You’re peacefully breastfeeding your baby when suddenly she chomps down on your nipple. After you’re done seeing stars, your next thought is likely, “How can I make sure that never happens again?”
Not all babies bite when they’re nursing, but it is a big concern for many breastfeeding moms, says Pam Davey, a certified doula and registered lactation consultant in Edmonton. But don’t worry—a nipping baby doesn’t have to spell the end of your nursing days, if you deal with it properly.
Your baby needs a nice deep latch to breastfeed properly and to make nursing comfortable for you, explains Davey. And when the latch is deep, your baby won’t be able to bite. The problem is that babies who are teething have sore gums and may adjust their latch, often toward the end of the feed when they aren’t as hungry. And as soon as their latch becomes more shallow, they’re able to bite down.
To ward off biting, Davey recommends giving your baby a cool teething toy to chew on before nursing or rubbing her gums to relieve any discomfort, then keeping a close watch while she’s on the breast. (Remember that teething gels and homeopathic remedies are not safe options for reducing teething pain.) “If your infant appears to change the latch, carefully break the seal by slipping a finger between her gums and taking her off the breast before she can clamp down on your nipple,” says Davey. She also recommends checking your baby’s position even when she’s got a good latch to ensure you’re holding her tightly chest to chest. If your baby is straining to latch, there’s a good chance she’ll try to readjust it during feeding, putting your nipples at risk.
If you’ve got an older infant or toddler on your hands, you can encourage them not to bite by saying “no” and gently but firmly removing them from the breast after biting, suggests Nathalie Pambrun, vice-president of the Canadian Association of Midwives. “Consider offering her a teething toy as a distraction after you’ve taken her off the breast, and try giving her praise after a good feed with no biting.”
If you do get bitten (a baby’s new teeth are especially sharp), smear a little breastmilk over your nipple after the feed to help it heal, expose it to fresh air or rinse it with a soothing saline solution made with two teaspoons of Epsom salts and one cup of warm water.