Baby/Toddler likes to bite mama while breastfeeding...what do we do?
August 22, 2012 3:23 PM   Subscribe

Our lovely baby boy (11 months old, with two sharp and pointy bottom incisors with two more coming in on top) has started biting mama fairly regularly while breastfeeding over the past few days. What are some things we can do?

Key issues:
  • Nursing is also the primary method of getting him to sleep (we co-sleep)
  • He eats some solids but is not fully weaned and still wants to nurse many times a day
  • He's thirsty a lot of the time and we have been giving him so water for hydration but want to avoid giving him too much (We don't want him to fill up on water and not get the nutrition he needs from breastmilk)
  • We have had milk supply issues in the past. She's taking medications that help but we just recently completed a lot of long-term travel which apparently can interfere with nursing and milk supply
  • We have been slowly half-weaning him by feeding him small meals (breakfast, lunch, dinner) but at this point these meals are not complete and we have been relying on the breast milk for full nutrition (we've been taking the whole "under one, just for fun" position on solid foods)
Maybe the biggest component is how this is affecting my wife emotionally. Even though she knows he is not biting maliciously, it is still hurtful when he does it. It's extremely painful (possibly due to the shape of my wife's nipples, they don't stretch out like many nipples do) and he has almost broken the skin once or twice. She is now fearful about breastfeeding, which makes her really sad as she sees breastfeeding as something very special and important, both from a nutrition standpoint and as a bonding activity between her and our son. I have seen her extremely despondent and hopeless about the situation.

Bonus, related problem: I think my wife is often dehydrated and isn't drinking enough water. I have to remind her to drink water/fluids a lot. She just doesn't have an internal signal that most people do to let her know that she needs more water (she doesn't get thirsty). She has gone much of a day without drinking any fluids, and this is in the summer when dehydration is a real problem. So I wonder whether dehydration is affecting her milk supply and causing our son to get frustrated while nursing. Tips and tricks from people who specifically had the problem of not drinking when thirsty, and what they did to fix this, would be greatly appreciated as I think it would help with her supply and her overall health. Note that for some reason the "drink water now" chimes don't work at all (mostly because they come right when she has her arms full with the kid) so I'm really looking at how people changed from "never noticing they're thirsty" to "being very aware of their hydration".
posted by nosh, daven, shtup to Grab Bag (27 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
For the biting, I know it's a cycle that can make you tense when nursing. One thing is to make sure she de-latches as soon as he's not actively nursing. I found I was more likely to get bitten at the end of a session when he might start playing with my nipple in his mouth more than actively nursing. So make the sessions short - nurse when he's hungry and then pop him off.

It might be a good time to start decoupling nursing from sleeping. Check my question history - I asked this same question a few months back and got some good answers.
posted by handful of rain at 3:27 PM on August 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Plug baby's nose a bit and say no biting.

Also make sure that teething treatment (tablets, painkillers, teething toys) are administered BEFORE boobs.

This too shall pass.
posted by k8t at 3:35 PM on August 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have dry mouth issues and STILL forget to drink on a regular basis. Can she set an alarm on a phone to remind her to drink a glass of water? That's helped me.

As far as breast feeding, would you consider pumping?
posted by two lights above the sea at 3:38 PM on August 22, 2012

When my baby bit, I immediately put the boob away while saying NO very firmly. It stayed away for a minimum of 30 minutes, so he knew I wasn't fooling around.

He learned very quickly not to bite.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 3:45 PM on August 22, 2012 [12 favorites]

Re: Dehydration: It can affect milk supply. If she's willing, it might be worth to just set an alarm to go off every [whatever interval], and when it goes off, she drinks a glass of water.

Most breastfed babies, in my experience, go through this biting stage. It's awful, but it passes. My advice is that if he bites, that nursing session ends. Even if he nurses again in ten minutes, the current session ends. Yelping and/or making Very Sad Faces seems to work with some kids--mine responded fairly well to very sad faces, and a friend who's currently going through this right now has taken to yelping, which seems to work for her kid.

