Breastfeeding and Biting
Sooner or later every nursing mother wonders, “what happens when my baby gets teeth?” If mothers never ask that question aloud, they may never know that comfortable breastfeeding and baby teeth can go hand in hand. Many mothers assume that, with the eruption of teeth, breastfeeding must come to a halt. Fortunately breastfeeding and teeth can comfortably co-exist.
Biting involves the upper and lower gums or teeth acting together. It’s important to realize that your baby cannot bite you while she is actively nursing because her tongue has to extend beyond her bottom teeth in order to breastfeed. Her tongue acts as a nice cushion between her lower teeth (or gums) and the underside of your breast/nipple. As long as her tongue is between you and those sharp baby teeth, you will be perfectly comfortable.
What about the top teeth? It’s true that your darling’s upper gums/teeth rest directly on the areola—very close to your nipple. No worries! The most damage the top teeth can do all by themselves is create a little indentation where they rest. Immediately after breastfeeding you may see where the teeth were resting, but it should not be bothersome. Some mothers may experience minor irritation from the top teeth. If you’re one of those, try modifying the way you hold your baby so that the friction isn’t in the same place every time.
While your baby is learning about her new chompers you may want to heed the advice of the many mothers who have breastfed babies well into toddlerhood and beyond—with nipples intact!
Be vigilant. About the time your baby starts getting teeth, she will also become joyfully social and interactive. When she pauses in her breastfeeding to look at you and grin, keep your index finger close to insert into her mouth in case her tongue pulls back to smile and exposes her lower teeth/gums. Ditto for when she’s falling asleep.
Chewing feels good when gums are swollen and trying to pop out those new teeth. It’s natural that your baby may want to chew on YOU. Give her something else to chew on right before breastfeeding. A teething toy, a clean washcloth damp with ice-water, or even a peeled carrot (one that is too big for her to chip off a piece) will feel good.
Babies at this age are really interested in cause and effect. That is one of their jobs—to learn how they can impact the world. When your baby accidentally bites, you will undoubtedly react. Probably loudly. Probably making a face that she has never seen before. Naturally, since your baby is a proper scientist, she will be delighted by this new behavior and will probably laugh hysterically. That doesn’t mean she is delighted by your pain. She is just delighted to see you do something so incredibly interesting and new.
If your older baby persists in biting occasionally, try to remember she is not trying to cause you pain. You can release the suction, remove her from your breast and tell her gently, “biting hurts mommy, be gentle.” Then, depending on her age, either take a brief break from nursing or help her back to the breast—keeping your finger handy. Remind her to “be gentle” and praise her when she’s doing what you ask.
Breastfeeding beyond the newborn period is truly delightful! Enjoy your baby, teeth and all!