It’s pretty annoying when your baby sprouts a tooth and suddenly everyone’s clamoring to know if he’s bitten you, right? (Oh, the drama!). Most likely, those comments are more dangerous than any potential bite itself. Fear of getting bitten by your child is no reason to avoid breastfeeding. Trust me, this is not a problem exclusive to the lactating set — as a formula-fed baby myself, I had a rather serious biting problem in my toddlerhood and the rampage was released upon everything and anything… except nipples (but was no less painful to tolerate, I recall).
Anyhow, did you know that baby teeth are actually milk teeth? They were designed to emerge for a temporary period to allow an infant to chew solid foods while still being able to nurse comfortably. Milk teeth fall out around the biologically natural age of weaning.
Consider this: at two months old, polar bear cubs lose their milk teeth, which are quickly replaced by adult teeth. Polar bears continue to nurse until they’re two years old… but you don’t see polar bear mamas walking around with bloodied bear nips, do you? If something can nurse with freakin’ full-sized, pointy-ass polar bear fangs for a year and a half, I think we’ll do okay for a bit (catch the pun?) with a tiny calcium deposit afterthought burrowed in a set of soft, slimy gums.
Why Babies Bite
When MaiTai’s first two bottom teeth broke through, it made no difference to nursing because his tongue covered them. I didn’t feel his top teeth while nursing either because they were buffered by his lip. This is the case for almost every baby.
That said, sometimes infants decide to use these otherwise peaceful protrusions–and that’s when you might feel them. Another important point to mention is that babies cannot nurse and bite at the same time. This means if you’ve got a little Dracula on your bosom, he isn’t actually drinking your blood (I mean milk) when he bites you.
Did he stop drinking because of teething pain, boredom, overheating, or something else? Another reason for biting and chewing on mom: Nipple confusion between bottle and breast, or inconsistent bottle-feeding practices between caregivers. This would then be a bottle-feeding problem, not a breastfeeding problem. Isolate the source issue first before shortening or giving up on breastfeeding sessions to avoid biting.
My Infant Experience
In MaiTai’s first days of post-teething joy, he decided to “test out” the strange new formations in his gums and chomped down on the breast — not hard, but I definitely felt a chewing kind of pressure and in my persistent postpartum neuroses, was petrified that if I didn’t do something to discourage this behavior quick, I might lose a nipple.
After gathering suggestions from other moms, I found out a way to show him that “chewiness” at the nipple is not what I consider a charming quality. My method was a mix of tips and tricks included in the links below.**
**Note: You may hear about pushing your baby into the breast to get him or her to unlatch while biting but it is NOT a good idea. Please don’t do this. It works because the baby CAN’T BREATHE and must wriggle off the breast to get air. This is very traumatic for a baby!
My Toddler Experience
Now as a toddler, MaiTai actually bit me — really, truly bit me. Not on the nipple though — ever! I fully trust him to not bite the nipple. Somehow he’s got this blooming intuit of what will hurt me (nipples aren’t for hurting! …but shoulders and collarbones are fair game… he’s a little confused).
Sometimes when we’re growing bored of breastfeeding but he’s not quite done, I tickle him for a bit of fun. A wily glimmer reflects in his eye as my hand assumes the “ticky-tickle position,” and he’ll grip my nipple between his front teeth while belly-laughing, by default yanking the thing to and fro as he whips his head east and west. I see my stretched, soft nipple in a precarious pincer-hold between those things that can shred into a raw baby carrot and consider how disturbing this would seem to an onlooker (even his Designated Dad has remarked, “My God, doesn’t that hurt?!”).
But toddler MaiTai and I, we have an understanding between us. He might pinch me, pull my hair, slap me in the face, and try to pick my nose with this toes while he’s nursing, or bite my shoulder or finger or necklace — but I know he will not intentionally bite my nipple. I like to credit my gentle discouragement of chewiness in his impressionable younger days.
Except… one thing to watch out for with a toddler: accidental biting.
There have been a few times when MaiTai was desperate to get under my shirt and I failed to produce the goods quickly enough to settle his frustration. As I frantically swept my hand around my nursing-unfriendly top — unfastening buttons, moving material this way and that, pulling up and pushing down and wishing breastfeeding mothers could just be exempt from all clothing expectations — he swatted and clawed, pulled up and pushed down, and for once our wishes were one and the same.
When my attempts to get some amount of boob through my stupid shirt didn’t achieve instant boob payoff, he attempted to bite the stupid shirt away. Smart kid. The problem with this is that the distance between shirt and breast is a measurement of virtually zero, so biting the shirt off = biting breast skin (hopefully not off). No molar moral to the story here, just a friendly reminder that an investment in easy-access clothing could amount to a significant savings in your Band-Aid budget.
Breastfeeding & Cavities
Now let’s talk for a second about that crappy old myth that breastfeeding causes cavities (especially, they say, night nursing). Nope, not quite! Actually, KellyMom found that “before the use of the baby bottle, dental decay in baby teeth was rare.” Read on for real answers.
Links about cavities:
- “Big Bad Cavities: Breastfeeding Is Not the Cause” – Lisa Reagan
- “Is Breastfeeding Linked to Tooth Decay?” – Kelly Bonyata, BS, IBCLC
- “Will Breastfeeding Give Your Child Cavities?” – Linda Folden Palmer
More Biting Resources
Links about biting:
- “Breastfeeding Manners” – Kelly Bonyata, BS, IBCLC
- “Do I need to stop breastfeeding when my baby gets teeth?” – LLLI
- “If Your Baby Bites” – Barbara Taylor, revised and adapted by Nancy Jo Bykowski
- Suggestions from other moms at Kellymom
- “What Should I Do if My Baby Bites Me?” – LLLI