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Ask Dr. Sears: Biting While Breastfeeding

Q. I'm still breastfeeding my 15-month-old, and I'd like to continue for a little while longer. The problem is, she's started biting me while nursing! It's making what was once a great mother-daughter experience pretty unpleasant. Any suggestions on how to deter my daughter from her newfound bad habit?

A.
During teething time, babies will gnaw on anything -- including a mother's nipples! Don't let this annoying habit lead you to wean your baby sooner than she is ready. According to many studies, the longer a baby is breastfed, the smarter and healthier she will be. The following tips will help discourage your baby's inclination to nibble  -- and lessen the pain when she does  -- so you both can extend, and enjoy, your nursing relationship.

Say "ouch!" When it hurts, say so. Your reaction may take your baby by surprise, causing her to promptly stop biting. When used on a younger baby  -- say, 9 months  -- an exaggerated startle response can lead to the baby weaning prematurely. At 15 months, however, your baby is probably old enough to understand your emotional reaction without being driven to stop nursing.

Try a counterintuitive trick. When your baby bites, the natural reaction is to pull her away from the nipple. Instead, pull her more tightly against your breast. This buries her nose temporarily in the breast, causing her to open her mouth to breathe. When she releases the biting pressure, immediately resume your normal nursing. Eventually, she'll associate biting with this unpleasant buried-in-the-breast experience.

Protect your nipple. Keep a finger near the corner of her mouth while your baby nurses. Instead of yanking and yelling when she clamps down, work your index finger between your baby's gums and gently pry her jaws apart. Hook the end of your finger around the nipple to protect it as you withdraw it from baby's mouth.

Go with knuckle-gnawing. As soon as she starts biting, immediately stop nursing and let her gnaw on your knuckle instead. This nipple-saving trick works especially well if your baby is experiencing gum pain during teething.

Use the pull off and put down technique. When she bites, immediately pry her off the breast and put her down. Don't do this in a punitive way, but rather matter-of-factly. You want her to make the connection: biting while nursing equals an end to nursing for now.

Try the jaw pull-down. As soon as she starts biting, take your index finger of your free hand, place it just below her lower lip, and gently press down on her chin. This will greatly lessen the biting pressure.

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