If you nurse for any length of time, sooner or later, you’re going to get bitten. Biting occurs from many reasons. Learning why a baby bites and learning to recognise when a baby is likely to bite can save a nursing mother quite a bit of pain.
The most likely time for biting to occur is during the first year, usually around the time when a child is teething. Just about all teething toddlers will experience a degree of discomfort when teething begins and for some it can be quite a painful process. Just about all babies try to alleviate the discomfort by chewing down on something; your nipple is no exception. The first instinct of many nursing mothers is to pull the child away, however you’ll ease the pain on your nipple if you pull your child close to you and gently insert your finder into the corner of your baby’s mouth to release the suction. Say ‘No’ to your baby in a firm but calm voice and then – if not too painful – continue feeding. If your child bites again, repeat the procedure but suspend feeding for several minutes. Just saying ‘no’ is usually enough to stop most babies from biting again. Between feeds, give your child a carrot or teething ring to chew down on. Patting your nipple dry and applying modified lanolin will help sooth your sore nipple.
Some babies let their mothers know they’ve had enough milk by biting. This is more noticeable when mothers are breastfeeding multiple babies. The problem usually arises because a mother is holding on to both for the same length of time. One child may finish sooner than the other and wants to be released and so, bites. Mothers tend to hold on to both babies because they lack a free arm to detach one of the babies. Mothers that are breastfeeding more than one child should experiment nursing in different positions, leaving one hand free, to be able to break suction and avoid being bitten.
Babies learn about their world through play. Some will take this play to your breast. If your baby is biting you because of play then you should do as above; first release your child and then tell them ‘no’ and explain that they’ve hurt you. You should judge how severe you should admonish your child; don’t be too severe as your baby may not want to suck your nipple again but is important that you teach your child that your breasts are not to be played with.
There’s a little more psychology involved when older children bite; they’re usually trying to tell you something. It may be as simple as your child telling you that they want to be weaned. Oftentimes the reasons are more complex. Children can bite you if they are upset or feel hurt in some way. If an older child is biting you for the first time, ask yourself what has changed in your child’s life to make him feel upset. Often the introduction of a new sibling can make a child feel rejected. Jealously is a powerful emotion. Previously a child had its mother’s undivided attention but now finds that they have to share. If your child can talk, try to coax out the problem. Children don’t often give a truthful answer to a direct question so you’re better off guessing what the problem is and asking them if that is the reason why they’re biting. So, don’t ask: Why are you biting? Instead ask: Are you angry with me? A child will usually stop biting after their fear or concern has been aired.
Your child may bite simply to get your attention. Babies want eye contact when they are at the breast and will get upset if they notice mother’s attention is elsewhere. They may feel especially resentful if mother is talking to others; many babies instinctively know that breastfeeding is their special time spent with mother. Biting can usually be eliminated if mother gives her full attention to her child during breastfeeding. Looking at her child also allows a mother to recognise when her child may be about to bite her, thus giving her time to take avoiding action.
Some children also bite if they slip or feel they are about to. Always make sure your baby feels comfortable and secure. Some children also bite when they fall asleep at the breast. If you find this is happening, simply finish feeding before your child falls asleep.
Just about every nursing mother will be bitten at some stage. But most children don’t bite very much and quickly learn to stop; mother’s wouldn’t breastfeed if biting was more than an occasional occurrence. Learning to recognise when your little darling is about to bite and knowing how to deal with a bite are skills that every breastfeeding mother can quickly master.