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Biting the Breast That Feeds You

Nothing prepared Jenn for the searing pain coming from her left breast. She let out a howl and looked down at her son. If that wasn’t bad enough, there was Josh with a big smile on his face. He pulled her nipple out another inch and let it go. He stared at her and tried to nurse again when her hand and a loud “No!” stopped him. His smile turned to a cry and he burst out sobbing.

Jenn felt terrible and confused. It hurt! Why would he bite her? Why was he so proud of hurting her?  Her first impulse was to push him away, then tears came to her eyes and she hugged him in.  A quick look at her nipple showed bright red teeth prints but no blood.

There is not much worse than a baby who bites. The most dedicated nursing mother can give up hope when faced with round two or three of nursing after a hard bite.

Why do babies bite and what can you do to stop them?

Most mothers report that their baby started biting at around 4-6 months of age. A baby usually bites because he wants his mother’s attention and her attention is elsewhere. A baby wants to be in constant connection with his mother because she is his lifeline. When she is away, even if it’s only on a mental vacation, he will try to bring her attention back. Other reasons a baby might be biting is because the milk flow slowed, his teeth hurt or he sees he’s getting an unusual reaction from his mother and he’s curious about it.

The easiest way to avoid being bitten again is to pay attention to your baby while he is nursing. There are clues that a bite is coming. In every feeding, you usually have three stages. The first is active feeding time, when the baby is gulping. That is usually a low risk time for biting. Then comes a transition time where you may feel your baby start to become restless, stop sucking or start squirming. Right after this, there may be a pause followed by the bite.

During the transition time, focus on your baby. If he tries to bite, be prepared to unlatch him with your finger. Alternatively, you can pull him in against your breast so his nose is blocked. When his nose is blocked, his mouth will pop open and he will release your breast. Most mothers have a preference to one way or the other.

At this point you can offer him something else, talk to him about nursing correctly or just end the nursing session and hold him. Try not to overreact by pushing him away or setting him down away from you. This just reinforces the feeling of separation that he was bringing to your attention by biting you.

Some babies bite once and never do it again. Others need a little more coaching. All babies stop because they love breastfeeding and you. They don’t want to hurt you or their ability to nurse.