Shark Baby

What do you do when your sweet little suckling angel suddenly turns it to a shark with an extremely strong urge to bite? My little one started biting at around 6 months old. I had no idea her mouth was so strong.  When she would clamp down I would remove her from my breast  and try to start again. When her teeth came in and she was still doing it  I was scared out of my mind, but determined to work through it. I asked friends and relatives what to do. I searched through books and the internet. I was advised by many a mother and father even, that I should give her a little swat or pinch. Others told me to hold her nose so she would come off for air. Another advised firmly saying no and putting her down in another room. I will admit right now that I am a softie. I come by it honestly. My mother was the same way. She was always teased about how she punished my brothers and me. We would even laugh at her after she spanked us. (we were terrible, I know.) We respected her though and we did mind her most of the time. So when I was given all this advice about giving her a physically bad association with biting while nursing I knew this wasn’t going to be the way to go for me. I just knew I couldn’t do that. Violet started biting harder and harder and with more teeth. She broke blood on several occasions and I cried and cried and cried. My poor husband was in shock and didn’t know what to do either. He would hold her while I tried to ice down my sore nipples and tell me it would be o.k. I kept trying to believe that this too would pass. I started telling her no in a firm voice and removing her from the breast each time. But pulling her off was more painful than her clamping down. Those were hard times. I was afraid of wanting to stop nursing because of the pain. I knew I did not want to quit. I was also afraid of scaring her into a nursing strike. Sometimes when mama’s respond to the biting with a loud noise it scares the baby into stopping, other times it scares them so much that they stop nursing for a while.  People kept telling me that I was crazy to let the biting go on so long but I didn’t know what else to do. I heard that pinching or swatting your child usually stops the biting in a few days. Though at times this seemed appealing I just never could bring myself to do it. It went on for 4 months. I do not tell you this to scare you out of breastfeeding your teething child. I am just being honest about my situation. Some babies never bite so please don’t let this sway you on your decision to breastfeed. Eventually she learned. I started holding her in closer to my breast when she would bite, this blocked her nose briefly and she would relax her jaw. I also tried to remain as calm as possible when she would bite. Sometimes babies will think it is playful because they get a reaction out of you when they bite.  I knew she never did it with a malicious intent. She did it to relieve pressure from teething. I started watching her like a hawk when she was nursing, looking for cues that she might be getting ready to bite. I would offer her wooden teething rings, a natural rubber teething toy (Sophie the Giraffe) and frozen wash cloths. These seemed to help but nothing soothed her like breastfeeding. Still to this day, nothing does the trick better than “milkies”.  Other people might find this strange, wrong or just plain weird, but I just let her keep doing it until she outgrew it. And she did. She eventually did stop biting me and we went back to pleasant nursing sessions. It was an unpleasant season in our journey but it passed without permanent damage to either one of us. I felt like I did the best I could to help her through her teething months and also tried to teach her in a peaceful manner that she shouldn’t bite. She doesn’t bite her milkies anymore and she doesn’t bite other people either.

Some babies never bite but, but most will try it at least once or twice. It  usually happens around teething time. You can stop your baby from biting by being persistent. Most of the time it usually only lasts a few days or weeks. My story is probably uncommon in that I allowed to go on so long.

No two babies are alike, so you might have to try a few different techniques before finding what works for you. It will depend on what kind of personality your baby has and also what kind of personality you have. I don’t think I am permissive in my parenting but I am definitely more on the soft side.

Just because your baby has started teething or has teeth it doesn’t mean that you have to stop nursing. Many moms and babies have worked through this stage and have gone on to have happy nursing relationships. Violet and I are still very happy nursing and she is 2 years and 8 months old now.

Some techniques I learned were:

Remain calm. Don’t overreact (though this can be extremely hard when you are in pain). Your baby could go on a nursing strike out of fear. Or she/he may think you are being playful and continue to bite you to see you react.

Bring baby in close to your breast when the biting starts. This will cause her/him to need to open her mouth and release the grip on your nipple.You can also slip your finger in between her teeth and gently pry her mouth open.

Put your baby down when biting starts and remove your self from the situation. My route was usually to give her to her daddy because I didn’t like letting her cry alone. Or if I was home alone, I would remove her from my breast and give her something appropriate to bite on. And tell her “this is for biting. We don’t bite milkies, we have to be gentle with milkies”. (I actually think that this was when I started calling my breasts “milkies”.)

Watch for signs of boredom or distraction while nursing. If you notice your baby is looking bored or distracted remove her from your breast and give her a teething toy. If she is distracted try going to a quiet dark room.

Focus your attention on your baby. If you are distracted while nursing, your baby might bite you to get your attention. Also by focusing on your baby will will learn the cues for when she is about to bite.

Above all, try not to get discouraged if and when your baby starts to bite you. You can work through it. Breastfeeding isn’t always “sunshine and lollipops”. Sometimes it does hurt. Sometimes you will dread it. Sometimes you will want to stop. But if you stay strong and try to find techniques that work for you and your baby, you will be rewarded with a beautiful relationship that can’t be duplicated. You will also be giving your child a beautiful gift that comes with benefits that last a lifetime.

12 thoughts on “Shark Baby

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