Melissa Portunato MPH, IBCLC, RLC
Not all babies bite and the ones that do learn pretty quickly that mama does not like it and stop. If you’re part of the lucky few that does have a baby shark don’t worry mamas! Biting down at the breast is almost always temporary. With patience, time and support your breastfeeding journey doesn’t have to come to an end. Check out our expert tips to keep your baby from chomping down and get you back on track with breastfeeding pain free!
Why does my baby bite down when nursing?
Every baby is different, but generally babies will start to cut their first tooth between 3 months and 12 months. During this time, baby’s gums can get sore and the pressure of biting down can bring them relief. Freeze a washcloth dipped in breastmilk and before nursing let baby chew on it. Breastmilk triggers the production of endorphins, a natural pain numbing effect. The anti inflammatory properties in breastmilk may also help reduce soreness and pain. Wrap your finger around the cold washcloth and softly massage the gums providing counter pressure before nursing. Massaging the cheeks and ears from the outside can also help soothe pain. These techniques can relax baby before nursing and they will be less likely to bite down.
Sometimes teething can result in a shallow latch which overtime can make nipples tender. Try “breast shaping” and compression when nursing to better position the baby on the nipple. Using lying back breastfeeding and dangle feeding can help your nipple go deeper into the baby’s mouth.
Baby not feeling well
Other reasons babies might bite down when nursing could be because of a sickness like a cold, ear infection, sinus pressure, headache, or a stuffy nose. If baby has nasal congestion, use a mucous removal tool, like a nasal bulb or the NoseFrida, to clear baby’s nasal passage before nursing. Use breastmilk or saline water to moisten the inside of the nostrils before suctioning to make the process less irritating. Nursing your baby in an upright position, straddled on your lap, or using a sling or carrier can help make the airway stay clear and make breathing easier.
Sometimes newborns will clamp down when nursing at the breast. It doesn’t always mean there are oral restrictions but it could be an indicator. Oral restrictions can vary and can come in the form of a tongue tie, lip tie, and buccal tie (these ties can be found on the inside of the cheek). The shape of the palette and tongue can also influence how a baby will nurse at the breast. If your baby continues to clamp down when nursing, work closely with your pediatrician and connect with your local International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, IBCLC for a thorough breastfeeding consultation to determine the cause of the issue and develop a plan for resolution.
If mom has a forceful letdown this can also cause a baby to clench down on the nipple. Using nursing positions that are counter gravity can slow the overactive letdown and baby will be able to manage milk flow easier. Nursing lying back with baby’s body flat directly over you or sitting baby upright to nurse can slow the flow, allowing baby the rhythmic suck and swallow necessary for nutritive feeding. In addition, hand expressing first or pumping for 5 min prior to nursing sessions can help baby latch on easier and slow forceful letdown too!
What else can I do to make baby stop biting?
No matter the reason for biting it can be painful. Try not to scream! Instead, put your baby down in a safe place and leave the room. It’s important to know a baby that is actively nursing can not physically bite down on the breast. Babies tend to bite down towards the end of a feeding, when distracted, or not interested. Watch your baby closely when nursing and end the nursing session before baby has the opportunity to bite down. Babies are pretty keen at sensing our body language and behavior. Talk to your baby often when nursing. Tell your baby things like “we don’t bite mama” or “biting hurts mama, outchy.” Babies look for facial expressions to communicate. Be expressive with your emotions when you talk to your baby. Smile and positively reassure your baby when latch on happens carefully and smoothly.
Managing Nipple Pain and Milk Supply
If baby’s biting has your nipples sore, caused abrasions, or cuts be sure to treat them to prevent infection. Air dry as much as possible and wash with non antibacterial soap in the shower. Applying a cool hydrogel can soothe sore nipples and keep them healthy. For deeper cuts and abrasions temporarily applying a mupirocin, prescribed by your doctor, can help speed up healing and avoid infection. Small amounts on the nipples do not need to be wiped away before nursing. Always remember mamas! Your doctor is always a quick call away if something doesn’t seem right.
If nursing directly at the breast has become too painful, pump to maintain your milk supply. Use the slow 38 cycle steady with the Spectra breast pump S1/S2 and lubricate the tunnel well with breastmilk or olive oil to prevent friction and further discomfort. Be gentle on your breasts and nipples. Use massage and compression to stimulate more effective letdowns allowing for less time on the pump.
Remember you and your baby are a dyad. You are one. Your baby will learn quickly biting hurts mama and they will stop. Your baby loves you and doesn’t want to knowingly hurt you! You’re an amazing mom and your baby thinks so too.
Nishitani S, Miyamura T, Tagawa M. et al. The calming effect of a maternal breast milk odor on the human newborn infant. Neurosci Res (2009) 63(1): 66-71
In: Drugs and Lactation Database (LactMed). Bethesda (MD): National Library of Medicine (US); 2018 Oct 31.