My journey with biting and breastfeeding has been full of ups and downs. I shared some of my story in this post about how I handled Earth Baby biting me by going against my instincts and flicking her on the cheek which led to a nursing strike and then weaning. After that experience I began looking for more gentle ways to respond to my baby biting while at the breast and found some methods to be very effective for our family.
Biting comes up so often in conversations about nursing I decided to see what others would suggest to stop the behavior and save the boobs. Sending out my question to the great world of Twitter, I got some great replies from some wonderful IBCLCs.
Practical tips for dealing with biting from tweeting IBCLCs
“I usually tell clients that their baby had to break suction to bite, so if they have a biter, to pull them off as soon as that happens. You have to pay attention and be fast, but removing the breast when they think about biting? That works well as negative reinforcement. The fact that you’re removing the breast is negative reinforcement. Not all babies bite because they are done…and if they seem to want to nurse afterward, I usually waited a 2-3mins (and up to 5 if they actually bit.) It was a more gentle negative.”
“Rub the baby’s gumline with a cold/damp textured washcloth using gentle pressure right before (breastfeeding).”
“Take a break when it happens. Prevent w/pre-feeding cold. Pre-feed cold: cooling/numbing baby’s gums with a damp, frozen cloth. Some moms make BM “popsicles” for this purpose. Or make BM ice cubes and put them in a mesh feeder. Numbs gums so baby is more comfortable before a feed. Also, some moms are able to begin to recognize when a feeding is ending (when most babes tend to bite) and end feed b4 bite. Feeding slows significantly. Also, some babes tend to “quiver” their jaws before a bite and moms can use that as a signal.”
“I’d focus on comfort of the baby. Frozen wet wash clothes, ice cube in a mesh feeder, etc. If you can get them comfortable before they nurse, they’re less likely to bite. Also, check latch, babies can change position to their comfort level when teething, and sometimes a quick adjustment can make a world of difference.”
“Swift, firm, consistent response: unlatch, say “NO, biting hurts”, put baby down, walk away. Don’t reward behavior by keeping baby nursing. Take short break, separate. Baby learns biting = END of bfing session.
“Press baby in, he’ll have to open mouth to breathe. Toddler? Firmly say ‘no bite!’ and put him on floor facing away.”
After sharing how flicking Earth Baby on the cheek to stop her biting led to early weaning at 10 months, I asked the Leakies on The Leaky B@@b Facebook page for their experience and any tips they had to gently stop biting. Here’s a sample of their comments and you can find the original thread by following this link.
Leakies share how they handle biting
After sharing how flicking Earth Baby on the cheek to stop her biting led to early weaning at 10 months, I asked the Leakies on The Leaky B@@b Facebook page for their experience and any tips they had to gently stop biting. Here’s a sample of their comments and you can find the entire original thread by following this link.
Kayla: We stop immediately.
Rose: Take him off (usually after forcing his teeth apart as he clamps rather than just bites) and sit him down next to me. I then tell him no I’m a stern voice and say ‘that hurts mummy, we don’t hurt people we love people.
Claire: my son never bit (thankfully) !! *phew*
Alishia: When mine bit me I would take her off and tell her in a calm but firm voice “no.”
Jennifer: My older daughter only bit me a few times, and never on purpose. I pulled back instinctively from the pain, but didn’t make a big deal out of it. She also bit my shoulder (hard!) when she was teething, so I know it was just her way of dealing with the discomfort of her teething.
Tonia: I say ouch, no bite and take the boob away, for 5-10 minutes and put the baby down. It only takes 2-3 times, I’ve done it with all 3 of my kids.
Jennifer: I just have to say, “OW!” and my little gal has a freak attack. People told me to flick her on the cheek and I was uhm, no. Poor little punkin’ doesn’t like just OW so I can’t imagine what flicking would do to her!
Tracy: My kids didn’t bite until they were older, over a year. so we ended the nursing session immediately when biting occurred.
Hayley: I’ve heard to pull their head into your boob and that is meant to work, never tried it as ds didn’t bite.
Kate: I found that my children mostly only bit me near the end of the feed when they were no longer hungry. So if they bit, that was the end of the feed for then. Worked great, hardly ever bitten.
Elle: I tell her no say ow & take it away for a few minutes. She only bites when she is sleeping now, and I’m learning when to take it out & when to leave it be.
Ashley: I tried the flick method and my demon seed laughed and bit me again. That’s what I deserve I guess.
Amy: I pop him off the boob, say “we don’t bite the boobie!” And give a break for a little while then try again… Still working on it.
Brandilynn: I slip my pinky between his gums so he can’t bite down any harder and tell him no biting mama, he can’t nurse if he’s going to bite me right now and take him off.
The Hook Up: my little one bit quite a few times. I always gasped (not on purpose, but it did startle him!) and firmly said NO and showed a mean face. He got it after a time or two, and there was no physical “punishment.”
Laura: I’ve always just yelped and yanked off for a minute. I’ve had to pry my little guy off a few times because he’s got a mean streak and will bite when he’s in a bad mood.
Kit: With my DD, what had it come and go fairly quickly was to detach her, sit her facing me, and tell her “no, we don’t bite. That hurts mommy and mommy doesn’t like it.” When she would pout, I’d give her a hug, tell her that she can’t do that because it hurts, and put let her relatch. I had to be consistent and it took a few weeks, but it worked, and it stopped completely. We nursed for another 4 months or so after our last biting incident.
Jessica: My method is to scream, “Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! Kovi, please stop!” lol. I can’t say it’s terrible effective, but it’s the only thing I can manage to say/do at all.
Vicki: I used to put my finger in DD’s mouth to unlatch her, then progressed to pushing her head into my breast and now at 19 months saying no very very firmly and pinching her nose. She usually laughs at me though but only bites when teething now.
Leanne: I just yelped which startled baby enough to stop then relatch and carry on. If it happened again I would remove baby and put boob away for a minute. It did work eventually! Biting really hurts!
Karen: Well, first I yelped “Aaaahhh” and it startled him enough to break suction. Then I looked him in the eye and said, “Ouch, biting hurts!” Babies are usually empathetic enough to understand the sad and hurt look on Mom’s face.
Misty: When he bites I tell him no and sit him on the floor. He cries for a few seconds then I pick him up and let him nurse again. Normally, this stops the biting.
Tristen: I have put my son down, I also flicked his cheek and felt how wrong it was. I have had to step back and realize he only bit when dealing with teething pain so I addressed the teething pain and the biting all but stopped.
Jeanette: Sometimes I gently pinch my Daisy’s chin. She just laughs at me. If I ‘close up shop’ she gets mad and cries. I always, always give in and put her back on the boob. If she does it at night while we’re laying down, I know it just isn’t time for her to go to sleep yet. I haven’t really gotten her to stop biting (not that its that often) and I don’t think I will. I am just happy that we are still nursing strong at 16 months!
Nichole: When mine bit I gently pulled them off, placed my fingers to their lips and said no bite in a firm tone.
Jenna: I told both my daughters ‘ouch, that hurts’ and made a sad face. After a few times of that, they stopped. I think it was just a phase anyhow.
Erica: We used Kellymom’s smush the face into the boob technique.
Elisa: Sometimes just ignoring it works. My son thought it was funny when I would say ouch, or yelp. So I just didn’t say anything, unlatched him and put him down. He stopped within days.
Lauren: Biting led us to a 2 day wean at 1 yr and 2 days. She ripped open my nipple for the second time and it became too painful to nurse. I tried holding her nose to get her to unclench as well as yelling no. (she’d been biting for over two weeks and drawing blood) Nothing worked. My aunt, who nursed three babies, gave me the advice to yell no and set them down far away from you, ending the nursing session. I think this would have worked but we never got the chance to try it because I received the advice the day we weaned for good.
Ginny: Whenever my boys nipped me when nursing I would gently slide a finger between their mouth and my breast to break the latch and say a stern ‘No!’. I’d then lay them next to me for 30 seconds before re latching them. I found this worked well and continued to breastfeed both sets of twins to over 12 months.
Victoria: I was told by my breast feeding support group to take the baby off the breast, put them down & in a firm voice tell him not to bite because it hurts. This wasn’t very effective at first until I started putting him down & walking away out of the room. When he realized that he wasnt getting milk or mummy he soon stopped.
Amanda: I would blow quickly on his face to get him to stop and then put him down. If he came back we would try it again. It only took a couple of tries before he stopped.
Amanda: I always said ouch and would take them off and say ouch that hurts mommy, then put them back on.
Maureen: It makes me terrified to put my nursling back on after he bites, but I realized that he only bites when he’s done and just wants to play- so paying attention to when your nursling bites is a good idea. I also yell every time because I can’t help it! It hurts! I wish I didn’t!
Jessica: I just push my breast further into her mouth, most of the time she bites because her latch is lazy and she’s not paying attention. That makes her open wider and latch better, which in turn stops the biting.
Ginny: I yelp and say no biting.. and put it away for ten minutes or so.
Chelsea: When I realized my daughter was starting on that phase, I waited, finger ready, and popped her off as soon as she began to bite down. I didn’t even set her down, just said, “That hurts Mama” very calmly, and waited a few minutes before resuming nursing. She would get so upset at her dinner being interrupted, but it only took a couple of times for her to realize that biting accomplished exactly the opposite of what she wanted it to. I figured out incredibly quickly that the worst thing I could do was react a lot-she thought it was funny. But I couldn’t stand the thought of hurting her feelings, so popping her off was the most I could bring myself to do.
Natalie: I wish I could say I reacted all nice and calm. In reality I was reading while she was nursing, so the bite was completely unexpected. I screamed and bopped her on the forehead, she popped off the boob and cried a bit, I apologized to her and said “We don’t bite Mommy.” She resumed nursing and never bit me again.
Nicole: I firmly tell her no, put her down somewhere safe and give her something she can chew on. Sometimes I give her a cold teething ring before nursing if I know she is teething to help prevent bites. We seem to have this issue for about a week right before/after a new tooth.
Amanda: I went with my instincts (which I have learned are never wrong when it comes to mothering) and let out a gentle “ouch”, made a very sad face, and said, “that hurts mommy”. I also paid attention to when it was happening.. often it was when I was watching TV or looking at my phone while nursing, Emmaline wanted eyes on her, my hand ruffling her hair or massaging her ear.
Amy: I was told to press my baby’s face into my boob; forcing him to break the latch since he couldn’t breathe. I’ve had yet to do it.
Ariel: just unlatch him/her every time they do it for 5-10 seconds.
Stacy: The first time my son bit me I immediately took him off the breast for a few minutes. I only had to do this a few times before he figured out that biting = no boobie.
Margaret: I yelp, “OUCH” and pull him off. Usually it results in tears. Its never resulted in a nursing strike even though I yelp pretty loud (I’m not one of those people that can hold it in when I’m hurt by surprise). He’s still nursing even though i’m 11w pregnant and dried up!!!!!
Richain: My first only bit a couple of times but learn quickly that mommy wasn’t kidding around. He would bite, I would say OUCH! That hurt mommy! I would separate him and remove him from my lap to the floor (safe place) for a minute then pick him back up and nurse again. He was a quick learner… biting means nursing time is cut short. My second nursling has not bitten yet… but teething has started
CaryAnn: Honestly? I couldn’t handle it and began weaning. I tried “no biting!” a few times first.
Lori: With my oldest, he bit me at 7mos and we stopped nursing and started pumping til 1 yr. With Judah, I just put up with the biting. I have tried “no bite”, stopping the feeding, pinching, flicking, and he still bites. He started biting at 3mos and just turned a year. It’s not intentional/malicious, so I guess you just get used to it.
Krista: I just pull them closer in to me..so they are forced to release their bite (my little one would bite and not let go!). Then I say firmly, “No biting.” You just want to get their attention and interrupt their eating. They’ll look at you like, “what’s going on? Why’d you stop?” Do that enough times and they should get the hint.
Marilyn: Say OW LOL I push her face into my boob a bit, makes her let go because she thinks she can’t breath. then I look at her and say We don’t bite, that hurts mama. She onlyseems to bite when she is semi interested so I usually stop the feed right then and there too. resume later.
Lucile: With my first child I’d say: “no biting, biting hurts” for the first bite. For the second bite in a row I’d repeat it and add “if you keep biting I’ll take it away.” The third bite I’d put her down and say “OK, you’re done.” Sometimes she cried, but I drew the line at being a chew toy! With my second, I’m more aware that she bites when she’s having teething pain or is bored with nursing and feeling devilish. I can usually anticipate a bite and detach; if not I do the same as above. I usually give her something she CAN bite and say “if you want to bite, chew on this.” In my experience, biting comes and goes, so you may have to repeat this lesson several times.
Erin: I bring the baby in very close (covering the nose so she’ll let go) and then end the feeding right then. I also found that *most* of the time I could prevent the biting by paying attention. A baby who is actively nursing can’t bite, and my kids all have bitten me when they were done nursing and just hanging around. So I became very vigilant and watched for an end to the active suckling. One of my kids actually got a “naughty look” on her face right before she was going to bite. And I found that if I was multitasking while nursing, my kids were more likely to bite because I wasn’t giving them my undivided attention. So I just watched them closely, and ended the feeding with a frown if they bit. They learned pretty fast that if they wanted to nurse, then no biting.
Aimee: Mine only bit if there wasn’t really any interest in nursing right then (shallow, lazy latch), so I just closed up shop and tried again later. Easy for everyone involved. 🙂
Marta: Jonathan has been very gentle over the past 13 months, but there have been bitings here and there. I immediately remove him when that happens. Although sometimes I know his biting/painful latch is related to teething, and then I usually just go with it, because I know he didn’t intend to do it, he is just in pain himself.
Fonta: I was taught by my midwife to push the boob into their face which smothers them for an instant and they always let go and it only takes a few times…very effective and still loving.
Sarah: I’ve definitely got a little nibbler on my hands. She’s almost 10 months and has had teeth since 4 months. I just pry her mouth open and unlatch her and set her down on the floor. She gets the point quickly! And typically only bites when she’s teething or not really interested in nursing. The worst is when she’s falling asleep. Oouuuch!!
Carissa: My little one only bites after she has finished feeding so I just make sure I detach her when she has stopped actively suckling. I’ve tried saying no firmly and detaching her as soon as she bites, but because she’s already full she doesn’t care. The thing I’ve noticed is the more I react the more she enjoys doing it… She giggles and bites harder if a yelp!
Colleen: Take her off and set her on the floor. A baby cannot nurse and bite at the same time. Clearly she was just playing or wanting my attention. 😉
Cheryl: With my LO, I just put up with the biting. From what I’ve seen, biting can be a sign of frustration (at least, past the exploratory stage – mine is 17 months and still does it!) so when she bites, I take the boobies away and try to remove whatever is frustrating her before she nurses again. It usually works – even a sippy of milk to quench her thirst helps sometimes, if she is frustrated by not getting enough milk. When she does bite, I either slip my finger in her mouth to release the bite or pull her towards my breast, basically smothering her with it LOL but she has to open her mouth to breathe, so she lets go. She is doing it less and less now, the more I do that.
Shauna: When my 14 month old bites I put my pinky inside his mouth and gently pull his lip in a fishhook type motion which distracts him and he let’s go and I try to communicate “gentle, no biting please” sometimes it works 🙂
Anna: In a light hearted voice I said ” oh?! You’re finished???” and take him off and our my bra back on. He looked confused then I’d bring him back to the breast… If he did it again, I’d repeat. I never caused him any distress but he got the hint – if he but I thought it meant he was finished!
Melissa: Nothing. Absolutely nothing has worked for my son. So every feeding, without fail, he bites. And now that I’m pregnant too, the pain is unbearable, but I don’t have the heart to wean my baby.
April: I have to be VERY attentive and just stop it before it happens.
Rebecca: I jumped because I wasn’t expecting it… Was chatting at the time to a friend. But since I just tickle her feet (10month old) as she is very ticklish… And makes her laugh. I Don’t make a big deal of it and couldn’t upset her because I know she doesn’t understand that it actually hurts me.
Molly: With our girls I yelped (not exactly a plan, it hurts!) and blew in their face. That was unpleasant for them while nursing but not painful. If they bit more than once in a session they were done. All three figured it out fairly quickly, even at 3, 4 and 5 months when they got their first teeth.
Nicole: The first time my little one clamped down on my boob I yelled ow pretty loud because it shocked me. She let go really quick and looked up at me to see why I yelled. She’s done it a few times after that so I just tell her no biting and put her down. She’ll cry for a bit then we’ll resume. Pulling her into my breast doesn’t work. She actually pushes her face into my breast before she bites sometimes (advance warning for me).
Michelle: It doesn’t work immediately but I always push on their teeth/gums and tell them no bite every time.
Kasey: The first time I told her No Bite! In a firm voice and she cried so hard. I felt terrible. She has done it a few times since but not like that first time so I am hoping I got the point across.
Tamara: Watch for circumstances that tend to lead to biting like being really tired, being at the end of a feed (baby being satisfied), teething pain or frustration. Watch for the baby to pull to the tip of your nipple. My experience is that they usually pull to the tip before biting.) When you notice any of those things, unlatch the baby. Really watch baby every time for common factors that proceed the biting. If you can’t get ahead of the biting and she clamps down, first don’t pull away. Pull baby close. This prevents extra pain, and a lot of babies will unlatch at this point. If she doesn’t unlatch at this point, unlatch her yourself. Find something that you say every time it happens. I said, “No bite. When you bite, you don’t eat.” (If they bite while latched, they’re not eating anyway.) Then wait a few minutes before offering the breast again. If that means rehooking the nursing bra, pulling your shirt over the breast so that baby can’t relatch, do that. If baby is interested in resuming the feed after a minute or two, offer the breast and repeat what you said earlier. (I would say, “Remember: No biting. When you bite, you don’t eat.”) If baby relatches and bites again, follow the process again except completely end the nursing session. My experience is that if it’s not a problem of baby being in pain, they bite when they are finished eating anyway. You will go through the process several times before the baby gets it. (Tristan continued to do it for a while but gradually got to where it rarely ever happened at all–like once a month when teething was a problem or when he hadn’t napped enough–until he just hasn’t done it at all for a long time.) It’s a learning process, so remember to have patience and love in your demeanor no matter how much it hurts.
Kari: Mine only bites with teething, thank God he still has no teeth. But I pinch his nose and he pulls off, and doesn’t continue to do it.
Rachel: I learned to stand on guard with my finger near his mouth… I could tell when he was about to clamp down and would insert my finger, remove him, and walk away.
Melissa: I flicked my first nursling too, worked great, but my second was sensitive so I would cry from pain and refuse to nurse for a minute or two and then relatch while holding his hand and teaching “soft touches”. Worked great, so that’s what I’m doing with number 3 too.
Lorna: Using baby signing to signal pain helps get the message across too.
Tracie: I tapped my babies on the nose and said no. This worked with all 9 of mine.
Stephanie: I would unlatch my son, sit him down, adjust my shirt, tell him my breasts were in time out, get a cup of water for myself, and come back. It only took 3-4 times for him to get it, but I left the room so he could see the result of biting.
Kinberely: I thought that with my son it was a cue to end nursing but when I’d unlatch he’d route around to feed again, think he is hungry just teething too.
Heather: Easy, I tickle them!! 😀 they get distracted, giggle and let go!
Katherine: The first time my soon bit me I didn’t even think before I flicked him. He cried but never bit me again. I felt horrible though. With my daughter she has bit me a few times, the first time was right after her sister was born and I was so sore that all I could do was cry which freaked her out. My husband had to take her and was more upset it than I was, I was sad that I scared her but it hurt SO much. She has nipped me a few more times but each time I tell her no, tell her to be gentle with mommy’s breasts, and have stopped nursing her for a minute so she understands that if she’s not gentle I’ll take the breast away. She hasn’t bit me in a few weeks so I think she got the point. She’s moved on to putting her fingers in mouth or holding hands with her sister while they nurse. Way cuter than biting.
Ma Ma: The first time I pressed her into the breast to make her release and said no and showed the sign for no. She was teething her first two teeth at the time. A couple days later she bit down pretty hard! I said no and signed it then sat her down on the floor (I was in the chair) she cried and didn’t nurse for two days (except for at night when she was half asleep). That nursing strike scared me so bad and I thought she was gonna stop nursing at 8 months…I remember sitting in bed with her that second night saying it was ok and mama wanted her to nurse. She would move in and then shake her head and cry 🙁 I was crying too. I finally think she just understood and it was ok but just not to bite because when I finally got her to latch (while she was crying) she tested the nipple with her Lil gums and then when she went to with her teeth I said “no teeth…hurts mama” we got passed that and now she’s 13 months old and we’re nursing strong.
Aliza: Wow Jessica, a very similar thing happened to my 10 month old, she bit, and I screamed very loud… and she never nursed again, I had to pump for another 7 months. She finally tried nursing again recently at 22 months! But at that point there was no more milk.
Dorothy: It’s depended on his level of understanding. Generally, a quick re-latch did the trick. Though if he was cutting a tooth it often took several tries. Once I could tell the difference between accidental biting and purposeful biting, I would simply end the nursing session with a “NO BITING!” (Stern not loud). Generally, I’d unlatch, cover-up, if he cried I’d make him wait 5 minutes and let him back. Sometimes he was done but decided my nipple was a better toy. I could tell because he’d unlatch and go play.
Kivy: I’m exactly where you are. “pressing the baby into the breast” seems to work and be more gentle, but honestly, it freaks me out when she gasps for air. She seems less bothered than by the flicking, but it’s more disturbing for me.
Amber: Flicking worked wonders for me. Didn’t slow any of my 3 down for nursing, but it curbed the biting. I’m so very sorry that it didn’t work for you. I’ve heard the putting them down, away from you, works too. I could imagine that might traumatize the right child too though. I imagine it’s all about your child and what work for them.
Adventurous Shoestrings: After trying bad advice, I called my local LLL chapter and received a great tip. I told my then 7 month old “no biting” before our nursing sessions. If he bit after hat, I would break the latch and say “biting hurts mommy.” I would end the session and reoffer if he wanted to nurse. I also tried offering a teething ring before nursing or right after a biting incident. It worked for us.
Paula: I didn’t have too much trouble with dead on biting, but there was lots of messing around. I just kept removing the boob each time it happen and talked sternly. If you bite me I can’t nurse you. Eventually, I had to wean the first at almost three because he sort of forgot how to nurse when the milk dried up during my pregnancy with the second. The second I nursed til almost 4, and just had to gradually shorten the time, because, frankly, I was done. But the removing the boob thing really checked the naughty stuff. I mean when they start chomping and look up at you and smirk, you know, they know that they are pushing it. But it is so cute.
What you chose
Remember, it may take a combination of approaches to stop your nursling from biting and it can be done gently, without flicking or scaring your child. Be consistent and as patient as you can with the process. You don’t need to be a martyr, it’s ok to want the breastfeeding relationship to be mutually positive and beneficial for both you and your babe. Setting boundaries, even with a young one, that respect your physical person are important and won’t damage your relationship with your child, in fact, it can be very healthy for both of you and be a critical part for a long lasting, pleasant breastfeeding experience.
Sometimes I see it recommended to numb the baby’s gums with a numbing agent designed for teething just before bringing them to the breast. My concern with this would be the potential problem that can come from a child swallowing the numbing agent, losing feeling in their tongue and throat. The potential risk for choking and poor latch don’t seem worth the attempt when there are other safe and effective options available. If you choose to use a numbing agent on your child’s gums to help with teething pain, waiting until after a feeding is probably the safest time to do so.
All images used with permission and generously shared by the Leakies on The Leaky B@@b Facebook page.
What time would you share with someone that has just started dealing with biting at the breast?