I'll also admit, though, that what totally stopped it for me wasn't yelping or crying, but that one day when I was tired and sick and nursing for what must have been the millionth time that day, she bit me, and I--startled and half asleep and not really knowing what I was doing--smacked her cheek. It wasn't hard--her cheek didn't even flush or anything--and I feel horrible about it to this day, but she never bit me again. I can't say that I recommend this course of action, because, you know, still guilty! But if you've tried stopping, etc, it might be worth considering gently flicking the baby's cheek or ear. It's not painful, but it's not an enjoyable sensation, either, and might deter them if nothing else will.
posted by MeghanC at 3:48 PM on August 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Biting is a normal phase. (A crappy, annoying phase.) I would wager that it's more a developmental hurdle with the kid than dehydration.

How I dealt with biting: I screamed loud enough that my kid started to cry. It wasn't a great moment for either of us, but having mommy turn into a loud scary monster seemed to stop the biting. (Smaller noises -- those he found funny. So aggravating!)

Also, carefully monitoring the latch.

Sympathies. Biting is a trying phase.
posted by purpleclover at 3:58 PM on August 22, 2012

Pinch his nose shut gently so he opens his mouth while saying, "No bite!"
posted by julthumbscrew at 4:17 PM on August 22, 2012

I have a hard time remembering to drink enough water too (and I'm a nursing mother in the summertime). What helps me is to fill up a large water bottle I have in the morning. It's 24 oz, I think. It gives me a visual reminder of how much I've had and that I should drink more.

The biting is awful and I so sympathize. My son is 9 months and has 8 teeth and yes, I have been bitten by all 8 at once! I have noticed that he is more likely to bite if he is actively teething or if he is at the end of a feed and is bored, or who knows. Once I notice his sucking frequency has slowed down I will pop him off so he doesn't even have the chance. If he does bite I take him off and say, "no. We don't bite." usually I make him wait a few minutes to nurse again and if he keeps biting I keep taking him off.
posted by sutel at 4:18 PM on August 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

Ugh, the boob biting.

Biting is the only thing I yelled at my baby about when he was that age. "OUCH. That HURTS mama! No biting!" and then the magical boob went away for a few minutes. It made him cry, but I felt pretty strongly that it was okay to model body boundaries and let him know that I had feelings too.

In my perception, it was a phase tied to teething. There have been one or two other moments when the biting returned (very briefly), when more teeth came in. I think their latch briefly gets funky and some kids start to experiment with their new chompers.

As to not drinking enough, does your wife like to nurse in a certain chair? I would maybe start leaving bottles of water on a table next to it, and see if that helps?
posted by thehmsbeagle at 4:19 PM on August 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

My lactation consultant advised that instead of pulling baby off, to smoosh him into the breast momentarily, so that he learns that biting doesn't lead to good things. Some babies, apparently, laugh at making mama scream, thinks it is hilarious and will do it again for kicks. She's also seen moms whose babies have taken an extra nip while being pulled off OUCH!

Keeping a big big glass of water nearby, one that holds at least twenty ounces or more, so that there is a visual reminder to drink and it just needs filling up 2 or 3 times over the course of the day helped me get enough water.
posted by ambrosia at 4:43 PM on August 22, 2012 [8 favorites]

Many good points above. When my own cut teeth he always showed it off with a couple chomps. When I was stressed about sticking my nipple into that toothy mouth I would nurse with my pinky tucked against my breast touching the outside side of his mouth so that I could slide my finger between his gums and stop the bite right away. This combined with a firm "no biting" and setting him on the floor for at least 5 min seemed to help. In general the bites would only last for a couple days before stoping and often occured at the end of a feeding so switching sides quickly helped.

As for the water, help her out. My husband would pour me a fresh glass of water in the morning when he left and leave one on the night table for me and a full water bottle next to the nursing rocker. Then when he got home would offer me a big icy glass of water so even if my day was crazy I was drinking 1.5L without any effort.
posted by saradarlin at 5:07 PM on August 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Sympathies! The biting phases sucks. For me, making noises didn't help (as this was considered amusing), but I would de-latch him and put him down on the floor, while firmly saying "no biting!". Taking away the boob and putting him on the floor was sufficient disincentive, often he cried (but an angry cry), so I didn't feel too horrible. Good luck! And yes, dehydration can affect supply.
posted by Joh at 5:08 PM on August 22, 2012

Like other posters, when either of my daughters would bite me while nursing, I would yelp loudly in pain, shout OUCH! NO BITING! and then plonk them down on the floor and walk away. Nursing session ended. This communicates the message pretty clearly that biting is not ok, biting does not get you attention, biting makes the milks go away. It only took doing that a couple of times before they understood that message. Nursed DD1 till 2.5 years, and currently nursing 21 month old DD2.

