Breastfeeding and teething are topics that are covered quite a bit in articles and via parenting sites. We usually talk about the two separately to cover all the issues that can crop up but I think sometimes we overlook the fact that teething can impact breastfeeding.
Just when you think you’ve overcome the latch issues, you’ve got your boobs balanced out perfectly, you’ve learnt how often you need to change your breast pads and you have a good natural rhythm with your little treasure, they begin to sprout those teeth!
The first teeth to erupt are usually the bottom incisors and as your baby’s tongue is used to suckle it will cover those sharp toothy-pegs and protect your nips so initial problems may not occur. It’s when the rest start to come in when things may change a bit…
Your baby has to get used to these new things in their mouth and, as they investigate them further, you will discover that everything (and I mean everything) will get bitten!! Just recently my poor wooden TV stand has taken the brunt of these new tools… sigh. But what happens when they decide that your nipples are good to bite down on too?
More often than not, a bite will be an accident. They aren’t aware of what their teeth are and what they can do and they have to get used to having them in their way. Yes, they are great for food but they are a brand new obstacle when it comes to breastfeeding.
The biggest problem can occur when you breastfeed them to sleep… and they clamp down!! Ouch!
This is precisely why my breastfeeding journey ended at nine months with my firstborn, Jake. He didn’t do this just once, he did it quite a few times and actually drew blood twice! I mean, he was an early and fast teether so by this age he did have around 7 teeth already which is quite unusual (William at ten months now has 4). It was the case of him loving being boobed to sleep but then going into such a deep sleep that he would literally just clamp his mouth shut around my poor little nipples… I can still feel that sharp pang as I write this!
It doesn’t help that the area around the nipple is probably one of the most sensitive on the body and I was terrified he would bite the whole thing off one day! (I’m not sure if this has ever happened, I was too scared to Google it!) The thing is, because this was done completely by accident and each time when he was asleep, there was no way of correcting him or stopping him. It was out of his control and it became an anxiety for me each time he looked like he was going off. It was a hard decision to make because I loved breastfeeding and I didn’t want to end our journey but after the second, large bite, there was a lot of blood and he couldn’t feed from that side until it healed up again. However, it was an extreme case, I’m sure.
For accidents that happen when your baby is awake, you can simply pull them away and make them aware of what they have done. There’s no need to tell them off or make breastfeeding a negative thing it is just the case of teaching them that when they bite it can hurt.
With new teeth comes a new sensation and some babies have to re-learn how to perfect their latch with these things in their way. Instead of using their lips they may think their teeth are a good tool to help to grab hold of the nipple with instead! (William is just discovering this right now) They may find that they can’t latch on comfortably due to sore gums and they may bite out of pain. You will need to check they can happily open their mouth wide enough and that they can get their tongue over those bottom teeth. It may take a bit of practice and possibly trying some new positions to help to ease their teething pain.
Then there are the little tikes who like to play games– nipple roulette anyone?! They can see they get a reaction from you and they just simply find it hilarious. These are easier to nip in the bud because you can pull them away from their favourite thing each time they bite you. Over time they begin to realise that their game isn’t quite so fun anymore.
As your baby gets a bit older they become far more distracted by noises, people coming and going and activities that may be taking place around you. This can result in your nipple being twisted and pulled and even bitten as they turn their heads towards the interest. Not only can it be a bit uncomfortable it can also be pretty embarrassing as your skin is pulled and twisted out of shape!! Oh, and let’s just ignore the milk spraying everywhere if they then let go… just keep that muslin to hand, yeah?!
As for solutions to this, try to keep their eye contact on you if you know it’s going to be busy or noisy where you are feeding. Chat to them, make them smile, use your face and eyes to keep their focus. You could also start to use a cover if you haven’t already or find a place that is a little quieter just whilst you get their feed done.
Breastfeeding is going to be one of the biggest comforters to your baby when they are in pain. They will probably feed far more often and this can usually include keeping you up a lot of the night again too. Breastmilk is like magic, isn’t it? It not only provides nutrients, a drink, food, but it also has analgesic properties when your little one is ill or in discomfort. Just go with the flow and let them feed/suckle/pass out on the boob as often as they need to. It doesn’t last forever… promise!
For more tips on teething:
Teething does not immediately mean that you have to stop breastfeeding. See how you get on and wait and see how your little one fares with it all. They will not all be a ‘Jake’! Remember, plenty of Mums manage to feed their babies up to the age of 2 and beyond and they have all 20 teeth by that age.
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