed. If you see your baby slide their head back or adjust their jaw, quickly unlatch and offer an alternative to bite (a toy or your finger works).

Pull baby towards you, not away

Yanking baby off while chomped down on your breast is an understandable reaction, but will only hurt you more. Chances are your baby will quickly open up after biting, but if your little one stays clamped on it’s better to unlatch baby with your finger.

If you’ve got a tenacious little biter who won’t come off, pull them closer to you for a moment. This will encourage your little one to open their mouth to breathe, thereby releasing your breast.

Give positive reinforcement

When baby latches nicely and nurses without incident, reward your little one with extra hugs and praise.

For more on this topic, check out the following articles: