When my mom was breastfeeding me many years ago, she stopped as soon as I got teeth. Occasionally when working with a new mom and asking about her breastfeeding goals, she will say, “Oh – I’m going to wean as soon as he gets teeth. Won’t it hurt to breastfeed after that?” The good news is that, no, you don’t need to wean. But the bad news is that, occasionally, baby’s teeth do cause some pain.
Your baby will start “teething” long before any actual pearly whites appear. He may be drooling more, fussing more than usual, or chewing on anything he can get to his mouth. When those first teeth appear, they are typically the lower central incisors, which typically break through the gums between 6 and 10 months. When your baby is breastfeeding, his tongue will cover these teeth, and they should not cause any problems with breastfeeding. The top central incisors show up between 8 and 12 months. And the remaining teeth slowly appear over the next couple of years.
If you are worried about biting – or if your baby has bitten you before – here are some things to consider:
Is your baby teething? If your baby wants to use you as a teething ring, simply end the nursing session and give him something to chew instead. He will quickly learn that nursing isn’t a time for gnawing. When he does want to nurse, get the deepest latch you can – with a mouthful of breast, your baby won’t be able to bite down as easily. In addition, you may want to give him something cold to chew on right before a feeding to numb his gums.
Was it accidental? Some babies bite down as they fall asleep. If this is the case for your baby, be sure you break the suction and remove him from the breast as soon as you notice that he’s no longer actively nursing.
Is your older baby just testing you? Some babies use biting to get your attention. You look down, see a certain gleam in his eye as he looks at you, and all of a sudden you feel the pain of those little teeth. If this happens for you, set your baby down, tell him your body is not for biting, and give him a toy he can chew on. Be sure you give plenty of positive reinforcement and praise when he is nursing comfortably. Another trick is as soon as you notice your baby start to bite down, pull him in very close to you. This may cause him to open his mouth wider, and will keep those jaws from closing on your sensitive breasts. Some moms may suggest that you yell or scream ‘Ouch!’ when you set your baby down – but this can be very traumatizing for your baby and may even lead to breast aversion or a nursing strike.
Is it just from those sharp little new teething simply pressing on you during suckling? Some women experience pain from the teeth resting on the areola (or pressing into it and leaving indentations!) as the older baby nurses. It is typically baby’s top central incisors that cause this to happen, and positioning can make a big difference in your comfort. Position your nursling so his head is tilted back a little, and be sure you’re getting the deepest latch possible (you may even need to go back to the basics of latching a newborn). Tell your baby he needs to open wide to latch – even make a wide open mouth yourself that he can mimic. Support your breast underneath throughout a feeding.
If you experience broken skin when your baby bites you, you can apply ice immediately, and then treat as you would any other sore nipples. Lanolin, coconut oil, salt water rinses and hydrogel pads can all be helpful for healing sore nipples.
Keep in mind your breasts may be more tender – and you may experience more discomfort from your baby’s teeth – around the time of ovulation or of your period, or with a new pregnancy.