People may tell you that once your baby gets teeth and bites, you will probably have to stop breastfeeding. However it's not physically possible for a baby to bite when they are breastfeeding correctly, because their tongue covers their bottom gum and teeth.
If a baby isn’t actively feeding, that’s when they might bite. It usually happens at either the beginning or end of a feed if:
Your milk isn’t coming quickly enough.
You may be distracted and your baby is feeling your lack of attention.
Your baby has had enough and is playing at the breast.
Your baby is teething and has sore gums.
The teething baby
A teething baby may have tender gums and want to bite and chew on everything including your nipple as they feed - ouch! There are a few things you can do to help:
Give your baby something hard and cold to chew on before a feed. This might relieve their discomfort.
Rub baby's gums before a feed, perhaps with an ice-cube wrapped in a soft cloth, so they are less inclined to chew on your breast.
If your baby is in a lot of pain, they may not want to feed. Ask your pharmacist or health care provider about pain relief options.
When a baby’s teeth are just coming through, sometimes they 'rest' these teeth on the mother's areola or breast, leaving little dints or marks. These aren't actually bites but can be quite painful. At times like this it helps to go back to basics with positioning and attachment.
Take care when you are feeding that you hold your baby closely chest-to-chest and support their weight. Baby should have a big wide mouth. Try to keep their chin tucked into your breast.
You could try holding your baby in a different position, so their top teeth aren't resting in the same place on your breast.
Once these new teeth have smoothed down, feeding will be comfortable again.
Some mothers say that their baby's saliva changes during teething and this irritates their nipples. If you feel this kind of soreness, try rinsing your nipple area after feeds with a little bicarbonate of soda dissolved in water (approximately 1 teaspoon to 1 cup). You could also bathe your breast in salty water.
Other reasons for biting
Some babies bite because the milk doesn't come quickly enough. This might happen at the beginning of a feed, or later in the feed when the milk flow has slowed. Biting may be your baby's way of trying to get more milk.
At the beginning of the feed, you could try expressing to trigger your let-down reflex so the milk is there when baby starts feeding.
Towards the end of the feed, you might need to watch your baby very carefully and if their sucking slows, remove them from the breast early. You could swap sides to encourage a new let-down so baby gets more milk.
Some babies bite at the end of a feed when they've had enough and are playing at the breast.
Watch your baby during the feed and if they just seem to be playing, or get a mischievous look in their eye, you can beak the suction and take them off straight away.
If your baby doesn’t want to feed or is wriggling and won't settle, you can either try again later, or move somewhere with less distractions.
Some older babies will bite for attention. You can try focusing on your baby while feeding. This can also help you to notice when they might be about to bite.
Most babies who are at the crawling or just-walking stage put things into their mouths. If you have a baby like this, it is worth checking their mouth when picking them up for a feed.
A baby with something else in their mouth (food, a small piece of paper from the floor or even sand from the sand pit) may well bite while trying to get attached. Or the foreign substance itself may damage nipple skin.
What to do if your baby bites
Biting hurts and our initial reaction can be loud! Some babies are frightened by a loud reaction, others may be amused and therefore try it again. Often babies understand more than they can communicate. Saying 'No!' firmly and taking your baby off the breast straight away can teach them not to do it.
If your baby has been frightened by your reaction to being bitten, they may refuse to go back to the breast. There are ways to persuade baby to breastfeed again.
Treating your sore nipple
If your baby has bitten your nipple with their sharp new teeth, you can treat it in the same way as a sore or cracked nipple. Smear some breastmilk on after a feed, expose your nipple to fresh air and change any damp breast pads or bras promptly. See your doctor if your nipple doesn't heal, or if the area becomes inflamed or infected.
Biting, if it does occur, is nearly always just a temporary phase.
It is always helpful to talk to an ABA counsellor if biting continues.
© Australian Breastfeeding Association April 2022