For starters, know that teething doesn’t mean the end of breastfeeding. Some babies begin to get teeth as early as 3 months of age, and most begin teething between 4 and 7 months of age. Some babies feel so little pain their mothers don’t realize they’re teething until they see the first bits of white teeth peeking through their baby’s gums. However, many babies do feel pain from teething and biting the breast eases the pain.
Here are some tips on how to keep your baby from biting:
- Use teething soothers before breastfeeding. Give your child other things to chew on for a few minutes before breastfeeding him. A clean washcloth that has been moistened with cool water and placed in the freezer for a few minutes works well, or a firm rubber ring designed especially for teething babies. Rubbing a clean finger gently across your baby’s gums may also provide temporary relief. Or you can put a few pieces of ice in a clean baby sock and tie off the top. If your baby is older than 6 months and eating complementary foods, he may enjoy cold foods such as applesauce, yogurt, or a frozen banana.
- Use a pain reliever. If teething pain is especially troubling to your baby and the soothers are not working, a dose of children’s pain reliever, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen (but never aspirin) 30–45 minutes before breastfeeding may help. Topical anesthetics (such as Orajel) should never be used in children under 2 years of age due to the risk of methemoglobinemia, a serious condition that limits the amount of oxygen in the blood.
- Check your baby’s latch. A baby who is latched on correctly—with a wide open mouth and the nipple far back in his mouth—cannot bite. Keep in mind that if he gets sleepy and nipple is slipping away, he may bite reflexively.
- Watch for signs of fullness. Biting is most likely to happen when your baby is full and has lost interest in nursing, so watch for signs that he is full (stops sucking and swallowing, falls asleep) and take him off the breast before he has a chance to bite.
- Pay attention. Some babies will bite if your attention is elsewhere—on the phone or TV, for example. Engage with your baby while breastfeeding, and see if this helps. You may also minimize distractions by dimming lights, turning off the TV, playing music, or going to a quiet room.
Many mothers instinctively pull back and cry out when bitten, startling their babies. This negative reinforcement can be a deterrent to ever biting again. Some mothers couple this with putting the baby down for few minutes and walking away before returning to the feeding.
If you can, try to pull your baby into the breast for a few seconds when he bites instead of pushing him away. This will keep your nipple from being stretched out, and will enable you to slide your finger into your baby’s mouth to release his latch before taking him off the breast. Once you soothe his gums, try completing the feeding.