Before Bowie was even conceived I deeply feared the issue of a biting breastfed baby. In the last two weeks, this fear has become reality and it has definitely not been an easy phase to deal with.
There are numerous ways to tackle a biting baby. Even if you are not breastfeeding, your baby may try to bite you. Skin, fingers, nose and toes seem to be favourites around here along with biting during nursing. Babies do tend to bite more when they are teething and trying to soothe their poor little gums, so getting angry or upset is not going to help them to feel better. Whether they are seeking comfort or are simply curious it is unfortunate that some of the most convenient and tempting things for baby to bite just happen to be parts of you!
This is something I have had to keep reminding myself as it is very easy to get frustrated and annoyed when your little one continually bites. It is also a time when many breastfeeding mamas decide to wean, if you feel like doing this I encourage you to continue with your breastfeeding journey. The biting WILL end.
The first time Bowie bit me she was 8 months old and her bottom two teeth had just come through. I got such a fright I jumped and yelled "ow" and she promptly burst into tears. I am not one to let my baby cry, in fact, I am strongly against this, so I was quietly upset that I had accidentally reduced her to tears. This happened three times over the course of about 24 hours, after which she fed normally without biting. I thought the issue was over and done with.
Fast forward to 9.5 months. The first top tooth had arrived with the second on its way and the biting started again. Regretfully, I reacted with an involuntary "ow" and prepared for tears. Instead, she burst into laughter. This time around Bowie knew that she shouldn't be biting. Maybe its just me but she had a considering look in her eye as she prepared to latch, holding eye contact and biting before she even started to feed.
So what did I do to stop Bowie from biting?
For the first 24 hours, I ensured she had the opportunity to nurse at every feed. The first thing she did was bite so each time I firmly said "no, please be gentle" then put her down. Instead, I expressed milk for the feed. After the first terribly long night expressing milk every couple hours while Anu soothed her, she fed properly throughout the following nights. During the days she continued to bite however I still gave her the opportunity to nurse before giving her expressed milk. Some feeds she would comply and others she wouldn't, it was very much dependent on how sleepy she was. It was a case of the sleepier the better and she was certainly in a better state to nurse right before a nap than when she was wide awake.
Some experts recommend giving your baby a teething ring, a piece of cold fruit or a cold carrot as soon as they bite and telling your baby "it seems you are not ready to nurse, bite on this and we will try again later". I did try this a few times and it was definitely a good distractor, however rather than try to nurse again I used this time to express because I knew the odds of her biting again were extremely high.
I found that saying "no" firmly and putting Bowie down in a safe place before turning or walking away was a gentle and successful approach. As soon as I put her down she tended to fuss for a split second and then went to find something to play with. I also watched her very closely while she nursed. When a baby is latched correctly they can not physically bite, but as soon as they unlatch it can happen very quickly! I find watching and listening very effective so that I can respond quickly to her changes. Keeping an eye on her tongue which should peek out between her bottom lip and the nipple is a sure fire way to know she is latched correctly. Listening to the gulps and getting ready to unlatch your baby when they pause helps too. Of course, sometimes they pause to pace themselves and start suckling again so don't jump the gun too fast or your baby may get confused. The most effective way to unlatch quickly is to gently and swiftly poke your little finger in at the corner of their mouth. I have read often that if a baby bites to press up firmly against them so that the breast covers their nose forcing them to unlatch, this doesn't sit right with me but is an option if you need it.
Many, many times I felt frustrated and at my wit's end and had to force myself to remain as calm as possible. And on several occasions, I needed to pass Bowie over to Anu and get some distance to unwind and clear my head. If he was at work I would send him a stream of messages venting my frustrations and anger. This definitely helped me keep my cool and my sanity.
When it comes to the crunch only YOU know your baby and your own limits of tolerance, use your mama instincts to guide you on how to best deal with your biting baby. If you feel like it is all too much and you want to wean your baby please consider contacting a lactation consultant or a member of Le Leche League to help you. And if you find yourself getting angry or upset please put your baby down in a safe place with some toys and walk away for a few minutes. I find the act of washing my hands can be quite therapeutic in this instance as it feels like I am physically washing the frustration and anger down the plug hole ready to face my little one again.
Getting through a biting phase has been both challenging and rewarding for me, I am glad that I persevered as I am definitely not ready for our nursing journey to end.
What have you tried to stop your baby from biting?
As always, you are doing a great job mama, keep it up.