Ouch! Baby Bites While Nursing

April 5, 2011 · 4 comments

in Daily Life

I had a question today from a young Mom asking if I could guide her to some information about gentle and effective ways to respond to her baby who has started biting while breastfeeding.

Kathy first posed her question on a discussion board, which led to a lively discussion with conflicting opinions about what she should do, (none of which felt quite right to her) including the suggestion that she should “flick” her baby’s nose so the baby would learn to associate the pain with the biting, and therefore be less likely to bite in the future. This prompted another participant in the forum to ask if a four month old baby was too young to learn from having her nose “flicked” and yet another to ask,  “What if the baby only bites when she’s asleep?”

 Nursing Time

I am not a lactation consultant or expert, yet I can say without hesitation that “flicking” a baby’s nose in order to cause pain, thus”teaching” her not to bite while breastfeeding, is not a gentle, respectful way to approach the situation, and I doubt that it’s very effective, anyway.

Babies are not able to take the viewpoint of another, and so don’t yet understand that their actions may cause another person pain. This understanding develops slowly over time. In my opinion, “flicking” a four month old baby’s nose to “teach” her not to bite could be considered mildly abusive.

Babies learn in the context of loving, trusting relationships with patient, caring adults. To be sure, this does not mean that a Mom should have to quietly endure her baby’s bite, as innocent or exploratory as it might be, but the solution is not to inflict pain on the baby in return.

In the case of a baby who only bites when she is asleep, the solution is simple: Remove (or unlatch) the baby from your breast  before the baby falls asleep, or as soon as you notice the baby has fallen asleep. If baby has filled her tummy, and is now drowsing off, it’s best to allow her to fall asleep without using your breast as a “pacifier”. (Very young babies may fall asleep at the breast more quickly and easily, but if they are still hungry, they will rouse with a change of position and resume vigorous nursing.)

In terms of Magda Gerber’s teachings about breastfeeding, she recognized feeding times as intimate, connected times, and also as “learning” times for babies. She urged Moms to minimize distractions, focus on baby, and pay close attention to their cues whenever or however feeding a baby – by breast, bottle, or spoon. She also encouraged Moms to separate a baby’s need for nourishment from a baby’s need or desire to suckle for comfort. For more on Magda Gerber’s approach to feeding babies in attuned, respectful ways from the very beginning, I refer you to Janet Lansbury’s wonderful, informative post,  Mindful Mouthfuls -Helping Our Babies Learn Healthy Eating.

The question remains- what are  gentle but effective ways to discourage a baby from biting while breastfeeding? I like some of the information and guidelines offered by Kelly Bonyata, BS, IBCLC  who suggests several reasons why a baby may be biting (not hungry, boredom, experimentation, teething, or asking for Mom to pay (more) attention, among others).

Depending on the age of your baby, and the  circumstances in which she is biting, there are a number of possible solutions. Kelly notes that a baby who is actively nursing is not able to bite, and also discusses ways to help Mom and baby adjust the latch when baby is not biting, but Mom is uncomfortable due to pressure from baby’s teeth.

I’d love it if any of you who have had experience with your baby biting during breastfeeding would share your thoughts or solutions with Kathy (and me) below.






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JanetLansbury April 5, 2011

Wow, thanks for this great post and for linking to my article, Mindful Mouthfuls.

My son began biting at the breast when he was 14 months old and it was an extremely unpleasant experience! It was the beginning of the end of our breastfeeding relationship. I honestly think that he was signaling he was done. Since I believe parenting is about developing a healthy relationship and that the parent’s needs matter, too, I couldn’t continue offering my breast to my boy after he bit me on more than one occasion. It felt like going back to an abusive husband…asking him for more!

I’ll have to read Kelly’s post to hear her (probably conflicting) opinion, but I was certain that my decision was the right one for me and my boy, especially since the weaning process was uneventful. I really think he was tellng me he was done. And we couldn’t be closer.

Ryann Pinnegar April 5, 2011

My baby doesn’t have teeth yet, but she has bitten me occasionally (starting at about four months). When she bites me I remove her from my breast and tell her that it hurts me. Sometimes I don’t let her come back to the breast for a minute or two (which is an eternity when she is yelling and reaching for it). If she keeps biting me, then our nursing session is over. This is a technique I heard or read at either a La Leche League meeting or a new parent class. I’m hoping that it prevents any biting that may happen when she gets teeth! It seems to be working well so far.

Lisa June 14, 2011

I’ve heard people mention “flicking” their babies in the face, and it just brings me to tears. I agree with the above post that a baby doesn’t yet know they are inflicting pain, so to do something retaliatory to your own child is cruel.

Similar to the above comment, when my daughter started biting while nursing, I would say “Ouch” and remove her from my breast. If she bit again once we resumed, we would be done. Simple as that.

I often found that the times she bit were when she was really done eating and was just using me as a pacifier anyway.

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