Breastfeeding while teething

Breastfeeding through the teething process can be uncomfortable for both baby and mom. Tot Lactation Expert Rebecca Agi MS, IBCLC discusses signs of teething, tips for relieving discomfort and ways to avoid those bites!

sad teething baby

Crankiness, constant drooling, night waking, and everything going into the mouth. Sound familiar? Welcome to the wonderful world of teething! When a baby’s first teeth start coming in, the gums can swell and get sore. Sometimes teething can interfere with breastfeeding. While some babies feel better when nursing and never want to stop; others may refuse the breast because sucking makes them uncomfortable. These practical tips can help you and your tot manage some of the discomfort that comes with teething.

In this article we will discuss the following topics in detail.

  1. Signs of teething
  2. Tips for relieving teething discomfort
  3. Baby biting the breast
  4. Whether or not you should wean a teething baby

Signs of Teething

Some babies begin teething at as young as three months. The two front teeth, either upper or lower, usually appear first, followed by the opposite pair. While every child is different, there are a few signs that your baby’s first teeth are starting to come in: 

  • Increased fussiness from swollen and sensitive gums. Teething babies often become cranky and difficult to console.
  • Excessive drooling. The extra saliva can cause a rash around the mouth and on the chin. 
  • Swollen and tender gums around the new teeth. If you look closely, you may even be able to see or feel the outline of the teeth before they cut through. 
  • Rejecting the breast or bottle. Some babies find that sucking irritates their gums, and this can make feedings uncomfortable for them and challenging for you. 
  • Increased night waking. Teething is one of the most common causes of frequent night waking for babies between six and 24 months old. Don’t worry though, it won’t last forever. 
  • Loose stool or diarrhea. This is generally mild and does not require any special treatment.
  • Biting or chewing. Teething babies occasionally bite to relieve some of the pain and will chew on anything they can get their hands on. 
  • Low-grade fever, less than 101 degrees Fahrenheit or 38.3 degrees Celsius. If the fever is higher, contact your healthcare provider.

Although many of these symptoms may accompany teething, they can also signal an infection or virus. As always, contact your healthcare provider if you are concerned or if any of these conditions persist. 

Tips for Relieving Discomfort

Once your baby starts teething, these interventions can help: 

  • Offer a clean and cold, wet washcloth prior to feedings. Whether your baby is on the breast, the bottle, or both, offering a chilled or frozen washcloth to suck on prior to feedings can help numb the gums and make feedings more comfortable. 
  • Massage the gums. Massaging your baby’s swollen gums with a clean finger can help alleviate some of the pain. An ice cube or frozen breast milk in a mesh feeder can also provide some relief.
  • Breastfeed on demand. Some babies want to breastfeed more often while teething; others want to breastfeed less. Following your baby’s lead will make it more enjoyable for the both of you. 

According to the US FDA, topical anesthetics like Orajel/benzocaine and viscous lidocaine are not recommended for teething infants because they pose serious health risks. These types of products can also numb the baby’s tongue and lips and make breastfeeding very difficult.

Biting during Breastfeeding

Unfortunately, some babies bite the nipple at some point during the teething process, but of course they do not know that biting hurts. Teaching your breastfeeding baby what to do with those new teeth will help them learn quickly. 

If your baby keeps biting during breastfeeding, the following strategies can help:

  • Ensure a proper, deep latch. When a baby is latched on correctly and actively breastfeeding, he can’t actually bite. The nipple should be far back in the baby’s mouth, with the lips and gums on the areola and the tongue resting on top of the lower gum. So even with teeth, the baby should not bite while actively breastfeeding. 
  • Focus on the feeding. Some babies bite to get your attention. To prevent biting, give your baby your complete attention while nursing. Make eye contact, relax and talk softly to your baby. This can decrease the odds of biting and also alert you when your baby is about to bite. 
  • Follow your baby’s lead. If your baby is not interested in feeding or pushes you away, simply try again later. Don’t pressure them to feed when they don’t want to. 
  • Learn to recognize the end of a feeding. Many times babies bite down when they are full, to signal they are done breastfeeding. If you notice your baby’s suck and swallow pattern really slowing down, you can break the suction and unlatch him before he bites. 
  • Release the nipple. When the baby bites, slip a finger between the baby’s gums to release your nipple rather than pulling the baby off the breast. This can help prevent nipple soreness and discomfort.
  • End the feeding. This is an effective method for dealing with a biting baby. Simply take the baby off the breast and calmly but firmly say, “Mommy is not for biting. You can bite this,” and offer a teether or cold washcloth instead. Offering more breast milk at this point is like giving a reward for incorrect behavior, so wait at least 10 minutes before offering the breast again. Babies learn very quickly that biting results in separation from the breast. 

Does teething mean I have to wean?

No! Teething does not mean that your baby is ready to wean. Many mothers continue nursing their babies even long after all of their teeth have come in. As long as the baby is latched on correctly, the breastfeeding journey can continue as long as both of you want it to. 

 

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