All About Biting while Breastfeeding

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Episode Transcript

August 13, 2021

What do you do when your baby bites while breastfeeding?

This is Maureen Farrell and Heather O’Neal and this is The Milk Minute. We’re midwives and lactation professionals bringing you the most up-to-date evidence for all things lactation. So you can feel more confident about feeding your baby, body positivity, relationships, and mental health. Plus, we laugh a little or a lot along the way.

So join us for another episode. Okay, welcome. Welcome back to The Milk Minute. Yep. Sitting here in the alcove. We’re having a relaxing afternoon. Lyra’s enjoying her afternoon boobie and Maureen and I were just talking about the struggles of our older children. Oh my gosh. Just when you think you have everything nailed down with breastfeeding, your toddler starts taking off her diaper and shorts in the middle of the night and peeing the bed every night. And yeah, I know. I take my own advice and I have two waterproof covers on my bed, plus a Chuck, which is an absorbent pad under the sheets, but it’s still becoming a very annoying situation.

It’s you know, like, I’m a pretty lenient parent and the thing Griffin’s been doing these days that I it’s like not a problem, but it’s just weird. He’s like sleeping in weird places. Like this morning I go in to check on him and he’s curled up in a ball under his train table. Like why? If I slept like that, I would be broken. I mean, at least there’s carpet. Well, sure.

Yeah. I mean, I guess last night when I put Heidi to sleep, she immediately jumped out of bed and threw herself on her floor on the rug, like, oh, and I said goodnight, and she, I guess, found her way back to bed because she got in bed, took her shorts off, took her diaper off and immediately peed the bed. She was like, oh, I’ll show you.

Oh my gosh. Well, Griffin has been pretty. He’s been, he’s a very supportive family member for breastfeeding. He’s like always rooting us on, but he’s also like pretty funny about it and really like, wants to get in there and like kiss the booby and kiss the baby. And like it’s super annoying. And last night I was sitting there, topless feeding her and he like leans in to pretend breastfeed latch.

And he was like, kind of like bobbing around on my boob, laughing about it. So I squirted him in the face with milk. And then he was like, oh mom, oh, oh my God. I feel that so much. I passed out on the couch yesterday, just from exhaustion, from this crazy weekend. And I had a white shirt on, first mistake of parenthood. I know that.

But I woke up to Heidi pretending to breastfeed on me through my shirt and she had just eaten a big mouthful of goldfish. So she had that nice orange paste in her mouth. And then it was all on my white shirt right around my nipple area. So anyway, if you’re struggling with those things today, you’re not alone.

Say hi, Lyra. Anyway today, we’re not just here to talk about our lives, but we’re also here to talk about biting. No biting! No biting. Hear that Lyra? Anyway, before we talk about biting, we are going to do a quick listener question, and then afterwards we will do an award in the alcove.

So our question today is near and dear to my heart. It’s from Mandy W and she wants to know what some good breastfeeding holds for big chested gals are. She said they pretty much only do the football hold, but she wanted to try some that aren’t going to suffocate her baby with her. I feel ya. Well, first of all, my tip for anyone that feels like they’re suffocating their baby is to bring their baby’s butt closer to your body and let the head relax back a little bit.

The baby kind of works on a lever. They’re like really tight. So when you move the head, the butt moves and when you move the butt, the head moves. So when you move the butt in closer to you and you let the head relax out a little bit, it gives just a little extra space up by the face for them to negotiate your breast tissue independently.

Right. And make sure if you have a hand behind their head, it’s actually behind their neck and not their occiput or that part of their head, that kind of sticks out funny in the back. That is just totally free falling. Cause you want their head to basically hinge back so that they can breathe. But I feel, yeah, I have what I like to think of as like fluffy breasts. So fluffy. They’re just like, they kind of just like expand to fill the available room, you know?

And so like when Lyra latches, sometimes they do just kind of like right around her nose. Like that movie Flubber. Right. I totally feel like my breasts are made of flubber. And so sometimes for different holds, it means I also have to hold my breast and make a little, like, I think of it as a snorkel, a snorkel for her.

