Some new moms think that once their newborns sprout teeth, breast-feeding will suddenly become very painful, and they may consider weaning at that point.
There’s no need. Teething shouldn’t have much impact on your nursing relationship. In fact, your baby might need comfort when their gums are hurting, and your breast has been their greatest source of comfort until now.
When to Stop Breast-Feeding
Breast milk, as you have undoubtedly heard, is nature’s perfect food. And not just for newborns.
It provides ideal nutrition and immunity benefits throughout infancy, into toddlerhood, and beyond, if you choose to keep breast-feeding your older child. Your child will nurse less as they begin eating solid food. Once you’ve established a good nursing relationship that you both enjoy, there’s no reason to stop at the onset of teething.
When to wean is a very personal decision. Maybe you’re ready to have your body back to yourself, or you want your child to learn other soothing strategies — hopefully some that don’t require your participation. And there’s no mistaking a child that’s self-weaning — you can’t convince them to keep nursing. Either way, teething should have nothing to do with it.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breast-feeding for at least a year, in conjunction with solid foods after six months. According to the Centers for Disease Control, however, though 80 percent of women start out breast-feeding, only about 50 percent are still breast-feeding at all by six months and less than 30 percent are still going at a year.
If you do wean your baby before they turn 1, you’ll have to start giving them formula.
Won’t Breast-Feeding Hurt Once Baby Has Teeth?
Teeth actually don’t enter into breast-feeding at all. When latched properly, your baby’s tongue is between their bottom teeth and your nipple. So if they’re actually nursing, they can’t be biting.
Does that mean they’ll never bite you? If only it were so simple.
Your baby may experiment with biting once their teeth come in, and that can create some awkward — and painful — moments.
Now is the time to invest in some good teething toys. Some are filled with liquid and meant to be put in the freezer so the cold can soothe the gums. However, it is safer to just refrigerate these and to make sure the liquid in them is nontoxic.
Which Teething Toy Should I Buy?
There are a lot of options when it comes to teething toys. Here are a few options to get you started.
Sophie the Giraffe Teether, $22, 4.5 stars
Nuby Icybite Teething Keys, $5, 4.5 stars
Comotomo Silicone Baby Teether, $7, 4.5 stars
Whatever toy you get, offer it to your baby if they start to bite you.
Once Bitten, Twice Shy
Those sharp little teeth hurt and the bite comes by surprise. It can be hard not to yell, but try to suppress it. Some babies find your exclamation amusing and may keep biting to get another reaction.
If you can, it’s best to calmly say, “No biting,” and take them off the breast. You might even want to put them down on the floor for a few moments to drive home the point that biting and nursing are not compatible. You don’t need to leave them on the floor for long, and you can even keep nursing after a short break. But break it off again if they bite.
However, if you stop nursing after they bite, you let them know that biting was an effective way to communicate that they didn’t want any more.
In that case, you’ll need to focus on preventing the biting from happening in the first place. If your baby is biting at the end of a feeding, you’ll want to watch them carefully to figure out when they’re getting restless so you can take them off the breast before they communicate their displeasure so artlessly.
If they bite when they fall asleep with the nipple in their mouth (some babies do this if they feel the nipple slipping out), make sure to take them off before, or as soon as, they fall asleep.
If they bite at the beginning of a feeding, you may have just misunderstood their need to teethe as a need to feed. If you’re not sure you’re getting it right, you can offer your baby a finger before you offer your breast. If they suck, they’re ready to nurse. If they bite, give them a toy to teethe on.
If they sometimes take a bottle and you notice them biting the bottle, you might want to follow the same protocol to reinforce the fact that biting while drinking milk is not kosher.
The Good News
Biting can quickly turn breast-feeding from a tender bonding ritual to a tense and painful event. Even if they’re not biting, you’ll be worrying that they might. Luckily, babies quickly learn that biting and breast-feeding don’t mix. It’ll probably only take your baby a couple of days to shelve that ugly habit.
And what if your child is a late bloomer in the dental department? You won’t be worried about biting, but you might be wondering whether they can start solids at the same time as their toothy peers.
They sure can! Teeth are little more than window dressing when it comes to baby’s first ventures with food. You’ll be giving them soft foods and purees anyway, and they’ll do a great job gumming them, just like kids with teeth do.