Why Breastfed Babies Bite
Even with a full set of teeth, when a baby is latched properly and nursing actively, it is physically impossible for a baby to bite. Here are some situations that may lead to biting and some tips that may help:
• Teething (even before teeth erupt) can cause discomfort that affects a baby's latch. Try offering a cold, wet washcloth before feedings and massaging gums with your fingers. Avoid using numbing ointments, as this can make the problem worse by making the baby's mouth feel even stranger. I have had some luck with Hyland's Teething Tablets, a homeopathic remedy available at most grocery stores and even Target and Wal-Mart.
• Colds involving nasal congestion or an ear infection can affect baby's ability to breathe or be comfortable in certain positions while nursing and may cause them to slip on and off the breast. A bite will occur if the baby slips toward the nipple trying to breathe or change position. Speak to your pediatrician about appropriate remedies for congestion or evaluating for ear infection. Common non-medical solutions include inclining the baby's head while sleeping, using a humidifier, or cleaning the baby's nose with saline drops and a bulb syringe. Nursing your baby in a more upright position can also help.
• Experimenting or playing at the breast is common about the age when teeth commonly emerge. For biting, as with squirming and pinching, some education on "breast manners" may be required. Let your baby know what *is* appropriate to bite (like food or teethers) and that it is *not* ok to bite Mommy. Even if baby cannot understand your words, he or she will understand your tone. Remove baby from the breast after any biting behavior (even if it's a nip and not a full-fledged bite). My older daughter bit me one time right through my nursing bra at about a year old when I was taking too long to start the nursing – I calmly communicated that it was not ok and that we couldn't nurse if she was going to treat me that way.
• Food in the mouth is the most common reason I have been bitten by both my daughters even though it is not an explanation that I have ever seen in nursing advice or literature. Especially when babies are just starting solids, a tiny piece of shredded carrot or skin of a pea or bean stuck to the roof of the mouth can bring on a bite. My little ones seem to want to nurse after eating (perhaps to "wash the food down!") but my theory is that the remnants of food shift when nursing starts and they try to bite down on them with my breast still in the mouth! My second bit me so hard because of a small piece of food that I bled… so watch out for this one.
Often, identifying and eliminating one of these causes will solve the problem. For more tips and ideas, see my related article, “When Breastfed Babies Bite.”
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