You thought you had the hang of nursing, you’ve been comfortably nursing for 9 months, then WhaM! Baby bites!
You’re not alone. Not all babies bite, but all of mine have. Some were more persistent biters. But I got all 3 to stop, and I was able to continue nursing to around 18 months for each.
With my first it was a big surprise. With my second… it was a big surprise. And with the third, guess what? It was still a big surprise.
Once your baby has bitten, it feels like every time the baby wants some milk, you’re about to stick your nipple into an alligator’s mouth… or a bear trap… or a stapler… you pick the metaphor.
If this is happening, first you should congratulate yourself, very few babies are exclusively breastfed until they get their first teeth! Between 35-40% of babies are still breastfed at 6 months according to the CDC.
The two most effective strategies I have used are startling and negative reinforcement.
The first strategy does not take a genius to figure out, as soon as the baby bites, scream! Let it all out mama! The baby will let go, and probably cry. Comfort your baby, because they’re scared, but you’ve got they’re attention.
Some babies are more persistent biters, my third baby went through a longer biting phase and what worked with the other two, a couple big screams, didn’t phase her. If anything, she thought it was funny. After speaking with my network of longer term nursing mothers, I decided to discontinue any nursing session where biting occured. When she bit, I would say “No” firmly, remove her and her teeth, and put her down on the ground, or to bed if it was bedtime. I would then get up and walk away. I would not let her nurse again for a couple of hours. For the more persistent biter, I have found they are the babies that frequently nurse for comfort and are not necessarily for hungry. If they are biting, they are most likely not hungry, but looking for comfort, which can be given with a hug, kisses, tickles or reading a book together.
This is a really tough stage, that can result in blood and tears. Don’t despair. If one nipple is damaged, apply breastmilk and allow your nipple to air dry. Optionally, you could pump 2-3 x a day for 1 to 2 days to allow for more healing.
This too shall pass. Your baby will learn in a day or two that biting is not tolerated, and you’ll be back to your happy nursing.
Feel free to email me if you have any more specific questions about biting or nursing at DrKatherine@MommyCoach.ca.