Dealing with a biting phase

There are a few different points when young children might try to express themselves using their teeth. The point that usually gets the most press is during the toddler years, when big feelings and small amounts of impulse control can lead to lashing out in different kinds of ways. When younger toddlers, or even babies, bite, it’s often for other reasons, besides just lashing out before they know better ways of expressing themselves.

Experimental biting 

Experimental biting is the type of biting that happens when babies just don’t know what chomping down on someone else’s fingers, arms, or breast will do. Experimental biting is as exploratory as most things young babies do around this age, and many of them learn not to bite just by watching the person they’ve just bitten flinch, jump back, or shout involuntarily. On the other hand, this reaction can seem funny to some young children, who may be having a harder time making the connection between biting and pain. For children who are having a harder time making the connection between biting and actually hurting other people, it can be helpful to add a little extra emphasis when telling little biters, “No,” and “Biting hurts.”

It’s also a good idea not to encourage biting by rewarding it with attention. Instead of getting upset with a baby or young child who bites, it can help to step back and disengage with them. This starts to teach them about the natural consequences of their actions. It’s not a punishment, it’s just a fact that if they hurts people, they won’t want to play with them at that time. 


It’s usually pretty clear which bites from a baby or young child might be a way of managing teething pain. For one thing, this kind of biting is generally followed by the appearance of a tooth. For another, these bites may be drooly, accompanied by extra fussiness, and be more like gnawing than reaching out to take a bite. Teething bites are generally a case of proximity, where a baby bites down on the first likely-looking surface that’s available, so replacing your fingers with a teether will generally do the trick. Yes, it would be better manners of Baby not to bite anyone to begin with, but teething-biting is generally pretty harmless anyway, and passes as the teething pains do.

During an illness

According to La Leche league International, breastfeeding babies may bite down mid-feed if they have colds or ear-infections and are having trouble swallowing as they feed. This kind of biting isn’t malicious and isn’t permanent, and during an illness, babies may have an easier time breathing while nursing in a more upright position.

Other tips 

Many families also find it helpful to encourage and praise examples of gentle touching in babies and toddlers as they first experiment with biting. And no matter what, remember that Baby isn’t biting to be mean – they are biting because that’s what babies and toddlers do!

  • Mary L. Gavin. “Biting.” KidsHealth. The Nemours Foundation, September 2016. Web.
  • Raising Children Network. “Biting, Pinching and Hair Pulling.” RaisingChildren. Raising Children Network, September 18 2015. Web.
  • Barbara Taylor. “If Your Baby Bites.” New Beginnings. 16(2): 36-39. Web. March-April 1999.
  • “What Should I Do If My Baby Bites Me?” La Leche League International. La Leche League International, May 23 2015. Web.
Get the Ovia Parenting app
Get our app at the Apple App Store Get our app at the Apple App Store Get our app at the Google Play Store Get our app at the Google Play Store