Sometimes children can use their teeth during breastfeeding. Biting can start as soon as your baby gets teeth so it’s good to know how to stop your child.
Sometimes, once your baby has teeth, you can feel a bite during breastfeeding. It’s not something all babies do, if they do, it might happen once or twice. Here’s what you can do if it starts happening more often.
Most babies don’t use their teeth or gums to breastfeed. When babies are comfortably and effectively attached to the breast, they use their tongue and jaw so there’s no nipping or pinching. Occasionally, though, women breastfeeding an older baby or a toddler say they experience biting. And, of course, it hurts.
Why do some babies start to bite when breastfeeding?
We don’t know, except the age when babies start to get teeth – from about six months onwards – coincides with their normal and growing curiosity about texture, taste and the way things ‘feel’ in their mouths. So a few babies might decide to ‘experiment’ with the nipple in the same way. Some babies and toddlers who are teething might bite down in the same way as they mouth toys and other objects.
For other babies, the way they attach to the breast means one, two or more sharp teeth press into the flesh of your areola (the coloured skin around the nipple), and you feel pain, even though your baby is not actually biting down.
How to stop biting during breastfeeding
If you feel a bite during breastfeeding, take your baby off the breast by breaking the suction (inserting a clean finger between your breast and your baby’s mouth) and calmly say “please don’t bite”. Wait a few seconds, and then latch your baby on again, and repeat if needed.
If you think your baby is not actually biting, but just happens to be nipping because of where the teeth are in relation to your areola, think about ways you can position your baby differently, with their mouth in a different place. Some mums ease the pressure from the sharpness by using some nipple cream or teething gel on the affected spot. As the teeth grow a little bigger, they tend to become less sharp, too.
Try not to shout out in pain – though when the biting happens suddenly, this can be a natural reaction.
Can I predict when my baby will bite during breastfeeding?
Some babies who bite tend to do so at the end of a feed, when they have started to lose interest. You can watch for this happening and be prepared to break off the feed as soon as you see the early signs.
Common scenarios when it comes to biting during breastfeeding
"My baby bit me a few days ago, and I called out in pain frightening him. Since then he’s been difficult to feed, and gets upset when I try to put him on."
This is sometimes called a 'nursing strike' (not always caused by anything obvious, though) and it’s almost always temporary. You may find it easier to feed at night or at times when he’s sleepy. Speak to a breastfeeding counsellor about ways to get back to your happy, relaxed breastfeeding. Usually, patience and calm will do the trick, as time goes by, he will simply forget the association between breastfeeding and the scare.
"My nipple has developed a crack where my baby bit me on a couple of occasions, and it’s very painful to feed from that side. I am confident she is attached just fine, and it’s the damage from the bite that’s causing the pain."
It does happen, but it’s unusual. Experimenting with different ways of positioning and attaching your baby should help. If you can’t improve things that way, then ‘resting’ that nipple by feeding on one side only may be an option.
Your other breast will increase production to match your baby’s needs. You will usually need to express your milk on the unused side for your comfort though. This is also important to maintain supply, while you wait for that nipple to heal.
Last updated: August 2016
We support all parents, however they feed their baby. If you have questions, concerns or need support, you can speak to a breastfeeding counsellor by calling our support line on 0300 330 0700, whether you are exclusively breastfeeding or using formula milk. Breastfeeding counsellors have had extensive training, will listen without judging or criticising and will offer relevant information and suggestions.
You might find attending one of NCT's Early Days groups helpful as they give you the opportunity to explore different approaches to important parenting issues with a qualified group leader and other new parents in your area.
Make friends with other parents-to-be and new parents in your local area for support and friendship by seeing what NCT activities are happening nearby.
National Breastfeeding Line (government funded): 0300 100 0212.
UK Association of Milk Banking has information on its network of milk banks across the UK.
Best Beginnings: view video footage online from 'bump to breastfeeding'.
Healthtalkonline.org provides a comprehensive library of face-to-face interviews where parents share their experiences about breastfeeding, birth, parenting and many other issues.