So like, it is more challenging though. And I find that different holds work for different breasts for me. Like, righty, he’s a little smaller nipple points a different way, so cradle hold works good for that. And I also find sometimes like, I’ll hold my breasts with like a C hold, right. My hand is shaped like a C and I kind of squeeze it into a little bit of a flatter object.

And then we latch, but in order to keep her there, sometimes I then like move the whole thing and inch to the right. You know, cause these larger breasts are more mobile and more flexible. And so sometimes you just find those little adjustments, make it really workable. And don’t forget, you can always roll up a tea towel and stick it under your breast to kind of give it a little bit more leverage.

Sometimes the issue isn’t necessarily the size, but that the nipple is pointing down. That is my issue. Big time. And so just getting a, like a rolled-up towel underneath that large breast can help angle the nipple a little bit better for positioning to save your neck and so you can see what’s going on and helping latch issues.

And unfortunately, sometimes that means that your baby is then really far away from you. Yeah. And you’re like, hello down there. There’s only been one time that I’ve seen a breast so big that we had to actually like get a little breastfeeding table that we kinda like made to the right height. Hmm, and rested her breast on it.

And then with help, like her partner had to help support the baby laying sideways on the table to, because it was just too much in the beginning. But, you know, it really does help when your baby gets more head control. Like that makes a huge difference for me because then if she can’t breathe, she just moves her head.

Instead of me being like, oh no, I’m suffocating you, here quick, a nose hole. Right. Right. And so that, that’s really good. And we have a whole episode about this. Episode seven is nursing with a large chest where we go a little bit more into depth about techniques and positions and all of that. So if you tune in and to that, hopefully you think it’s helpful.

Yeah. And we’ll link that episode in the show notes.

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All right. Well, let’s talk about biting. Biting is annoying. So first let me say this. I think everyone’s kind of afraid of the teeth, but the motion that the baby is doing that actually bites hurts with or without teeth, right. Because their teeth are in their gums. So their gums are super hard. I feel like the first time my son bit me when he was maybe five months old and he didn’t have any teeth like that hurt just as much as when he bit when he had teeth. Yeah. I’ve heard patients tell me, oh my baby, just like, does this gumming thing, like they’re really gummy. And what I usually tell people to do, and this is hard for people to see on their own.

So try this, whether or not you can visually see it. If it starts to feel gummy, I want you to take your finger or have your partner take their finger and slip it down between the breast tissue and their chin and flick their chin down. And that should help flange out that bottom lip so they can take more of the breast tissue in their mouth.

Yeah. That shallow latch does really make babies feel like they have to chomp, chomp, chomp. Yes. And then the other thing, and we’re talking about younger babies here, right? Well, we’ll move on in age in a moment. Yes, we will. But also I want you to make sure that your baby’s chest is not facing the ceiling at all. We want baby belly to belly with you, and we want to make sure that once you get them belly to belly, they stay that way for the entirety of the feeding.

So get a nice support roll or something, some kind of towel or blanket or pillow to prop behind the baby’s back to make sure that they don’t gently roll out and slowly take your nipple with them because that’s going to create a shallow latch. And then they’re going to gum gum gum to try to keep that boob in their mouth.

Yeah. And onto that, added onto that postural stuff, let’s move further down the body because I find that a lot of babies don’t latch deeply or kind of feel like, like they’re falling, they’re almost like insecure in their latch if their butts and their feet aren’t supported. So we say, “flex the hips to open the lips.”

But that really works. Is that you just flex their little butt toward you, kind of bend their knees a little bit, right. So make sure there’s something, maybe your hand or a pillow, or just that they’re facing down so they’re flexed. And then just put your hand on the bottom of their feet. Give them a little bit of pressure.

And that just makes it, it has this really interesting, like ripple effect on the muscles of the body. Just like we see ripple effects when we have issues with the muscles in the mouth. I mean, it’s pretty amazing, right? Like there’s no part of the body that exists without being connected to another part.

So true. And that’s also something your partner can do. And I always want to remind people, those hospital beds are the worst for breastfeeding. They are the worst. I just want to say gold star for all of the hospital lactation consultants that work with people regularly in those horrific beds for breastfeeding. You sink down in all the wrong places.

