Friday, October 01, 2010

Tips for Biting While Breastfeeding

A couple of the 'doctors' on the show, The Doctors, are consistently giving out poor parenting advice on everything from sexuality to birth to breastfeeding and beyond. Their answers are not grounded in research, but seem to be pre-fed and sponsored by various special interest groups. One area that they've spread culture-based myths and dished out terrible advice is by telling mothers they should wean if baby bites while nursing.

Earlier this year, Lisa Masterson told the mother of a 10-month-old baby in the audience that she needed to wean her little one after she teethed on mom's nipple, and The Doctors' online site followed up with a thread of reader-based techniques to shift to cow's milk rather than mother's milk - even when baby refused cow's milk (smarter than 'the doctors' I guess). There are a number of things wrong with this terrible advice - but first and foremost is that (according to studies and meta analysis by the AAFP, WHO and multiple national lactation/pediatric/health counsels) babies need their mothers' milk until they are at least 24 months of age for normal, baseline growth and development - physically and mentally. Especially at the age of 10 months, a baby also needs the social and emotional connection that comes with a nursing relationship with his mother.

As William Sears points out below, the longer a baby receives human milk, the better his health and cognition will be -- or, to use language that is more appropriate -- babies who are prematurely weaned (through forced weaning, mother-led weaning, or what I call 'situational weaning') face negative consequences in health and mental development. There are a number of effective strategies to implement if your baby teethes on your nipple, or falls asleep at the breast - forced weaning is not one of the smart ones. There is a reason baby teeth are called "milk teeth" - they are meant to be present during these early nursing years, and mom's milk enables them to grow healthy and strong. Please see these tips below and the additional sites linked at the bottom for more information. I shudder at the number of babies (read: future adults!) who were impaired by Masterson's uninformed and ignorant suggestion.

Teething on Mom's Knuckle ~ Photo by Phil Jern ©2008

By William Sears, M.D.

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 numerous 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 (she doesn't understand it was her action that caused your reaction). At 15 months, however, your baby is probably old enough to understand your emotional reaction without being driven to stop nursing. So be aware of your baby's developmental point, and respond accordingly.

Try a counter-intuitive 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 slide your finger into her mouth (between her teeth), slide your finger around your nipple, 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. If your baby is older than 1 year - 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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For additional information on biting and breastfeeding see:

Mothering Your Nursing Toddler [book]

If My Baby Bites [full length article]

La Leche League: What Should I do if Baby Bites?

Australian Breastfeeding Association: Biting and Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding Basics: Teething and Biting

KellyMom: When Baby Bites

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33 comments:

  1. This is timely advice, indeed. Thank you!

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  2. I yelped out of shock when my daughter did this (I think she was 8 or 9 months old??) and she went on a 48 hour nursing strike! I ended up having to nurse her cowered in the corner of rooms she'd rarely been in so she didn't associate them with nursing. It took a while to totally break her of the biting.

    My son on the other hand clamped down just a few times, and I jsut had to matter of factly tell him that biting hurts Mommy and if he bits he can't nurse. Big different between kiddos! My daughter is 5 1/2 now and still a pain in the patootie. ;-)

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  3. I am presently still nursing my 2 1/2 yr old, who went through this in an extreme way. She would even accidentally clamp down if she was nursing in her sleep, but of course when she did it while awake it was very frustrating, not to mention painful. I persisted anyway, though I'm certain that others could not understand why. If she bit when young, I told her 'no, that hurts mommy,' but as she got older, I would tell her 'nope, that's it, you bit mommy, no more milk for now,' and when she nursed again later on, I would remind her not to bite, or the milk gets put away. Now that she's older she is reminded because still as she's cutting molars she can forget, so she understands and tries to be gentle. But it was a hard decision to keep nursing her through the worst of the biting phase, and you get really good at quickly getting your finger in their mouths and releasing their suck.Thanks to the info on this site, I persisted and an happy to have a comfident, smart, secure and well nourished two year old.~R

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  4. Ugh, Lisa Masterson makes me so mad! I stopped watching the show after the first extremely biased anti-homebirth episode (I know they had Rikki Lake on another episode, which I've seen clips of, and it was not much better).

    I'm so very frustrated to hear she promoted early weaning for biting. Both of my babies have gotten teeth at 6 months and it didn't stop my first from nursing well into her second year and it won't stop my second, either (who is almost 7 months and has his 4th tooth coming in)

    Thanks for sharing these tips, I hadn't heard of some of them!

