When your sweet, smiling baby bites your nipple it hurts. In fact it hurts LOTS! It doesn’t help that when you yelp they grin at you in a friendly, almost disarming way either. Most breastfeeding mums will encounter a nip at some stage in their breastfeeding relationship, and one of the most commonly asked questions is “What can I do about it?”
There are many suggestions, from putting baby down instantly, saying NO firmly, telling baby that biting hurts, and some more (or perhaps less) enlightened folks even suggest biting the baby back. But none of those things take into account a baby’s mental development.
Babies have no empathy, no impulse control, and a very simple understanding of cause and effect. They don’t understand that it hurts when you bite, and you can’t explain it to them because they don’t understand that people other than them have the same feelings. They also have limited language skills to interpret a lecture about hurting other people.
They don’t understand that if they run with scissors they might fall and get hurt, or if they pull the dog’s tail they might get bitten. They can’t draw the connection between biting the boob, being plonked on the floor, and the boob being put away. Furthermore, although they might eventually work it out, your nipples aren’t the best teaching tool for cause and effect.
There are three reasons main reasons for a bitey baby. The first is teething, the second is when they are tired or nearly asleep and finished the feed, and last but not least, the third is illness. However they can also bite when your hormones change the flavour and flow of their milk, either during the monthly cycle or in pregnancy.
Some babies are more prone to chomping than others, but they will all give you a nip at some stage during a normal feeding relationship. When they do, there’s no need to panic and wean, babies are biologically designed to feed for quite a long time, and they do wean when they are ready. You just need to learn a few tricks!
The best solution to biting is prevention, and there’s one surefire way to prevent biting. As they doze off, when they have a blocked nose, if they’re teething, watch closely. Gently press your thumb into their cheek between their jaws whenever you suspect a bite.
If you have a serial biter you’ll get a sixth sense for when they’re going to do it.
As your breastfeeding relationship progresses the odds are exceptionally good that you’ll experience the dreaded nipple nip. Keep in mind that some bites are accidental, and of course unpredictable as well, but knowing the main triggers can definitely help prevent many of them.
Some babies are born with teeth, some get them before they are ready for solid food, the presence of teeth is NOT an indication for weaning, it’s an indication for vigilance, and information gathering. A baby can even bite with their gums and cause an unpleasant yelp to escape the lips of an unsuspecting mother. Although weaning is often the first suggestion, it doesn’t have to be the, and isn’t the only solution.
No one likes being bitten on the nipple ….. ok so some people might but that’s not exactly within the parameters of this article, and those people are definitely not the target audience! If you find yourself with a chomper, remember your baby’s brain development, they aren’t doing it deliberately to hurt you, they might find your reaction interesting, but that’s about it. Prevent it wherever possible, and rest assured, if biting nipples is a lifelong habit, it won’t be your problem once they’re eighteen, by then they’ll find another consenting adult to share that particular pastime with.
FOR FURTHER READING