It’s like the pillows that they give you are so flat and you just can’t seem to get the support that you need. I feel like I’m always sliding in those beds too. Yes. And then when you’d go to lift up the top of the bed, the knees come up, like I’m not breastfeeding with my knees up. No, I mean, I could, I guess, but not everyone wants that.

And yeah, I don’t know. They, they suck, so the things that happen in the hospital are not going to be the things that happen at home. So the whole point is it’s not actually the gums or the teeth. It’s the motion of biting that actually hurts. And it actually means that they are not sucking and using tongue enclosure around the nipple the best way they can.

Because it’s either postural or they feel like they have to bite to keep the nipple in their mouth. So we just want to make sure that you’re assessing all of those things. Preventing nipple injuries from those shallow latches and the tongue should really be troughed around the nipple like a little cup.

And then that goes over the gums, like the gums and the teeth should never be involved in the situation. I think is a good point to transition on to biting with older babies and bad latches with older babies, because you can actually tell them to do that. You can tell like, you know, older babies just have a lot of understanding, you know, even an eight-month-old.

Understand, so much of the language. You know, and what I would often do with my son when his teeth would hurt. And when he’d get kind of bitey as I’d be like, stick out your tongue before you put, before we have boobies, stick it out and leave it out. And then I’d put the boob in his mouth. And so his tongue would cover his bottom teeth. Even if he was biting, at least that wouldn’t hurt as much.

And we want you to be prepared for the fact that this is going to happen at some point. It’s not always going to be an intentional thing, like the door slams or it’s thundering and your baby, you know, gets startled and they bite. Right. And also they are exploring their world and they often do that the most in the place where they feel the most comfortable.

Oh, that would be with you. Yeah. On your boob. So that’s what they know better than any other place and so behavior issues start to happen around 7 8, 9 months. Yeah. Like really just when we’re getting onto a year, babies really mobile, they have a lot of muscle control. They’re just kind of figuring it all out.

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I mean, obviously we have biting at any time, but I feel like that’s when I hear it most often. Seven months, nine months, somebody calls me crying. They have an injury because their baby has one tooth and they bit real hard. Yeah. And so the reason we want you to be prepared, it’s not to scare you. It’s because your reaction to when it happens can actually set you up or break ya for a little bit.

So will you kind of take us through what you tell people and I’ll tell you what I tell people. So none of these is absolutely the right answer in any, you know, in every situation, but we’re going to give you a couple of different tactics to use. So the one that works best for me and that I recommend first is I’m going to go with, we’re going to call this calmly ignoring the baby and also gentle suffocation. This is all done very gently.

So when we get bitten, our knee jerk reaction is to rip the baby off the breast, but that can often cause more injury. So when you actually want to do, if your baby’s bitten and holding down, you want to pull them close so that you essentially purposely block off their nostrils with your breast tissue. And that, once they can’t breathe, which takes about half a second for them to realize, they open their mouth and then you can take baby off the breast. You have to do that because you, your number one goal is to prevent nipple injury. And then your number two goal is to prevent further behavior issues with it.

Right? So by doing this gentle suffocation, you’re not really suffocating. If you threw them into a pool right now, they’d be able to hold their breath and swim because they have reflexes like that. So when you’re doing this, you’re not actually suffocating them. You’re forcing them to prioritize breathing overeating.

You’re just using their reflexes. You’re using the way that their brain works so that you don’t get injured. It’s not mean. It’s not going to hurt them. It’s less than a second. Yep. Then what I do first and I recommend you try is you very calmly, but certainly say no biting or no, that hurt. Put your baby down and walk away.

Because when we’re young, our brains are essentially wired to seek attention because attention from older individuals of our species is what allows us to survive. Period. Right. If adults ignore us when we’re babies, we die. So when, when we’re that age we basically are creating all these new neural connections and we have like them the most, excuse me, Lyra.

We have like the most neural connections we’re ever gonna have in our lives. And then we slowly start pruning them. Ones that don’t result in desirable outcomes just get snipped. So ignoring bad behavior often results in better behavior sooner than punishing it because a negative experience, our brain does not want us to forget that.

