Why do babies bite while breastfeeding?
Breastfeeding can be one of the most relaxing and gratifying experiences a new mother has with her baby. When you’re breastfeeding, your brain releases the “cuddle chemical” oxytocin into your system and your baby’s system, making you both feel lovey dovey towards one another. As a result of that chemically-induced lovefest, you probably won’t ever see that first bite coming. After all, how could a sweet, toothless like cuddle bunny do any serious damage to a strong, grown woman.
However, it’s bound to happen at some time, and when it does, oh, mama! You feel it, and it can make you question whether that little whippersnapper really has your best interest at heart after all. Don’t worry. A bite from baby isn’t a sign they’re out to get you. They don’t even necessarily mean it’s time to wean. In some cases, baby is simply experimenting with its body and finding new ways to get your attention. However, there are other reasons baby might take up nipple biting during breastfeeding, including:
- Overactive or forceful letdown,
- Slow letdown,
- Colds or ear infections, or
- Distraction or boredom.
Is your baby teething?
While some babies are born with their first teeth, most begin teething around at around six months old. This can lead to an urge to chomp down on things. Chewing and biting help to relieve the pain caused by swollen, tender gums. Other symptoms that baby is teething include:
- Loss of appetite,
- Rash on cheek and chin,
- Raised temperature, and
- Rubbing their face or tugging their ear.
Tips for helping teething babies
- Talk to your doctor to see if a baby painkiller is in order to help alleviate your newborn’s pain.
- Allow baby to chew on a cold, wet washcloth or cooled teething toy to soothe their gums.
Is your baby trying to control a forceful letdown?
During your first months of breastfeeding, your body is still learning how much breastmilk to make. In some cases, mothers overproduce breastmilk, which can overwhelm newborns who are, likewise, still learning the ropes of breastfeeding. Newborns may clamp down on the nipple in an attempt to control the rush of breastmilk. Other symptoms that you may have an overactive letdown include:
- Crying after breastfeeding sessions,
- Frequent hiccups, and
Tip for helping babies cope with forceful letdown
Hand express or pump some milk before breastfeeding to curb the overactive letdown response.
Is your baby trying to encourage a more forceful letdown?
On the other hand, some mothers have a slower letdown response, which can be caused by mastitis, stress, illness, pain, medications, previous breast surgery, or any number of other factors. If your letdown is slow or inhibited, your newborn may chew to encourage a more forceful letdown. If your baby is struggling with a slow letdown response, they might show all of the same symptoms as a forceful letdown, but they may also have fewer soiled diapers.
Tip for helping babies cope with inhibited letdown
Supplement regular breastfeeding sessions with pumping sessions to help stimulate milk flow.
Does your baby have a cold or ear infection?
Breastfeeding requires babies to learn how to alternate between breathing, nursing, and swallowing. If baby’s nose is stuffy from a cold or ear infection, they’ll have a hard time managing these tasks. For reference, think about the last you tried to eat a hoagie with a stuffy nose. Not so easy, right? If your baby is suffering with a cold or ear infection, they’ll show signs other than biting your nipple, which may include:
- Refusing milk,
- Runny nose,
- Discharge from ears,
- Face, chin, or upper chest rash.
Tip for helping babies with a cold or ear infection
- Use a warm compress on your newborn’s ear to reduce ear infection pain.
- Continue breastfeeding to ensure baby is hydrated and getting antibodies from your milk that may help alleviate illness.
- If baby has a fever or symptoms do not go away within 48 hours, visit your doctor. Antibiotics may be necessary.
Is your baby bored?
Babies are curious little busybodies, and they get bored easily. They’re also just learning how much control they have over their environment and the people in it – that means you. Sometimes baby is biting to see what happens. Sometimes, they’re bored. If that’s the case, your newborn has probably had their fill of breastmilk, so it’s safe to gently detach them from the nipple by using your finger to break the suction.
Whatever the cause of your baby’s biting, avoid a dramatic response as it could encourage more of the same. Yelping with either frighten or intrigue babies, which could lead to worse biting. Laughing is a definite no no as babies love to make mommy happy, and as far as they know, biting is something you enjoy.
A biting baby doesn’t necessarily mean it’s time to wean.
Both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization recommend exclusive breastfeeding for up to six months, about the time that babies begin teething, followed by the introduction of foods or infant formula thereafter. The longer you feed your baby breastmilk, however, the greater the protection they receive from illnesses like ear infections as well as long-term diseases like asthma and diabetes.
Just because baby is biting doesn’t mean it’s time to wean them. It just means you’ve got to deal with any underlying causes and teach baby proper breastfeeding etiquette. The best way to do this, regardless of the cause of the biting, is to gently break baby’s latch and end the breastfeeding session when they begin to bite. If baby seems interested in continuing to nurse, you can try again after a few minutes; however, end feeding time each time baby bites in order to discourage the habit.
Some mothers have more sensitive nipples, and some babies are more aggressive biters. In those cases, you can still provide your newborn with the health benefits of breastmilk by pumping. Give us a call to learn about the wide variety of pumps available and which one might be right for you.