As for making sure she drinks enough, definitely have a drink nearby where she usually nurses. I always feel all thirsty when I sit down to nurse, but by the time I have already sat down with the kid on top of me, it is too late, then when I have finished, I end up forgetting about it until next time. Having water bottles littered around our home really helps, because that way there is almost always a drink within reach. Sometimes I add slices of cucumber or lemon or sprigs of mint to make the water less boring and I am likely to drink more that way too.

Another thought that I have not seen mentioned here yet is the idea that maybe her fertility is beginning to return? There are certain points in my menstrual cycle when I notice a dip in my milk supply, usually right around ovulation and then the week leading up to my period. Low supply can sometimes cause baby to get frustrated, and the biting is often a response to that. I have read (on kellymom just scroll down a bit) that a calcium/magnesium supplement can help with a supply dip of that nature. But the supplements cannot affect things if the fluids are not there, so hydration is really first on the list of things to fix.
posted by fancyoats at 5:22 PM on August 22, 2012

posted by nosh, daven, shtup at 5:37 PM on August 22, 2012 [13 favorites]

Response by poster: That was him.
posted by nosh, daven, shtup at 5:38 PM on August 22, 2012 [5 favorites]

Like others, when I got bit, lunchtime was promptly over. I think I got bit all of three times. But I didn't do anything other than remove him from the breast.
posted by Michele in California at 6:09 PM on August 22, 2012

Like many other posters, I removed the baby from the breast, set him on the floor, said, "No biting! That hurts Mama." I tried my best not to shriek at him right when he bit, but this is obviously really hard to avoid sometimes. If I felt like he wasn't finished with his meal, I would offer the breast again after a few minutes (five or so). I didn't want to starve him, but I did want to send the message that biting is not okay and results in the milks being taken away for a bit.

As far as the water thing goes, I can't recommend the Camelbak water bottle with the straw enough! I am infinitely more likely to drink - and keep drinking - water if I can just do it out of a straw and not have to tip a cup up to my mouth. I can't explain it; it's not as though drinking out of a cup is that much more effort, but the straw is just so much easier. Maybe because it facilitates mindless water drinking? I recommend giving it (or any straw-bottle, really) a try to see if it helps up her water intake.
posted by meggan at 6:21 PM on August 22, 2012

When I say I didn't do anything other than remove him, I mean I did not say anything or use any other indicator of disapproval. It occurs to me I think that, at least in my child's case, this was the best approach and that was really why I mentioned it.

The child in question used to intentionally drive me crazy for entertainment. If I became apoplectic, he was only going to egg me on. Getting a rise out of me was encouragement of bad behavior, not discouragement. It was a kind of power trip. I think it would have backfired in his case to say "no!" Or whatever. I have noted that very small kids often respond to strong emotions as a reason to do more of the same, so while my son was probably an extreme case, I think he was far from unique. So if admonishing the child does not work, you might consider removing him without the admonishment and see if that is more effective.

Best of luck.
posted by Michele in California at 6:35 PM on August 22, 2012

I don't know much about breastfeeding, but regarding dehydration - how about having other, more delicious beverages around instead of just water? Even if you are avoiding soda / diet soda / things with lots of sugar, there are lots of options - I like sparkling water, flavored sparkling water, sparkling water mixed with juice, diluted juice, and water with cucumber slices in it. Decaf (or caf), or herbal iced tea is also great in the summer.
posted by insectosaurus at 6:42 PM on August 22, 2012

I'm terrible about drinking water. The only thing that helped is having a water bottle or pitcher (one that she can keep with her) with markings on the outside (with sharpie) for the amount i need to drink by 10am, noon, 3pm, and 5pm. (I keep it on my desk at work, so these times work for me, but obviously do what works for you.)