It’s like, Ooh, this bad thing happened. Don’t forget how to do that because this is a bad thing and we really don’t want to forget it. But if nothing happens, right, baby bites, the brain is like, huh, we bit, and then we got left alone. I do not want to do that again. Don’t do that again. Snip, snip. That’s not happening.

It shall be pruned, right? Yeah. And we’re not saying withdraw your love because a lot of people automatically think that their baby is going to feel unloved. That’s not part of the equation yet. Love is actually a really complex emotion and at this point we’re talking about just the act of removing them from the feeding situation.

Not for very long, no, for like a minute. I mean that, you know, that’s all it takes. You put your baby down for a minute and don’t look at them. They cry. Yeah, we’re not saying neglect them either. We’re saying put them down, give them a very clear, tangible message that, that wasn’t okay. And then tell them you love them and then do a buffer activity and then say, are you ready to have boobie now?

Yep. And you know, you repeat that as many times as you need to, and that is the quickest way to getting rid of biting. Yeah. I, I truly think that it is. And like I said before, not gonna work in every single situation, but it’s a really good place to start. Also I would like to say if your child is like seven or eight months, it is not too soon to start doing sign language.

I never think it’s too soon. And I think that if you start a breastfeeding session with open communication with your baby, the rest of the breastfeeding session, you can expect that if you have communication with them, it wouldn’t be out of the ordinary. So what I mean is you can do any sign you want. You know, sign language is whatever it means for you two, as long as it’s consistent.

But typically the sign language for milk and breast milk is like you’re squeezing an utter and you’re kind of like opening and closing your fist. And it’s super cute when babies do that. So you start doing it to them by teaching them. So you’ll say, oh, you want some milk? So as soon as they signal you, you do the sign language for milk, and then you have a nursing session.

And then if they bite, you say no bite, and you put them down, you push their face into your breasts until they open their mouth. You put them down. And you don’t leave the room. You just walk away. One minute later, you pick them back up and you say, are you ready to have milk again? And you do the sign language for milk again, and try your best not to be on your phone during this time because they want your attention bad.

And if you are not focusing on them during this time, they will try to bite you to get your attention. And that is not fun because then it’s like, mom guilt too. So go into this feeling like you’re trying to set a good foundational behavior for eating.

Never forget that negative attention is still attention. Right. So if we’re talking about them wanting attention from you and you’re not giving them positive attention, they’re going to get it any way they can. And that doesn’t mean, you know, you’re a bad mom if you’re scrolling on Facebook, but it does mean that you should kind of be aware that it’s situationally appropriate with your baby.

Sometimes it’s fine. Sometimes they don’t care if you’re paying attention and they just want boob and then they want to go play. Sometimes they want that eye contact. They want to talk through the nipple in their mouth, you know, while you’re nursing, they want to play with your necklace, whatever.

There is a necklace that you can get. It’s on Amazon. It’s not cute, but it’s fascinating for babies to look at and it’s made out of wood and there’s different colors and textures on there. And if you wear it only while breastfeeding it’s their special time to like look at it and touch it and play with it.

And it kind of keeps their mind off of biting. So as you’re working through this biting situation, if this becomes like a thing. Like maybe you accidentally overreacted and you screamed and you screamed at your baby. Like me. And when that happens, it happens. And then maybe they go on a little bit of a nursing strike.

That’s happened too. And then you almost have to like win them back. And then you’re like, oh God, what have I done? Like you bit me and now I’m getting punished. This is terrible. And I, I will say some people have told us they accidentally shouted and kind of like tossed their baby away on the couch and scared them.

And they never bit again. That’s totally fine. It doesn’t work every time though. So that probably, you know, that like knee jerk reaction of like, oh my gosh, you bit me, get away is probably shouldn’t be your first tactic. Yeah. If you’re planning, like how to manage this. Yeah. It comes with prep though. I mean, anybody that isn’t prepared for that when it does happen, it’s like, what is the right way to handle that?

