• Don't try to force him to nurse. The one time I got bitten that I really remember (and this is with nursing six babies) was during a breastfeeding class I was teaching when my youngest was seven months old. He was getting a little antsy, so I decided to put him on he breast to settle him down for a few minutes while I finished my talk. He was not at all interested in nursing, and bit down hard enough to break the skin. Then he grinned at me like he had done something really funny. I jumped about three feet off the chair, which my audience found vastly amusing. It was a great visual aid to demonstrate biting in a teething infant, but I was sore for days. By the way, he nursed for years after that and never bit me again.
• Minimize distractions by dimming lights, turning off the TV, playing soothing music, or lying down in a quiet room. These techniques may help your baby settle down to nurse without biting.
• Sometimes babies will clamp down on the nipple if their nose is congested and it is difficult for them to breathe. If they don't have a clear airway, they may not suck effectively, and the nipple may fall forward in their mouth. Check with your doctor for treatment options if your baby has nasal congestion that is interfering with breastfeeding.
• Try to keep your milk supply plentiful. Sometimes babies will bite out of frustration when your supply falls and the milk isn't flowing as freely as they are used to. This can also occur when you have plugged ducts. (See article on "Breast Infections and Plugged Ducts" and "Increasing Your Milk Supply").
If your baby does bite you, your natural response is to exclaim loudly and pull him away from the breast. This will usually startle him, and he will release the nipple and react with surprise. Often his feelings will be hurt and he will begin to cry. This is negative reinforcement that immediately follows the behavior you want to discourage, and is often enough to keep him from ever biting again. Some very sensitive babies will be so upset by your reaction that they will temporarily refuse to nurse altogether. See the article on "Nursing Strike" for tips on how to get him back on the breast.
Here are some tips on what to do if your baby bites you:
• You do not want to pull him off your breast, although that is your natural reaction. Instead, pull him in close to you. His nose will be pressed against your breast and he will open his mouth so he can breathe. This is better than pulling him off, because then the nipple is stretched out while he is clamping down on it, and you may cause more pain and damage to the tissue than the bite itself. You can also slip your finger in between his gums or teeth to get him to open his mouth and let go of the nipple.
• Stop the feeding immediately if he bites you. Even a very young infant can learn that if he wants to nurse, he can't bite. If he is teething, offer him something to teethe on, such a teething toy, a cold washcloth, a frozen bagel or banana (if he is eating solids), a breastmilk popsicle or a knuckle (my baby's favorite). Talk to your doctor before using the over the counter teething preparations. These products numb the gums and tongue, but only for a few seconds. Sometimes this numbing effect can make breastfeeding more difficult rather than easier. If he tends to bite at the beginning of a feeding, offer him a teething substitute before the feeding. Very young babies can learn that some things are appropriate to bite down on, but your nipple isn’t one of them.
• If your baby continues to bite, you may want to tell him in a firm voice, "No, that hurts Mommy!" and set him down on the floor. He won't like it, but he will quickly learn that if he wants to nurse, he can't bite. Be sure to comfort him after a few seconds, but don't continue to let him nurse if he bites.
• Some older babies like to try to look around the room while they are nursing. This means that they turn their head while the nipple is clamped between their gums or teeth. Try to minimize distractions, but if he tries to turn his head while nursing, put your index finger in his mouth immediately. He will soon learn that when he turns away, he loses the nipple.