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Saturday, August 25, 2007

When Baby Bites

Lots of folks claim that the time to wean is when a baby starts getting in her teeth. I understand their thinking: one moment you're relaxed and blissed out from oxytocin while baby nurses happily..... and the next, you're yelping with pain. I have to say I'd forgotten just how excruciating bites on the breast can be.

Well, BB reminded me this week. Her first tooth has come in (you can barely see it, in the lower gum) and the second is close behind. But, as I was with her brother, I'm committed to breastfeeding at least through her first birthday. Which gives us at least 5 months to teach her not to bite.

Heaven help me, it better not take that long!

I'm remembering all the tricks and tips I picked up when BJ started nipping at the nipple, so I figured I'd share some of them. First: try to suppress the automatic reactions to being bitten. As soon as baby bites, the instinct is to yank away her wee mouth with its teeny razor teeth -- just get the source of pain away as quickly as possible! Resist this instinct. It damages your nipples, startles the baby, and in extreme cases can even hurt her if you move really suddenly. Also resist the urge to yell, because it will either scare baby (which can lead to a nursing strike) or entertain her (which can lead to the dreaded biting game: baby bites, Mommy shrieks, baby giggles with delight and bites again to see if Mommy will keep making that funny noise).

So far, the one thing that has consistently worked with both BJ and BB is what I call the "mother-smother" move. I perfected this counter-intuitive technique when BJ was about 9 months old. I really, really wish I didn't have to remember it now, but I find it's coming back to me very quickly.

Here's how the "mother-smother" works: as soon as baby bites, or starts to, pull her into your chest. Gently but quickly press her face against your breast. This will cover her nose, which in turn makes her open her mouth. Voila! She's no longer biting you!

It feels strange to do, and baby doesn't usually like it, but hopefully a few repetitions will reinforce the NO BITING rule. Of course you don't really want to smother your precious baby (even though your darling sugarpie just BIT YOU and you have tears in your eyes and possibly blood on your bra). So only smoosh her face into your body for long enough to get her to let go of the nipple.

I find it's also helpful to enforce a brief break from the breast when baby bites. Not too long -- maybe 30 seconds -- but long enough to make your point. (And long enough for you to stop whimpering and assess the damage.) Tell baby, "No biting!" Be firm but don't yell. This is also a perfectly acceptable time, IMHO, to employ pseudo-profanity. But no yelling. Trust me, the last thing you want is a biting baby that you have to coax back to the breast because you've frightened her into a nursing strike!

Another good idea is to pay really close attention to what seems to prompt baby to bite. Is she biting because she's done nursing? Is she using you as a teether? Does she usually bite at the beginning or the end of a nursing session? See if there's a pattern that can help you anticipate the biting and stop it before it occurs.

With BJ, the biting really was a brief phase. I think he thought it was just so cool that he had these new teeth thingies, and he wanted to try them out, chomping on everything he could. Including me. The biting would flare up when his teething got really bad, but thankfully he never bit hard enough to break the skin, and giving him something else to teethe on usually worked.

If I get off as easily with BB, I'll be glad.


Amanda said...

Hi Jen! Good luck with the biting! I have very recent memories of that pain -- yikes! But it didn't last long with any of my boys. A couple times, maybe. Often I figured they were done nursing anyway and would rather have something nice to chew on, so I'd offer a toy instead right away. If they were still hungry, they'd figure out that the toy was for biting, and Mommy was for getting more milk.

Cara said...

Heh, Hannah would bite usually only when I'd be trying to get her to nurse because I wanted to keep reading or be on the computer ~blush~ so I stopped that and most of it stopped. Heh. Once she had tops and bottoms, she would nurse with her teeth, though, and I just had to get her to have a little better latch so she wasn't *holding on* with her teeth. :P