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Toddler Tips

Nursing a Teething Toddler

From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 25 No. 4, 2008, pp. 36-37

"Toddler Tips" is a regular feature of the magazine NEW BEGINNINGS, published bimonthly by La Leche League International. In this column, suggestions are offered by readers of NEW BEGINNINGS to help parents of toddlers. Various points of view are presented. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's lifestyle. This information is general in nature, and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise.

Mother's Situation

The first year of breastfeeding my son has been wonderful -- I am thrilled to be able to go past the one-year mark. Suddenly, however, he has started biting me sometimes while he nurses. I want to keep breastfeeding as long as possible, but I don't think I can handle being bitten much longer. I really don't want to wean. Does anyone have advice?

Mother's Response

When this started happening with my daughter, now almost 20 months old, I realized that I wasn't alone. Many women experience biting at one time or another while nursing. It can be a difficult time, certainly, but it does not necessarily mean the end of nursing. What helped me the most was trying to understand why my daughter was biting. For her, it was mostly related to teething. There were a couple of times, however, when I think it was simply experimentation. As soon as the biting occurred, I would immediately remove her from the breast. I made the mistake once of making a production out of it and exclaiming "ouch," which only made her laugh. She quickly learned, in as gentle a way as I could teach, that she couldn't bite mommy if she wanted to nurse. It took only a couple of times of me removing her from the breast before she stopped biting.

Sharon Johnson
Bowie MD USA

Mother's Response

Congratulations on breastfeeding your baby for his entire first year. You are giving him a great start in life. Nursing a toddler brings its own share of issues, as you are finding! The good news is that as your son gets older, he will be able to understand more and more. I think breastfeeding is one of the best ways to teach a child respect for others. At one year old, your son is probably still a little young to really understand that biting hurts you. Can you predict when he will bite? Does he do it at the beginning of a nursing session? At the end? Can you correlate it with anything else going on such as during a let down or as he drifts off to sleep?

All of my children have gone through stages of biting. One good thing to remember is that it is usually a phase that will go away. In the meantime, it is helpful to find out why they are biting. My first baby would bite me toward the end of the nursing session when he was finished actively sucking. I had to be very proactive with him and take him off the breast as soon as I noticed he was finished or almost finished. It took a while, but eventually he understood and stopped biting. My second baby would bite me as soon as he latched on! Almost as if he was so excited to be nursing, he had to chomp down to make sure it was there! My third baby (who is 11 months old) is also doing this right now. If I take my time and deliberately, slowly help him latch on, he doesn't bite.

Another thing you can try is putting him down when he bites and stopping the nursing session. This method never gave me much success however, but you may have better luck! I hope the biting ends soon and you can continue to nurse your little one for many more months.

Julie Huisjen
Tehachapi CA USA

Mother's Response

When my nursling was around the one-year mark, she began biting. I found a few things helpful. First, I reminded myself that it was just a phase and that it would not last for long. When she bit, I would calmly and firmly say "no biting" and take her off the breast. I had read that reacting too strongly could frighten baby and lead to a nursing strike. So, I would grit my teeth and stay calm. I also watched for cues that she was becoming distracted or that she was almost finished nursing as she seemed to bite near the end of a breastfeeding session. Finally, I tried some homeopathic teething remedies prior to nursing to help ease her pain and hopefully mine. The biting did not last long and at 18 months it is a thing of the past.

Melanie Coggins
Hamden CT USA

Mother's Response

I remember when my son went through the same biting stage. It also was after the one year mark and my worries were just the same as yours, wondering if I would have to wean. I made up my mind that we both would get through this and I am happy to say I continued to nurse him until he was almost 16 months old.

During this time I realized that he was into biting everything, so when I was not nursing him I would offer him teething rings to chew on. When we did sit down to nurse, if he started to clamp down I pulled him off and told him "no bite" in a firm, gentle voice before trying to nurse again. The times he did bite me, after my initial yelp, I would tell him again in a firm voice "no bite," and then took a break for five minutes before trying again.

Often after he did bite, I cried from both pain and frustration. My baby would also cry after biting me, probably from the shock of my scream and the sternness of my voice. Just know that shedding a few tears is normal while you and your baby balance things out again. Be consistent in nursing your baby, and take a five or 10 minute break if your baby seems like he is going to bite. Talk to your baby about not biting and be mindful of his needs.

Monica Britt

Mother's Response

Your question fits my experience so well that I'm surprised I didn't write it! My son is 20 months old, and over the last eight months, we have gone through several periods of biting. I too have considered weaning him. Not only does it hurt (this last time he actually gave me a blister), but it also hurts my feelings. The times when I've really lost it and cried, he's laughed in response, and I think my occasional strong reactions have actually made him curious to do it more.

However, what I've learned over the months, and the reason I haven't weaned, is that my son bites when he's teething. (Although I'm not sure if he's biting because it feels good on his gums or in protest of the pain.)

Your son may be biting for a different reason, but I think the principle is the same. When our toddlers bite, they are trying to meet a need in a really unfortunate way. If you can analyze what is prompting the biting (teething, seeking attention, being distracted) and address the need rather than the behavior. Every time I've gotten through a period of biting, I've been glad that I didn't wean my son. In retrospect, I always see that when he's biting he really needs nursing, more not less.

Frances Frey
San Antonio TX USA

Mother's Response

My one-year-old had some issues with biting and experimenting while his teeth were coming in. It doesn't mean that it's time to wean, it just means you have a challenge to work with.

I had to work really hard using patience and gentle guidance to get through this stage. I was not always successful at it and spent some time in tears of frustration and, quite frankly, pain. I turned to my local LLL Group and got some great advice.

Some suggestions include keeping a teething implement handy to put in your son's mouth, a cloth that has been in the freezer for example. I always removed my child from the breast and said, "We don't bite." Sometimes it was a gentle admonishment, sometimes it came out as a yelp. I also told him, "No milk for biters."

My son is 20 months old now and he continues to nurse -- without biting!

Melissa Youssi
Linthicum MD USA

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