Do I Need to Stop Breastfeeding When My Baby Gets Teeth?
Mothers are often curious about how teething will affect their breastfeeding relationship. Sometimes there is concern that baby may bite, or that teething will cause breastfeeding to become uncomfortable. Some mothers may even consider weaning. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that breastfeeding continue for a minimum of two full years, and similarly, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that breastfeeding continue a minimum of one year, and as long thereafter as baby and mother mutually desire. Some mothers may wonder how these recommendations can be applied when most babies cut their first teeth during their first year.
It is important to understand that when a baby is latched on to the breast correctly, his lips are flanged and his gums land far back on the areola (the dark area around the nipple). His bottom teeth are covered by his tongue and do not come in contact with the mother's areola at all. For this reason, a baby who is latched on correctly and actively nursing cannot bite. However, if a baby is latched onto the nipple only, the baby can clamp down and cause pain to the mother's nipple. Good positioning and latch-on techniques can prevent painful bites. (See the FAQ on positioning baby at the breast.)
Many mothers find the real challenge occurs during the time that the baby is actively cutting teeth, rather than after the teeth have erupted. Babies can experience significant discomfort due to teething and will sometimes alter their positioning or latch to avoid hitting the sore spots on their gums. This can cause mothers temporary nipple soreness or discomfort. Here are some suggestions that might help:
- Offer your baby a cold, wet washcloth or a cold teething toy to chew on.
- If baby is eating solids, offer a frozen bagel (or other hard, cold food). As with any food, watch baby closely to avoid choking, and discard the food once it begins to get soggy and disintegrate.
- Try massaging your baby's gums with a clean finger.
- Before using over-the-counter gum numbing preparations, consult your baby's doctor. These products may also numb baby's tongue, and occasionally mother's areola, making breastfeeding difficult.
- Try different nursing positions (see Positioning FAQ), and ensure that the weight of your baby's body is well supported when he is latched on.
- Make sure that baby latches on well every time. Gently remind him to open wide before latching on.
- Before baby will clamp down on the nipple, he has to move his tongue out of the way or risk biting himself. The observant mother can be ready to stick a finger in the corner of his mouth so the clamping is done on the finger and not the nipple.
- Read more suggestions for dealing with biting in our Biting FAQ.
- Consider rinsing your nipples with cool water, as some mothers find that baby's increased saliva from teething irritates the nipples.
- Some mothers find it helpful to apply a 100% lanolin preparation intended for nursing mothers.
On occasion, baby's new teeth can irritate in other ways. A mother may find that baby's teeth leave indentions on her areola, or baby's teeth scrape as he latches on or off. If this happens to you, it might help to:
- Assure that baby opens wide and latches on well.
- Assure that baby is positioned well, and his weight is well supported. Sometimes the weight of baby can drag down the nipple and contribute to the problem.
Around the time that a baby gets teeth, many mothers introduce a sippy cup. Babies often chew on the spouts of these cups and some babies might transfer this same mouth activity to the breast. If you suspect this is happening, here are a few things to try:
- Take a break from the cup for a while.
- Try an open cup (water only for easy clean up).
- Try a cup with a straw and lid.
Many mothers find that continuing to nurse as their baby cuts teeth adds a priceless tool to their toolbox when the joys and challenges of toddlerhood begin. If you are still experiencing difficulties after trying the above suggestions, contact a local La Leche League Leader who can offer more support and information during this milestone in your baby's life.
Resources for Additional Information
THE WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING, NEW 8th Edition, published by La Leche League International, is the most complete resource available for the breastfeeding mother.
THE BREASTFEEDING ANSWER BOOK (2003), p. 478