“It was super shocking when you’re breastfeeding peacefully and suddenly they start gnawing on your nipple ― and not to mention, it was extremely painful!” says Cheng.
She believes that it was because this was around the time her kids, Gail, now 3, and Kelvin, now 6, started teething. “I knew that I wouldn’t be able to stand it if the biting went on for months, so I decided it was time to wean,” she explains.
Babies who bite when they breastfeed is not uncommon, and can happen as soon as they are born. But it can cause mums a lot of discomfort as it gives rise to sore, cracked and bleeding nipples.
However, you don’t always need to stop breastfeeding when baby bites. Often, the urge to bite only lasts a few days, or you can take active steps to prevent bubba from biting.
Here are some other reasons why your baby is biting, as well as tips on what you can do to stop it.
1. Your baby is distracted
Suckling is a skill that your newborn needs to master to ensure his survival, something he needs concentration to do. Fonnie Lo, assistant director of Thomson ParentCraft Centre, notes that some mums like to touch and stroke their baby’s face while nursing.
“When you stroke your baby’s cheek with your nipple, your baby will be searching and rooting. Once the nipple is in your baby’s mouth, don’t do actions that suggest a search anymore. You need to let him know it’s time to eat,” she says.
Lo adds, “If you stroke him in the wrong manner, you are distracting him. Your baby may move his head when he is distracted, tug and pull at your nipple, and even bite, or gum the nipple if he has no teeth yet.”
WHAT YOU CAN DO: Let your baby focus on what he is doing. If you feel you need to bond with your baby while you nurse, don’t stroke him, talk to him using reassuring words. Lo says, “Even patting your baby on the bum is using the wrong body language to send a message. Stay calm, peaceful and don’t do unnecessary things.”
Your baby may gag if your letdown is too fast, or if he is unable to cope with the fast milk flow.
2. Your baby is uncomfortable with the milk supply
Most mums experience ups and downs in their milk supply. A low milk supply can be due to several reasons ― for example, if the mum has blocked ducts, mastitis, is undergoing stress, or if her period has just returned.
“When the milk supply is low, the baby will move his head and body frantically, searching, grasping and pulling, hoping for more milk,” says Lo. “He reacts this way out of frustration.”
Another reason why your little one is clenching down hard, is because of an overactive milk supply. Your baby may gag if your letdown is too fast, or if he is unable to cope with the fast milk flow.
WHAT YOU CAN DO: If you have blocked ducts or mastitis, see a lactation counsultant or a doctor to get treatment. If your period has just returned, don’t fret, your supply should go back to normal after a week.
Try various means to increase your milk supply. Keep latching your baby, as your body will respond to his demand. You can also try taking galactagogues ― foods that increase breastmilk ― such as oats and salmon.
Power pumping between your baby’s feeds can also help boost your supply. The process mimics the frequent feeding of a baby during a growth spurt. Pump for 20 minutes, then rest for 10 minutes. Pump for another 10 minutes, rest for 10 minutes, and pump for the last 10 minutes. One power pumping cycle will take you around an hour. Do it every once in a while to boost your milk supply.
To cope with a fast milk flow, try different positions when you nurse your baby. Try laid-back nursing ― you sit leaning back on a propped up pillow, with your baby’s tummy against your tummy. This position helps to give your baby more control over his latch and also lets him manage the flow of milk. You can also hand-express some milk before latching your baby, so the letdown isn’t as forceful. Or try block feeding to adjust your milk flow. Only nurse your baby from one breast at each feed, then hand-express the milk from the other breast ― if it feels lumpy ― till you feel comfortable. Apply cold compresses for 20 to 30 minutes. Do monitor the flow from your breasts very closely to ensure that your milk supply is adequate for baby.
3. Your baby’s teeth are coming in
Teething can irritate your baby’s gums and he may use biting as a means to soothe himself and alleviate the discomfort. It can happen any time between the age of 5 months and 2 years of age, and last till bubba gets his full set of teeth.
WHAT YOU CAN DO: It’s a good idea to halt the breastfeeding session if you see that your baby is biting to soothe his gums. Detach him properly without frightening him. Offer him a cold towel, or a teething toy instead, and tell him “Mummy is not for biting, bite this instead.” You can also apply some teething gel.
When he has had enough of chewing the toy, offer him your breast again, and remind him “no biting, be gentle when eating”. Praise him gently when he gets it right.
If biting while nursing elicits a strong reaction from you, he’s likely to want to create that effect again and again!
4. You try to pull your sleeping baby off
Imagine being blissfully asleep when someone suddenly wakes you up from your slumber. That’s how your sleeping baby feels when you try to unlatch him by yanking him away, Lo says.
“Your baby naturally likes to fall asleep on the breast, so if you pull him off suddenly, he will clamp hard on your nipple – it’s a natural reaction!”
WHAT YOU CAN DO: If your baby has fallen asleep on the breast, tickle his chin. If he still refuses to let go of the boob, slide one finger into the corner of his mouth, right between his gums. Use your finger to release his suction on your nipple gently, rather than just yanking him off.
5. He’s being playful
Babies are cheeky little creatures, and they are highly amused by anything that demonstrates cause and effect.
So, if biting while nursing elicits a strong reaction from you, he’s likely to want to create that effect again and again! “They will look at your with their cheeky eyes and smile!” Lo says. “They don’t mean to hurt you, but they just don’t realise that biting you is painful for you.”
WHAT YOU CAN DO: It’s important not to overreact and give your baby that “loud” reaction he was hoping for. Even worse, if you yell, your baby may be so shocked that he goes on a nursing strike.
“Tell him ‘no’ firmly,” Lo advises. As a last resort, she suggests pretending to bite your baby, to “show him that that action hurts you. Then, you explain that it’s painful ― ‘so, don’t bite mummy.’ Be consistent in saying ‘no’.”
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