Especially if you can’t get them off your boob, that’s scary. And plus they suck with like 120 PSI. There’s some serious suction on there. Oh, my velociraptor. Hold on, let me switch the boob. She’s mad at that one. Why are you so mad? Oh, what was I going to say now? I don’t know. Oh, I was going to say so if you have pulled your baby close and they don’t give a shit about breathing and they just clamped down harder, use your fingers.

Put it in the corner of their mouth. And I usually insert my finger flat and then turn it sideways, which increases the diameter. Right. And then that kind of opens their jaw enough that I can get my nipple out. And if that doesn’t work, last resort is you take your hand in a C shape and grab their jaw from the outside and you kind of push in, right?

Like where it’s hinged at the side. Yeah. Right where it hinges, you can kind of push in. If you have a dog or a cat who’s like eating something they shouldn’t, you’ve probably done this. Yes. And you know, this is, this is your nipple. Like it’s really in the baby’s best interest to keep these things functioning.

Yeah. So, I mean, they might not know it in the moment, but by you releasing their jaw because they will not release your nipple, you are preventing nipple injuries so you can continue your breastfeeding journey. They will forgive you. They’re like goldfish. They have very short memories. Lyra, what are you up to?

Oh you want to nurse like this instead? She’s like, she wants to like, look at things across the room. She wants to look at Auntie Heather. Anyway, I wish everybody luck and fortitude when managing biting, because I am probably going to do it again. I don’t know of any babies that never bite. So Lyra, listen up and I’ll let you know what happens, what I do when Lyra first bites me.

Cause I might not do what I’m supposed to. Yeah. And let’s just look at the animal kingdom really quick. Lions breastfeed and they’re born with teeth. Yeah. Oh yeah. Yeah, so animals like that have these little they’re called milk teeth, but I swear to God, these carnivore milk teeth are sharper, like puppies.

They’re like fucking needles. I know. I know. And so certainly they bite from time to time. And what do those moms do? They just get up and they walk away. Babies dangling off their nipples. They’re like, goodbye. I, so I raise sheep and right now, most of my sheep are kind of in the process of weaning their lambs.

And so their lambs are huge. They’re like almost as big as their moms, they get down on their knees trying to nurse and their moms just walk away and kick them in the face. So you’re not doing that. No, you are doing better. I mean, and they have hooves, you know? Yeah. Well, I hope this was helpful to you.

How about we wrap it up with an award and thanking a patron? Please.

Hey guys, it’s Maureen here. And I wanted to let you know about my Etsy shop. I am an artist and a designer, and I have a shop where I make educational breastfeeding posters, shirts for birth workers. Like for your favorite nurse or midwife. Shirts for people who are lactating, mugs, stickers, all kinds of stuff.

Some of my birth paintings are on there. It’s an eclectic collection and it’s really beautiful. So if you want to find that you’re going to go to etsy.com/shop/thewanderingwom6, except instead of a B it’s a six. So that’s the wandering womb with a six instead of a b.

All right, Maureen, today, I’m going to give the award to Jessica McVay. She says, I had gallbladder removal surgery and kept breastfeeding. Well, hell that’s awesome. Yeah. A lot of people who go in to have surgery postpartum it’s often gallbladder. Yeah. It happens a lot. Happens quite often. They get bullied into pumping and dumping because of the anesthesia. So I went ahead and made a post in the Facebook group, which you can go find if you type in the search bar surgery, or you find the hashtag medical problems affecting breastfeeding, which I put in there. So you should be able to find it. I included a list of the common anesthetic medications that they use in surgery.

The half-life and what the actual breastfeeding recommendations are from LACT Med. So it’s all in one place. And then you can also see in the thread where people have commented about their experiences with surgery, what the doctor recommended and then what the lactation consultant recommended. So it’s a good place to kind of go and figure out how you feel about it and educate yourself beforehand.

And before we go, I want to thank Lisa from Buckhannon, West Virginia. We’ve got another Mountaineer up in here. We love our locals. Thank you for becoming a patron of ours. I hope you’re listening today. And for everyone else out there, if you want to shout out, exclusive access to videos, merch, everything like that, join on our Patreon.

Yes, you can find us at www.Patreon.com/MilkMinutePodcast. Join the cool kids club and no biting. Nope. No biting allowed.

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