When a Toddler Bites While Nursing

Written by guest blogger, Leigh Anne O'Connor, IBCLC

 

Nursing a toddler is a confounding joy! He demands you sit. He does gymnastics and yoga while slurping your sweet nectar. Nursing is a great tool to calm a wild child or heal a skinned knee or a broken heart. These little people are growing rapidly. One day they are crawling, the next they are waddling toward the stairs or the dog food dish.  One day they mumble “mama” and “gaga” and then they learn the power of “NO!!” 

Another big change going on in the little body is the mouth – teeth are multiplying like bunnies in there. If a baby is latched correctly, his teeth are covered by his tongue.  Ah, but the older nursling has teeth on top and bottom! Yikes! As he is feeling those incisors pushing through his flesh nothing will sooth that sensation like biting down on something nice – like a breast!  Ouch! 

So, what is a mother to do?

Just as when a baby of any age bites the hand, (or breast that feeds him), the thing to do is not scream,  “ You little demon, you nearly amputated my breast!” Nor is it to cry out and run weeping into the streets or punt him across the room – though these ideas may make sense at the time. You take the little chomper off your breast and calmly, but firmly, tell him “No, you may not nurse if you bite.” Put him down off your lap and remain as emotionally neutral as you have it in you to be. This should neither be a game nor a horrifying experience. Biting is simply an unacceptable behavior.  After a brief period of being ignored he will either go on about his business or he may plead to have more sweet milk.  If you do offer the breast again tell him in no uncertain terms, “If you bite me again, you may not “nonnie” (or whatever word you use to nurse) again.” I do not mean forever – just at this time of the day.   A time or two like this should tame your little piranha.

Another reason toddlers bite is if they have a cold and cannot breathe so well while nursing. Some saline spray or nursing in a steamy bathroom or bedroom with a humidifier can help open up those little nasal passages.  

Some moms say that her baby bites if she is pregnant or if her milk supply is low (which can be caused by being pregnant). I cannot count how many women have called me to discuss their newly biting toddler. We run through the list of possibilities.

“Are you pregnant?” I ask.

I can almost see through the phone the look of surprised possibility on her face.

“Well, I don’t know. I don’t think so. Well, maybe. I gotta go now!”  

A couple days later my phone rings. “You were right! I am pregnant!” She had run to the drug store to buy a pregnancy test.

If your baby really chomps down hard you can hold him tight to you so that he is forced to open his mouth. Another approach is to put your finger in his mouth   between the teeth and break the latch.

Many moms think this is a time to wean. It can be scary. And, if you talk about it you can be led to believe that this is a sure sign to wean. It is just a stage that some – not all, I promise – toddlers go through.

As you negotiate your way, nursing an older baby in a world where most babies are weaned by their first birthday, you step lightly in your discussions with other mothers. Sometimes you find you are part of a secret society. You find these other mothers who nurse their toddlers and you laugh together at the antics and the sweetness of nursing a talking, opinionated human. You share your battle scars, which can sometimes be teeth marks on your areola.

 

Here are a few other great articles about how to deal with a toddler who bites while nursing:

Teething and Biting by Anne Smith, IBCLC

Nursing a Teething Toddler by LLLI

 

Here is some advice from our Facebook readers:

Marie: A firm no and gentle tap on his cheek usually disctracted him.  If he continued to bite, then we stopped nursing for a minute.  If he was done, he’d go and play.  If he still wanted to nurse, I would try again.  A third bite meant we were done.  Also, I would use phrases he understood like, ”Biting gives Mommy owies.  We do not bite.”

Chloe: We have one serious bite at 8 months.  It was at the zoo.  I had to unlatch him and leave him with a friend to go to the restroom and deal with the blood.  That was traumatic enough that he didn’t do it again.  Sometimes he gets a little wild while nursing if something strikes him as funny, but he calms right down if I unlatch him for a minute.

 

What tips do you have for a mother whose toddler is biting while nursing?

Leigh Anne O'Connor is Lactation Consultant in Private Practice in New York City, as well as a La Leche League Leader. Her blog is Mama Milk and Me.  She lives with her husband, Rob, and their three children, Phoebe, Chloe & Finn.