Biting

My brother-in-law was visiting our house one early spring day in the first months after my son was born. He was straightforward that breastfeeding made him very uncomfortable and that he did not want me to do it in front of him. Among other pieces of advice, he proclaimed that I should stop breastfeeding once my son started to get teeth. When we didn’t stop then, I got lots of comments and questions from my in-laws about breastfeeding a child with teeth.

So here I am breastfeeding my fifteen month old – who has several teeth. What’s my experience with breastfeeding a toddler with teeth? For the most part, it’s been uneventful, but that’s not to say we haven’t had our bumps along the way.

Before my son got his first couple of teeth, he did bite down occasionally while nursing – typically toward the end of a feeding. I always remember that he doesn’t bite to hurt me. He doesn’t know what he’s doing. His jaw and gums hurt and biting on something, anything fells good. It’s also important to note that a baby can’t bite while actually feeding. It’s like drinking from a straw. If you’re biting the straw, nothing comes out, and if you’re sucking from a straw, you’re not biting on it. Also, mechanically, the baby’s tongue covers his or her bottom gums while nursing. That’s why biting typically occurs at the end of nursing or while the baby is otherwise distracted.

I read a few different suggestions on how to handle biting. I knew I wanted to take a consistent and gentle approach that was developmentally appropriate. Some advice suggested picking one consistent statement to say – such as the obvious “Don’t bite.” The advice also included saying the statement calmly whenever the baby bit for the first few times, and then in conjunction with unlatching the baby if needed. You unlatch the baby by sliding your finger into the corner of his or her mouth to break the seal and separate the jaw slightly. Then, as a next step, saying the statement, unlatching the baby, and then separating the baby from the breast for a short period. I think it suggested a separation for up to a minute or two.

One morning, I was sitting in bed nursing my son when he started biting down. I said my chosen statement – “Don’t bite Mama.” He bit down again almost immediately. I said it a few more times and the bites happened again and again. Luckily he was not biting very hard. I then said my statement and unlatched him. After two more times, I unlatched him and laid him on the bed next to me. My goodness. He. lost. it. He started crying really hard almost immediately. I don’t think I made it five seconds before picking him up! I felt really awful. But, it worked. He did not bite down at all for the next several weeks.

After that, if he started to bite down a little I’d say my statement and he’d stop after a time or two. I also tried really hard not to overreact when he did bite other than my statement. I didn’t want to encourage the activity and I also didn’t want to scare him.

I’ve heard of babies who will bite down and not let go. I am very lucky that I didn’t experience this event myself – though I was prepared with a plan just in case. In that instance, KellyMom suggests trying to unlatch the baby first. If that technique doesn’t work, pull the baby towards you (not away) close to the breast to temporarily make breathing a little more difficult or pinch the baby’s nose closed briefly to cause the baby to open his or her mouth.

A few weeks ago, I got a really bad clogged duct from a milk blister. If you don’t know what either are, here’s a quick run down. A clogged duct occurs sometimes when a milk duct is obstructed. It causes a painful lump in its location. The obstruction can happen anywhere in the duct – from down the breast, closer to the body – all the way to the nipple as in the case of a milk blister and anywhere in between. I’ve had several over the past year plus.

I’ve only had one milk blister. That occurs when a nipple pore becomes blocked. Mine was quite painful and caused a really bad clogged duct unlike any other I’ve experienced. The milk blister itself was really painful and the clogged duct hurt too. Different from my other clogged ducts, it got so bad that it collapsed nearby ducts and the the flow from that breast went way down. I was trying to clear the milk blister and the clogged duct in a hot bath and was struggling to even hand express.

I read that breastfeeding might help remove the milk blister, but it was really painful. It was so painful that I couldn’t feel when my son bit me hard enough to break skin. I think he was frustrated by the significantly reduced flow. So then I had a milk blister, clogged duct and bite wound. Yikes. I persevered with breastfeeding and finally, after many failed attempts at other suggested treatments, got desperate enough to us a sterilized needle (perpendicular to the surface of the breast and NOT down the milk pore) to break open the milk blister.

Pretty soon my clogged duct and milk blister were history, but I was left with a bite wound. I’ve opted to continue breastfeeding because to me it’s all just part of the process. I’ve heard that some women opt to pump on that breast temporarily. I don’t pump very successfully. Also, based on the location of the wound, I didn’t think it would eliminate any pressure. I thought about trying a nipple shield, but I didn’t want to spend $10 on something that my son would likely reject. He never really took a bottle or a pacifier. So, instead I followed the salt water rinse method suggested on Kellymom.com.

It’s taken a little bit of time, but it’s healing. My son hasn’t bitten again since then despite some recent teething struggles. Hopefully we’ve made it past this phase. In the end, it’s all worth it.

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