Ask Dr. Sears: When Nursing Babies Bite

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Ask Dr. Sears: When Nursing Babies Bite

Q. I’ve been breastfeeding my baby since he was born, but now that his teeth are growing in, he sometimes chomps down. How can I get him to stop?

A. This is a common scenario: A mother will be peacefully nursing her little one when he startles her by nibbling on her nipple. Such bites usually begin to happen when babies are teething — their gums are sore and they try to soothe them on the closest available pacifier. Don’t pull him off your breast, though, because this can irritate your nipples. Instead, try the following:

Before feeding, have your baby relieve his gums on a cold washcloth, frozen rubber teething ring, or even your fingers so that he’ll be less likely to gnaw on your breasts.

Draw your child in very close to your breast as soon as he starts to bite. This will block his nose so that he’ll need to let go to breathe. Keep an index finger near the corner of his mouth and insert it between his teeth and your nipple to break the suction if you sense he’s clamping down. Or place your finger on your baby’s chin so you can depress his jaw as soon as he begins to bite — a technique that worked for my wife, Martha, when she was feeding our son Matthew (whom we called “Jaws”).

Stop nursing as soon as he bites so that he’ll start to make the connection between biting and the end of feeding. Then resume feeding and repeat this lesson if necessary.

Remember, babies don’t understand that biting hurts. They need to be taught. Once your child has learned some breastfeeding manners, nursing can again be a pleasure for both of you.