When baby’s first tooth erupts, a lot of joy and celebration usually accompanies it. Most parents see it as a huge milestone and rightly so. That little baby that seemed so helpless yesterday now has his or her first tooth!
Yet for some mums, the sight of the first tooth immediately brings its own “ouch” of anticipation. Perhaps this ouch is provoked by memories of an older child’s biting during feeding or of other mothers’ tales of mischievous children looking at their mum in the eye as they clamp down on her nipple without warning.
Looking back on those moments it is easy to laugh at the memories but if it happens to you, you won’t be blamed for feeling tempted to wean immediately or to start offering a dummy in the hope your baby will chomp down on something other than you!
The good news is that not every baby bites and the onset of teething doesn’t have to mean that your baby will bite. Biting is often a sign that baby is not attaching properly.
Correct attachment places your baby’s tongue between your nipple and his bottom gum, so if he bites he will bite his own tongue. This and other causes of biting whilst breast-feeding are easily remedied.
If your baby isn’t attaching properly, he or she may accidentally bite you. Milk is supplied to your baby in a beautiful supply equals demand system. The more your baby needs, the more the milk supply is built up. Approximately every three months your baby will start to grow and need more milk and will suckle with more gusto than usual. This can happen when a baby’s teeth are starting to erupt. In his enthusiasm to start feeding, he may clamp down before the whole nipple and surrounding tissue is in his mouth. This will feel like a bite.
Simply offering the breast more regularly during these periods and paying close attention to positioning and sucking techniques can often help to prevent the problem developing and if it does occur, prevent it from continuing. Seek help from a breast-feeding counsellor if you are finding that you need help to find alternative positions for your growing baby.
Teething does hurt babies and produces tender, aching gums. If you know your baby is distressed by teething, it may help to offer her a teething ring and a gum massage between and before feeds to ease any discomfort before offering her your breast. If you think her pain is severe, seek medical advice about the best way to offer pain relief. This biting stage also tends to be transient and only lasts whilst the baby’s gums are sore.
If your baby does clamp down on your nipples or if he rests his newly erupted teeth on your nipple whilst feeding, be sure not to pull away. This may cause trauma to your nipple and make it sore. Your baby’s teeth can break the sensitive tissue covering the nipple and it can become infected by bacteria. Use your little finger to gently release the suction, produce a gap between your baby’s mouth and your nipple and remove the nipple completely. Pause momentarily before offering the breast to the baby again. After you complete a feed, use a little hind milk on the nipple and let it air out to prevent soreness and help to heal any cracks.
There are some babies who do become a little cheeky and enjoy the reaction of their mother when they bite on the nipple. Some baby’s develop a little look in their eye before they bite down and this may happen towards the end of his feed when your baby is no longer hungry and just wants your attention or is playing with you or your breast.
If you anticipate a bite is coming or if your baby stops sucking and starts to play with your breast remove him from the breast immediately. If you don’t anticipate the bite soon enough and you do get a bite, instead of sounding angry and reacting with an “ouch” (even though you really want to say it) say “no” firmly and remove the baby from the breast immediately. Do this every time baby bites or attempts to bite.
Remember this is only a stage and it’s very rare that biting leads to the need to wean a baby earlier than expected. If you are faced with your baby biting you accidently or playfully on purpose, remain calm and work through these steps and you will discover that it really is only a stage and breastfeeding will continue until you are both ready to wean.
This article was written by Carol Groves: Carol trained and worked as a nurse and midwife in Australia and overseas, many years ago before having children. Later I trained and worked as a breastfeeding counsellor with Nursing Mothers (now Breastfeeding Australia). Today I am preparing to be a Doula (Childbirth and Peri natal Support Person) and Mother’s Helper. My website is being developed at http://muslimumi.com.