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    1. i'm just curious how you dealt with breastfeeding your 2 year old i am curently breastfeeding my 5 1/2 month old son and my goal is to go at least 2 years but i keep hearing horror stories of babies biting

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  5. I agree with SO much on this site. I love it! However, I just can't get behind the tip where you suffocate your child on your breast, they open their mouth and you resume nursing. NOTHING should warrant punishment by suffocation.. even for a few seconds. How would it feel if your baby begins to associate suffocation with punishment? I don't find this to be very peaceful at all. I can hang with ALL of the other suggestions but this one is just unacceptable to me :(

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  6. How true! Too often I overhear mothers at the park telling each other that they MUST wean their child because she's now getting in teeth?!!! Nevermind that they haven't even been bitten yet! lol

    Those were great suggestions, but I wanted to throw in one more. My nursling went through a biting phase and absolutely none of the normal suggestions were working. He drew blood multiple times, and I was literally terrified every time I sat down to nurse. Those bites hurt!!!

    Finally, a la leche league leader suggested that my boy might feel that I wasn't taking our nursing relationship as seriously as he. She suggested that I cuddle him while nursing and constantly reassure him that I was aware and present during our nursing sessions through touch, talk, and eye contact. I had become so USED to nursing, that more often than not I was multi-tasking whenever we nursed. Sure enough, as soon as he got my full attention back while nursing he stopped biting. After just a few nursing sessions like this, I was able to go back to multi-tasking, but I always keep a stronger awareness of him. We are still going strong at 21 months with no end in sight!

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    1. This is great advice - thanks for sharing! The only tip I haven't tried yet.. hope it works :)

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  7. I would have hoped Dr. Sears' son (Dr. James Sears) would argue against Lisa's ridiculous recommendations. He presents a similar view to his father on the Dr. Sears web site. I'm glad I don't have a tv, it would have made me mad to see that episode.

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  8. Lisa Masterson thinks circumcision is a good idea and has said that formula is just as good as breast milk. I've learned to let her words go in one ear and out the other.

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  9. Lisa Masterson has destroyed a great many lives with her nonsense. It is really a shame she was the one hired to fill the spot as the 'token' female physician on the show - seems they could have hired someone who was well educated in women's (including mothers' and infants') health.

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  10. Oh, I'm so disappointed that the doctors on the TV show gave out such bad advice. (Not surprised, but disappointed)

    What has always worked best for me is to learn to anticipate WHEN baby is going to bite (they can't bite while actively nursing) and take baby off BEFORE it happens.

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  11. newincs, the technique you describe is something my 15 month old nursling does on a regular basis, for fun. She just loves holding her breath for a second and burying her face in my breast. Yes, she's weird, but what can you do?

    When she started biting me at 9 months, I simply said "no" in a stern voice and stopped nursing for as long as I needed to (usually 5 minutes). It thankfully only lasted a few weeks.

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  12. Masterson is an OB/GYN. Why would she be giving out breastfeeding advice, esp since there is a ped. on the show (who just happens to be the son of esteemed Dr Sears)?

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  13. My son got his first teeth at 5 months and bit me a few times. I had very good luck with pulling him in toward the breast. His biting period lasted less than a week and he never bit again until he self-weaned, though he had 16 teeth by then.

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  14. newincs The technique is not even remotely "suffocating" your baby, for any length of time. It is extremely gentle & extremely effective, it got all 3 of my babies to stop biting me after 5-10 times of doing it.

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  15. Many moms experience biting at a time in their older baby's development when they have introduced a sippy cup. This happens to coincide with teething. The teeth seem to be the culprit, but it's actually the no-spill stopper inside the hard plastic spout that has encouraged the baby to learn the bite/suck habit. Moms need to be warned of this possibility and should try using the sippy without the stopper.

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  16. Great advice...perfect timing. When my daughter was nursing she bit me once she saw my reaction and never did it again! My son on the other hand thinks it funny...I've tried the "ouch that hurts" and he finds that reaction funny. He is 15 months and although he doesn't do it all the time he still does it and it still hurts! I've recently tried the stop nursing and put him down tactic which works for the moment but he still on occasion does it.

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  17. So my 6 month old doesn't have teeth yet, but often will fall asleep at the breast, which I saw mentioned in this post but not really covered... is there something I should/can do to avoid this situation?