The markings are a big visual reminder. If it's 1pm and the jugs more than half full, i know i've failed, and i need to drink up to catch up and be back 'on time'!
posted by Kololo at 9:13 PM on August 22, 2012

Above have it covered as far as taking away the boob after biting. One other tip to minimize pain is to smoosh the baby *in* to break the latch instead of pulling away immediately when the baby bites. Pulling away makes the teeth on nipple action much more protracted and painful.
posted by Wavelet at 9:18 PM on August 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Just nthing the "biting means the magic boob goes away" advice. I call it closing up shop - I quickly break the latch if there is one (finger in the corner of his mouth), I snap the bra shut, adjust my shirt, put the baby down, and put the nursing pillow away. We are DONE. It has done the trick with all three of my kids.

I've seen the advice to pull them in to break the latch but it never worked for me, and I don't like the idea of deliberately cutting off air, even for a moment.

On the water - trying to make sure I have a glass or bottle of water with me whenever I sit down to nurse helps. When my kids were very little, supplying me with water when I nursed was one of my husband's jobs. It helped.
posted by Lulu's Pink Converse at 9:25 PM on August 22, 2012

I'm really looking at how people changed from "never noticing they're thirsty" to "being very aware of their hydration".

Does she get hungry? I realized a while back that I had been melding my 'hungry' and 'thirsty' signals (unless I was in an extremely dehydrating situation) and would eat when really what my body was telling me was to drink.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 1:59 AM on August 23, 2012

Okay. My daughter got her first teeth at six months old. Until then nursing was fine, then she started to bite, except she really wasn't biting. What she had been doing was clamping her mouth down just before let down to make the milk come out faster and then easing up. When she got teeth, she continued to use her method of clamping down to make the milk come faster that she had always used.

The thing that changed was that she now had sharp little teeth --- but she didn't know she had to change how she nursed.

The key thing here is, does he find it funny if Mom screams? Does he do it on purpose to get a reaction? In which case, putting him down while telling him, "No bite," will help. Or putting him down and walking away quietly for a minute or two.

With my daughter, it wasn't a social thing --- she wasn't doing to be funny or to hurt me. We had to adjust her method. So what I did was gently press the back of her head to push a wee bit closer into the breast (I know, how much closer could she get?). That forced her to open her mouth wider, the biting stopped after a couple of weeks.

She had to get used to nursing with her new teeth. Now at 11 months herself, she bites rarely --- usually when she's done, and the boob goes away when she does it. give it to him.
posted by zizzle at 2:50 AM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Since no one else has said it... Hey, great job! You breastfed for almost a year. That's a lot of work! And it's surely been great for the baby. Even better news: the beneficial work has been done.

Now there are many options before you, including continuing to breastfeed. There is also pumping and feeding by bottle. Or, pumping, as long as is needed, and feeding formula instead.

Lots of babies are never breastfed, or are only breastfed for the first six months or year. There is no reason for a mother to suffer with an overly bitey baby, or for any other reason—but that seems especially true when you've already done all this work. She should not have any guilt about not wanted to be chewed on. And I understand this is special and important and bonding time. (It is true though that mothers who do not breastfeed also bond with their infants, including adopted infants.)

I would encourage you to talk to your doctor, your friends and advisors about choices. There are no "wrong" ones, as long as your baby is healthy and fed and parents and baby are happy.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 5:51 AM on August 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm also terrible about water. When I am pregnant/breastfeeding and need to hydrate someone besides myself, the only thing that helps is having my beloved hospital cup (not my picture) right next to me, full of ice water. Right now, as I'm only pregnant, it's my job to fill it. When I was breastfeeding, that was my husband's duty. Now it is yours.

When you leave for work, fill up that cup and put it right where she will drink from it. When you get home, fill it up again. If you're still doing nighttime feedings, fill it up before you go to bed. Having readily available ice water that she can sip quickly with a straw (important!) should help.
posted by that's how you get ants at 6:59 AM on August 23, 2012

"Smother baby with boob" worked for us. Pulling away once made her bite harder to keep it, so smooshing it was. I would smoosh, and say "no biting," she would let go and the boob went away for a while. It only took a few bites for her to get the connection.

As for water, maybe you can just deliver her some liquid sometimes when you see her sitting down nursing? Or put some bottles in the places she's likely to stop awhile? I'm not normally into buying bottled water, but the summer my daughter was a small baby, I had several in strategic places so once I was settled with her, I wouldn't have to worry about whether I'd remembered water or not.
posted by upatree at 1:19 PM on August 23, 2012

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