My baby bit my nipple while breastfeeding, and I yelled at them. They’re now scared of me, and I’m scared of them biting me again. It’s breaking my heart. How can we move through this?

Excerpt from Asking for a Pregnant Friend: 101 Answers to Questions Women Are Too Embarrassed to Ask about Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Motherhood

Dang those little nipple biters. I remember the first time it happened to me. An ungodly pain ripped through my chest, I arched my back, unintentionally chomped the side of my tongue, and held my breath, unable to look down. I was sure my nipple had been beheaded. When I finally peeked, I expected to see a wicked grin on my six-month-old’s face. Instead I saw his perfect, soft, squishy, innocent sleep face. “How can something so adorable do something so evil?” I thought. Thus began the one-month nightmare of living in breastfeeding purgatory.

Hudson had inexplicably developed the habit of chomping on my nipple while falling asleep. As the nipple would start sliding out of his mouth, he would clamp down. It felt personal, and it pissed me off. “How dare you bite me when I’m feeding you my milk.” Sometimes I would actually say that. One time I flicked him so hard on the cheek he started to cry. Then I started to cry. During the few biting encounters when I could hold it together, I’d slide my finger between his gums, break the latch, and refuse to nurse him until the memory of the trauma faded. No one was happy. But after a month, it just stopped and we started liking each other again.

My story is not unique. I’ve had countless women call me, crying that they’d screamed at their baby after being bit. Many said the reaction made their baby hesitant to nurse. And, not surprisingly, the mothers were hesitant to hand over the nipple.

I’ll start to break down the cruel phenomenon of nipple biting by first stating the obvious: your baby is not biting you because they secretly hate you. Here are a few reasons why this oh-so-unfortunate scenario might be occurring:

-The biting is a reflex. Just like the reflex to root, suck, swallow, and gag, babies sometimes have the instinct to bite.

-You baby is teething and wants to chew on everything. Everything.

-Their brain is curious about cause and effect, so they chomp the nip to see what happens.

-They have a cold or an ear infection. If baby has a hard time swallowing because of a stuffy nose or pain in the ear, they might be inclined to bite when nursing. Luckily, that should cease when the cold or infection clears up. In the meantime, get them in a sitting position while nursing and use a humidifier as often as possible. If they’re tugging on their ear, take them to the pediatrician for treatment for a potential ear infection.

What to do

Kindly ask your baby not to bite, as they’re very responsive to logical requests. What’s that you say? Your baby doesn’t acquiesce when you request they sleep through the night, stop puking on your favorite shirt, and not pee on you while changing their diaper? Well in that case, here are a few ideas for surviving the biting phase. Solidarity, my sore-nippled sister.

Be vigilant about positioning. Baby will be less likely to bite when their head is angled back, their tummy is pressed against your upper abdomen, and they have a deep latch. When they have this good latch and are actively nursing, they can’t bite, as their tongue will be covering their lower teeth or gums.

Learn the pre-biting signs. Start paying attention to what your baby is doing right before they bite, as this can help you remove the nipple before it turns into a teething tool. For example, Hudson would bite when he was really drowsy. Some babies bite when they’ve emptied the breast but are still sucking for comfort. Other babies are prone to biting when they’re teething, so if they seem to be extra fussy and are cutting teeth, be wary. I’ve also heard of babies biting when they get distracted and turn their head away from mama’s body. Another big sign of a potential, impending bite is baby pulling their tongue back.

Make sure baby is on a “loaded” breast. As I mentioned before, babies don’t bite when they’re swallowing. So pay attention to how full the breast they’re feeding off is, and switch to the other side when it seems nearly drained. This helps prevent the lull in swallowing that can lead to a bite.

Unlatch baby with your finger. While your first instinct may be to yank baby away from your breast when they bite, this could further damage the offended nipple. Instead, slip your finger between their gums to break the latch. When you feel the release — you might also hear a little pop — remove the nipple tout suite.

Stop nursing, but not forever. After baby bites, stop nursing to inform them that nursing can’t continue after a bite. However, when the bite’s no longer fresh in everyone’s mind (I’m talkin’ around fifteen minutes, not many days), you’re probably safe to recommence nursing.

Offer something else for them to chew on. If you suspect baby is using your nipple as a teether, give them something else to gnaw on. When Hudson went through this, I kept a few teethers by my prime breastfeeding locations and swapped my nipple for a teether as soon as he stopped consistently swallowing.

Don’t beat yourself up for a loud reaction. While we obviously don’t want to respond to a bit nip with a physical action that could hurt the baby, it’s only natural that you yelp, or curse, or let out some other loud noise. I can almost guarantee you didn’t stop to think, “Hmm, what kind of noise can I make that will scare my baby?” No, I’ll bet it just happened, because that’s what happens when a private part (or any part) is bit out of nowhere. Your baby might cry or look offended at your noise-of-not-choice, but you did nothing wrong and don’t need to feel guilty.

Apologize. Not feeling guilty is easier said than done. So if that guilt is sparked after you’ve screamed bloody nipple, just apologize — it’s a classic way to make amends. While baby can’t fully understand your apology, they will be soothed by your calm voice and loving facial expression. And they get over slights shockingly fast.

Don’t wean, unless you were wanting to wean before the biting started. If you love breastfeeding, don’t let the biting scare you away, as it will likely be a short-lived phase.

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