Breastfeeding a baby who has teeth

Baby teeth are cute as a button from a little bit of a distance, but when they’re getting up close and personal with your breast, they can start to look a little more menacing. As the teething process goes on, it’s easy for anyone who’s breastfeeding to start to feel a little uneasy about those little chompers biting down somewhere they shouldn’t. Fortunately, biting during breastfeeding isn’t nearly as common of a problem as it might sound like it would be, given how close to the breast those little teeth are during feeding time.

Why do babies bite? 

There’s no universal reason for why a baby might give biting a try, but there are a few common ones:
  • Curiosity: It might seem like an overly simple answer, but babies aren’t born knowing what’s going to hurt others, and they’re fascinated by the world around them. While it isn’t uncommon for babies to try a few experimental nips, it’s unusual for it to turn into a habit.
  • Teething: One of the ways babies seek to ease the pressure on their swollen gums during teething is by biting down.
  • Cold or ear infection: These conditions can make it harder to swallow, and if your baby is having trouble swallowing while feeding, they may inadvertently bite down.
  • To get your attention: Once your baby has tried it out, there’s a good chance your little one will have noticed that biting gets a strong reaction from you, so if they’re feeling a little ignored, they may use the tools at their disposal.

How can I prevent biting? 

Depending on why your baby is biting during breastfeeding, there are a few different ways you can work to discourage making biting into a habit. First, if you think an ear infection or cold might be the culprit, holding them in a more upright position for nursing can help, and making sure to use a bulb syringe to keep their nose from being too stuffy during feedings can also help to prevent accidents while riding out their illness.

During teething, if your baby is coping with teething pain by biting, and is older than 6 months, offering cool, complementary foods like yogurt or chilled applesauce can give both of you a little relief until teething pains start to subside.

Those can be good strategies for specific types of biting, but when biting while nursing starts to become a habit, a more direct way of addressing the problem is needed. When a baby is nursing, their lower teeth are covered by their tongue, and most of the nursing motion is done with the lower jaw, so even though the upper teeth rest on the breast, when a baby is actively nursing, they can't be biting – sucking needs to end before they are physically able to bite.

This means that if you have a regular biter on your hands, the fact that it’s impossible to suck and bite at the same time can help you know ahead of time when a bite is coming. When that rush of hungry feeding is done, and the nipple slips forward in your baby’s mouth, and they pull back to bite, you can slide your fingers between their gums at the corner of their mouth, to stop them from biting down, and then offer a replacement, like a teething ring, to bite into.

Another way of discouraging biting before it begins is to hold your baby closer to your breast for feeding. If they have to reach to latch on, it’s much easier to pull back and bite, but if they are right up close to your breast, it’s much less likely.

How should I respond to a bite? 

It makes sense to jump when something new and startling – like a bite on your areola – happens, but one of the best ways to discourage future bites is to respond calmly and blandly. If your baby does bite while nursing, strong reactions, from anger to pain to amusement can all be incentives for them to want to try again another time. Instead, try pulling back, calmly saying “no biting,” and stopping feeding them for a few minutes if the feeding session just started, or waiting until the next feeding time if they has been feeding for a while.

  • “Breastfeeding after your baby gets teeth.” HealthyChildren. American Academy of Pediatrics, September 8 2015. Web.
  • “Breastfeeding: My baby is biting me.” nct. NCT, August 2016. Web.
  • “Do I need to stop breastfeeding when my baby gets teeth?” La Leche League. La Leche League, January 10 2016. Web.
  • “What should I do if my baby bites me?” La Leche League. La Leche League, November 16 2016. Web.
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