When your baby is around 6 months old, it can feel like you’ve finally got breastfeeding nailed. You and your baby have successfully established a good breastfeeding routine, he feeds with limited drama or fuss and his timings are relatively predictable, meaning you no longer feed on demand or hear unexpected hunger cries when going about your day. Suddenly however, everything starts to change again. Your baby becomes fussy and agitated on the breast, they may refuse to latch, go on nursing strike or clamp down on your breast during a feed. It’s easy to wonder what’s gone wrong, but if your baby is between 6 and 9 months old, there is usually one pretty common cause of their irritability.
After a bit of investigation, you may learn that your baby is showing the first signs of teething – drooling, red swollen gums or even the tips of some new pearly whites breaking through the surface. Don’t panic – just because your baby is teething does not mean you need to stop breastfeeding.
Here are some tips to help breastfeeding when your baby is teething:
- Most Moms worry that their baby will bite during breastfeeding and I would be lying if I said it never happens. However, it’s worth remembering that when effectively latched, most babies tongues will completely cover their bottom teeth; making it very difficult to bite whilst actively nursing. What is more common however, is that babies might clamp down or bite at the start or end of a feed – either through frustration at the speed of letdown, or because they are starting to tire or relax. To prevent this, keep a close eye on your baby during the feed and recognise when they are actively nursing. When they show signs of slowing down, you may wish to unlatch them and settle them against your chest to avoid the risk of any discomfort.
- If your baby isn’t biting but you can feel teeth resting against your nipple, you may want to change your breastfeeding position. Sometimes the simple sensation of a tooth resting against your areola can be uncomfortable; so shifting how you are sat or holding your baby in a more upright position can help.
- If your baby is very drooly and dribbly, consider offering them a teething aid prior to their feeds, providing them with something to chew and bite on other than you! The process of gumming and biting a cooling teether toy can help ease the resistance or tightness in their gums and reduce any frustration or pain they may be feeling.
- If your baby is very fussy on the breast, it may be that they are finding the actual process of nursing quite painful and therefore resist or go on nursing strike. A topical teething pain relief around 30 minutes before a feed can help numb their gums and make them more willing to have a feed. This worked particularly well with my daughter. I also found feeding when she was more tired or sleepy was met with less resistance than when she was wide awake.
- If your baby does accidentally bite or clamp down whilst nursing, try not to shout out in pain (as difficult as this may be). Scaring or shocking your baby can make them nervous about feeding and actually cause more breastfeeding challenges along the way. Instead, simply remove them from the breast and calmly tell them that it hurts. Whilst at this age they won’t fully understand the concept of ‘no’; they will gradually learn the cause and effect of their actions – and that biting Mom makes nursing stop.
One thing’s for sure, a breastfeeding journey always comes with a range of unique challenges, but remember each one is a phase – you are doing an amazing job!