When babies bite during breastfeeding it hurts! And it's usually due to teething. It's important for parents to know that teething shouldn't signify an end of breastfeeding. Some babies begin to get teeth as early as 3 months of age, and most begin teething between 4–7 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, unfortunately, biting the breast can ease that pain.
Here are some tips on how to keep your baby from biting, so that you can successfully and comfortably breastfeed a teething baby:
- 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. Teething pain is a natural condition of childhood. As such, many parents feel a pain reliever is unnecessary. However, if the pain is especially troubling to your baby and soothers are not working, you may want give your child a pain reliever—ibuprofen or acetaminophen (but never aspirin, due to the risk of Reye's syndrome)—about 30–45 minutes before breastfeeding. Ask your child's health care provider to recommend the correct dose, which should be based on your child's weight (not his age). And be sure to use the dosing spoon or cup that comes with the medication.
- Avoid topical anesthetics. Never use a topical benzocaine gel (such as Orajel) 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. Also avoid lidocaine gel preparations. The Food and Drug Administration has issued a “Boxed Warning,” its most serious warning, cautioning parents to not use these products for teething pain due to the risk of seizures, brain injury, heart damage, and death. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued warnings against the use of homeopathic teething tablets in 2016 and 2017, as its testing has shown inconsistent levels of belladonna (deadly nightshade) in these products. The agency continues to investigate reports of adverse reactions, including seizures in infants and children who were given these products. Also, essential oils are not safety-tested for ingestion or topical use with children; although they are derived from plants, they may cause irritation or allergic reaction, and some may be toxic if ingested.
- 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 the 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, despite your efforts to prevent biting, your baby bites, simply press her face into your breast for a few seconds rather than pulling her away. This will cause your baby to release the breast in order to breathe. Once you soothe her gums, try completing the feeding.