I’m writing this as a mother of an extended nursling – coming up for three years old with a full set of teeth (yes, an old hippy is a baby whisperer moderator) – and I’ve never been bitten so firstly don’t assume biting is inevitable. Nursing with teeth is the norm in many societies and throughout history so it is true to say that more hours have been spent nursing babies and toddlers with teeth than without.
Some babies are born with teeth, many begin teething as early as 2-4 months so it’s certainly not the case that the arrival of teeth and weaning are intended to be linked.
I actually had more trouble with pre-teeth clamping down. A very determined gummy ‘clamp’ can be pretty sore too! I also found that sometimes when new teeth arrived there was a period of adjustment as my nursling learnt to change his latch. He might sometimes leave an indentation but he could be supported to change his latch quickly.
So this FAQ is intended to cover the basics of nursing and teeth.
First – what are the normal patterns of teething
As I say the age at which the first tooth appears differs greatly from child to child. Very occasionally, children are born with one or more teeth. Other children may not develop any teeth until they are more than a year old. Usually, however, the first tooth - which tends to be in the middle of the lower jaw - appears at around six months of age. It’s followed by it’s partner on the lower jaw. Then the top two incisors. Then back down to the bottom jaw for incisors either side of the first two. Then back up to the top. The order can vary though. The complete set of 20 primary teeth (baby teeth) is usually present by the age of two-and-a-half years. http://www.babyworld.co.uk/information/baby/teeth/order_appearance_teeth.asp
Many things have been attributed to teething: rashes, crying, bad temper, runny noses, extra dirty nappies, etc. Many people also report that painful teething can make a baby reluctant to nurse as they did before. (but perhaps still take food from a spoon which seems to be less troublesome). The important thing is to keep offering the breast. It might be helpful to use pain meds prior to a feed. Try to resist the temptation to just let them fill up on solids. This would obviously affect your supply as well as their milk intake. A baby may be reluctant to nurse for another reason – perhaps an ear infection – so if you have any doubt it’s worth mentioning it to your doctor.
Some teeth come through with no trouble at all; in other cases, the gum may be sore and red where the tooth is pushing its way out. A child may dribble, gnaw and chew a lot or just be fretful.Biting and nursing
So let’s imagine that the new teeth do come and you do have a situation where you are bitten. The first thing to note is that a baby can’t ‘milk’ the breast and bite at the same time. Milking needs the tongue to be covering the lower jaw (and any teeth) so that the nursling can use a wave-like action to compress your milk ducts. So if biting happens, the latch will invariably have to shift. A baby might do this at the beginning of a feed perhaps if they are frustrated at the slower letdown (breast compression may help here). Or more commonly at the end of a feed – so keep a little finger ready to break the latch, note when swallowing slows, you may notice the jaw shifting as the latch changes and you may even notice a ‘twinkle in the eye’ that signifies a nibble might be imminent. And don't force a baby back to the breast when they are signalling a feed is finished (remember babies often get faster and more efficient as they get older.)If you can’t anticipate, how do you react.
We are human – If you shout ‘ooow’, you wouldn’t be the first person to do so. However most breastfeeding specialists would advise against raising your voice in an attempt to ‘discipline’ a young baby. They are not able to understand they are causing you pain. And you may cause confusion and upset. One of the commoner reasons for a baby embarking on a nursing strike is in response to a mother’s reaction to biting. By all means ‘send a message’ but do so by ending the nursing session. Biting = no milk. Another technique is to bring the baby towards the breast so their nose is covered and they have to break the latch, rather then pull away which obviously could cause more damage.
There are some more tips here:http://www.kellymom.com/bf/older-baby/biting.html
NB It’s worth considering the type of sippy cup you introduce to a breastfed baby. Some sippy cups have valves which need to be bitten to release the liquid. So you are effectively teaching your baby to bite. Another type of sippy cup is advisable.
And if you do get bitten and the skin is broken use lansinoh and moist wound healing techniques to promote healing (see the sore nipples FAQ). Try and vary your positions so different parts of the breast get pressure. Remember broken skin is more vulnerable to thrush so consider taking probiotics in your diet to lower the risk.Not biting – but indentations
As a baby continues to teeth they may take time to adjust to new teeth. Sometimes an older nursling will need to be reminded to open their mouth wide and can learn from you mimicking a ‘big wide mouth’. Don’t be hesitant about breaking an uncomfortable latch and trying again. Again varying nursing positions can bring relief to different areas. A nursling who leaves indentations is not going to be nursing effectively (the edge of a tooth doesn’t compress a milk duct very well) so they soon relearn how to ‘milk’ effectively.
Nipples may feel particularly sensitive to teeth when a mother is at certain points in her menstrual cycle or pregnant.