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  18. So what do you do with a six month old who is biting (but doesn't yet have teeth!)? Mine just recently started doing this and it HURTS! I of course yelp and fortunately, so far, she hasn't given up on eating but definitely worried that she could get scared off but it's hard not to when she clamps down or worse, clamps down and PULLS! She seems to be doing this the end of the nursing session though, not the beginning and it just started this last week. Definitely starting to get a little nervous nursing her these days and I shudder to think how it's going to be when she finally does get teeth!

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  19. My guy got his first teeth a bit shy of 4 months and at 8 months has 8 and is working on his molars. We nurse, and he does not bite--he did a few times at the beginning of teething and I did the finger perched to unlatch thing for quite awhile. Now he pops off on his own if my finger even approaches the corner of his mouth! It always strikes me as odd that so many folk are wigged out at the thought that my toothy guy nurses! Of course he does, he got teeth at 4 months!!!

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  20. This is great advice! My LO already bites and she doesn't have teeth in yet! (Although she's already starting to get them at only 2 months!)

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  21. Thank you for the advice. My boy had two teeth at 4 mths and now has 8 at 10 mths. He chomps down everytime and when getting off, but I could never imagine weaning him. So horrible that the 'doctors' don't have a clue about what is best for mother and child. Those small bites of pain are nothing compared to the bonding him and I have at every nursing.

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  22. So glad I'm reading this now! My baby girl(8 mo) bit me yesterday and I yelled ouch! I think it upset her so much that she's gone on a nursing strike! She didn't latch on today at all! I've resorted to pumping throughout the day - how do ladies keep their supplyup through this phase?

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  23. As a mom of a baby that had teeth by 4 months old, and EIGHT teeth by 6 months old, the 'pull off and put down' worked GREAT. I only had a few bites! I'd recommend it to anyone!

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  24. My 6 month old just started biting me and giggling afterwards! Thankfully, "ouch" which naturally came out, worked well :)

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  25. On the issue of sippy cups. My little guy started biting while nursing after we were given a Nuby soft spout cup that allowed better flow if the child pinched the spout (opening the valve more). When we switched him to a hard spout cup the biting stopped even though we still used it with a one-way valve. I always figured that the cup was what taught him to bite.

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  26. All great advice, EXCEPT for the one about momentarily suffocating baby with the breast. That's just cruel and must be extremely scary for a baby. I'm very surprised it's recommended. In my experience (third nurseling, going on six years total) babies will not bite while actively nursing. It's when they're done and just kind of "fooling around" that it happens. Anticipate it at that time, and right when you start to feel baby starting to bite, insert your finger into their mouth to break the suction and remove from the breast. They will learn that biting= end of nursing time.

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  27. @Audre and newics, I've found that the 'suffocating' method isn't really suffocating at all and it's not even for a few seconds. I have small breasts so it's next to impossible for my baby to be smothered on them. I find that if he bites, just the action of pressing him closer to my breast causes his mouth to open. You are both probably imagining the mother holding her baby's head down and smothering him/her while they struggle to catch a breath. It's not like that at all and doesn't cause any harm or distress to the baby (at least in the case of my smaller breasts).

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  28. For women with larger chests, it's probably more like having a stuffy or partially blocked nose for the baby as opposed to having it's air supply completely cut off.

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  29. My son is 9 months old and just got 2 teeth and has started biting sometimes. He bites hard enough to draw blood and usually I yelp out of pain without even thinking about it and he ends up crying. So far I have tried the stop nursing for a couple of minutes technique and it seems to be working. Also, I find my son only bites me when he is not nursing out of hunger but just nursing out of boredom. Or when he finishes nursing and is just playing with his food. So I try to take him off when he gets to that point.

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  30. Suffocation is any discomfort caused by restriction of breathing. I put my face in my pillow sometimes but I wouldn't want my husband to do it if I annoyed him. Totally different. If this technique did not require suffocation or the threat of it then it wouldn't work. I'm not into physical punishments. Wrong. Not peaceful and certainly not safe.

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  31. Not to mention that the "technique" does not say not to restrict breathing, it assumes the mother is not mentally ill and the child is not being abused, breast size really makes a difference to how this technique works and training a mother to react to pain by pulling a baby in is very unwise because responses to pain don't make you rational.

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