Why is My Baby Biting My Nipples?
Babies sometimes go through a phase of biting. Sometimes this is a reaction to teething, other times they are just trying out what their teeth can do. One thing is for sure, when a baby bites his mother's nipples, it hurts! Whether your baby has no teeth or a few milk teeth, the edges of which can be very sharp, biting makes nursing distinctly uncomfortable for mothers. If your baby starts biting you, and you're not ready to wean yet, there are a number of tactics you can try to stop this behaviour. You might need to adopt a trial and error approach, to see what works for your baby.
Nursing Strikes and Biting Combat!
Your natural reaction to being bitten is most likely to be yelping and pulling your breast away from your baby. Doing this, and telling your baby "don't bite Mummy, it hurts", might work, but occasionally in very sensitive babies it causes what is termed a "nursing strike", where babies get so upset and frightened by their mother's reaction that they temporarily refuse to suckle. Alternatively, hearing you cry out in pain might amuse your baby, so try to resist shouting loudly, and instead say a firm 'no', and take him off the breast. Put him down after biting, but without being cross with him. Your baby will soon learn that biting means he'll be put down, which should discourage this habit.
You can also try putting your finger into your baby's mouth when you feel him starting to bite, putting your finger between your nipple and his teeth. Hold it there as you pull your breast out of his mouth. Techniques which interrupt nursing generally work well as babies quickly associate biting with having their milk flow stopped.
Causes of Nipple Biting
Some babies tend to bite when they are either very hungry or when they are full. Keep track of when your baby bites to see if there is a pattern. If he bites when hungry, feed him a little earlier than normal. You can also try expressing a little milk before feeding, so that your baby gets milk straightaway, as some babies are impatient and don't like waiting for your milk to let down!
If your baby seems to bite towards the end of nursing, they might be full, but are continuing to suckle because they like the comfort of nursing. If you think your baby is full but is comfort nursing, give him something else to chew on, such as your fingers, a teething ring, or frozen fruit (if you've started weaning). Teething pain can make babies more likely to bite, so if you suspect teething is the root cause of your baby's less than perfect feeding manners, use techniques for soothing gums, such as cold teething rings, bonjela, infant suspension such as paracetamol, and gently massaging your baby's gums before and in between feeds.
Some babies bite if they aren't given enough attention during feeds, for example, if you're talking to someone while feeding. If your baby seems to bite when you're otherwise occupied, try giving him your full attention to see if this stops the biting.
Latching on and Protecting Your Nipples
Babies can't bite and feed at the same time, as their tongue covers their gums and teeth when they feed, so check your baby is latched on properly, and adjust your breast as necessary. To get the correct position for nursing, hold your baby chest-to-chest, and wait until his mouth is wide open before drawing his mouth onto your breast. Remember that your baby's chin should be on your breast for him to be able to latch on.
If your baby's feeding etiquette has left you with sore nipples, use a nipple shield until they have recovered. Smoothing on some breast milk onto your nipples after a feed helps prevent infection and speeds recovery, and apply lanolin cream to your nipples to soothe them. Air dry your nipples after feeds to prevent infection, and change nursing pads often.