Baby Jaws - Breastfeeding a Teething (or Toothy!) Baby

Duh Nuh Duh Nuh………….Duh Nuh Duh Nuh. (come on, you know you just read that out loud).  

You know they’re coming.  You’ve heard all the severe warnings from well-intentioned friends and family.  You’re scared of what’s to come, but know you’ve gone too far to turn back.  Shark-infested waters, you ask?  Noooooo - a breastfeeding baby who has grown TEETH!  

Somewhere around 6-8 months (sometimes earlier, sometimes later), your baby’s first tooth will erupt.  This is most likely an event you will celebrate, both because of the milestone that it is, but also because it may be a temporary break from the cranky, drooly, mouthy baby who replaced your own sweet one a couple of months back.  There are lots of symptoms that point to teething, but the most common ones are: red and swollen gums, increased irritability and drooling, sleep disturbances, and low grade fevers.  Your baby has most likely learned that chewing or gumming on items helps ease the pain and will try to cram everything within reach into his/her mouth.  As that tooth begins to emerge, there may be some small worries creeping in on your excitement about this next stage.  What will it be like to breastfeed a baby with teeth?  Will my baby bite me? Some moms will find that they do start to feel the baby’s teeth while nursing - baby may scrape teeth across nipple when latching or delatching.  And yes, sometimes the baby will bite.


Why did he bite me!?

Short answer is that it’s not because he doesn’t like you!  New teeth bring a whole new sensation for baby.  He may want to explore his world using his new teeth and will scrape and/or bite items that come into his mouth.  Another reason that your baby may clamp down onto your nipple during a feeding is because of teething pain. As mentioned above, babies learn that biting and chewing on items may offer them some relief.   If they are experiencing teething pain while breastfeeding, they may try to alleviate that pain by biting down.  Or, your baby is finished with the feeding and wants to play!

Note: Sometimes when persistent nipple pain starts when the top teeth come in, it can be caused by an unresolved upper lip tie that is causing the baby’s top teeth to scrape against the nipple.  Make sure your baby’s upper lip flanges out, like fish lips, to prevent this pain, or consider having his/her upper lip tie revised.


What should I do?!

Almost all moms will have the same reaction the first time their babies bite them while breastfeeding - some loud yelling and possibly a quick change of position!  This is a completely normal and expected reaction, but you may notice the sudden sound and movement startles your baby.  The best thing you can do is soothe your baby and resume the breastfeeding session.  If your baby should bite you again, calmly remove the baby, give them a quiet vocal command (‘no’, ‘that hurts mommy’, etc) and temporarily end that feeding session. If your baby is still hungry, then offer the breast again to finish the breastfeeding session.  

Also, some moms find it helpful to rub a cold, wet facecloth on baby's gums before latching to desensitize the teething pain before latching.

Because of the sucking mechanism babies use when breastfeeding, it is impossible for them to actually remove milk from the breast when they clamp down on the nipple, therefore biting may indicate baby isn’t hungry enough to feed.  This is clear when a baby will bite towards the end of the feeding.  One way to prevent this is to watch your baby while feeding, and when he/she starts to show signs that he/she is almost done (suck pattern will slow greatly, baby may come off often and smile and interact with you), calmly remove him/her from the breast and end the feeding session.  

For almost all breastfeeding babies, this biting is a temporary phase.  As they grow more accustomed to their new teeth and learn that biting means the breast is taken away, they will likely stop the behavior.  If your nipples become cracked or sore because of any biting, we recommend applying organic coconut oil - it is soothing along with having antibacterial and antifungal properties.  


Rest assured, the biting is normally a very fleeting behavior.  Before long, the waters will once again be safe to enter.