Can I Keep Breastfeeding once my Baby Begins Teething?
Of course! Teething can present some new challenges but breastmilk continues to be the best food for your baby. Sometimes when the teeth are moving under the gums and as they pop through the gums, your baby may be uncomfortable and unhappy. Nursing can come to the rescue and help sooth in those fussy times. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) encourages breastfeeding for at least a year and as long as mother and baby choose to continue. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends breastfeeding for at least two years. These organizations know that extended nursing provides many benefits for baby and mother and that, with the right approach and techniques, teething can be managed in a way that is mutually acceptable to both mother and baby.
It is important to remember that when the baby is breastfeeding, his tongue extends beyond the bottom gum to draw in the nipple. This helps cushion the nipple from the edges of the new baby teeth. The baby’s lips are flanged (folded out) over the areola and the baby’s gums are compressing on the areola (the dark skin around the nipple), far behind the nipple itself.
Often the greater discomfort for baby is when the teeth are moving under the gums preparing to erupt. The pressure on the gums can be very uncomfortable and clamping down on something firm can feel good.
Here are some tips that others have found effective:
- Offer a frozen wet washcloth or a wet washcloth wrapped around an ice cube. These may help numb the gums, allowing baby to latch and settle into the feeding before the gums become painful again.
- Massage the gums with your clean finger
- Do some hand expression before latching to get the milk flowing. It may help baby settle into feeding more quickly.
- Try different positions (See Positioning FAQ). Changing pressure points can be more comfortable for your nipples. Remind your baby to open wide. Have baby’s head tilted back slightly. These ideas all help you be more aware of how your baby is latching, just like when your were first learning after birth.
- Observe baby’s jaw. Mothers often comment that they can sense the jaw tightening or feel the tongue shifting, usually toward the end of the feeding, and if they can remove their baby quickly and offer the cold washcloth or a soft teether, the baby can work the discomfort out that way. After a few minutes, baby may be able to resume breastfeeding.
- Watch to see if baby is getting more fidgety. This may be a signal that he may clamp down. Break the suction and play a little or offer the washcloth or teether, then resume nursing at the other breast if baby keeps rooting.
- Some mothers find if they just say the baby’s name or hug him closer it distracts from the intent to clamp.
- Others will use a cue word or phrase, like “no bite” or “we don’t bite” as they break the suction to help the baby understand the action and the consequence.
- If baby actually bites at the breast, break the suction immediately and hand him the cold washcloth or teether as mentioned above. If he starts rooting again, offer the breast again, but do not persist if he clamps down again. Find other ways to comfort him. See our Biting FAQ.
- Avoid bottles and pacifiers, as they will not protest if bitten or chewed on. If your baby receives bottles while you are separated for work or school, let the caregiver know that this should be avoided. If baby is old enough and able to use a sippy cup or cup with a straw, this may help as long as baby is not allowed to bite on these, either.
You may be wondering if you should continue to breastfeed if, despite all the ideas above, the baby does clamp down firmly enough to break the skin. Yes, just keep the area clean by washing with soap and water and applying a bit of household antibiotic ointment after each feeding until it heals. You may find applying some 100% lanolin cream can also be soothing.
It may also help to remember that this is just a stage and like other phases a baby or child goes through, it doesn’t last long. It may repeat, however, as new teeth emerge. How comforting for you both to know that the soothing techniques you learn now will be helpful even as teeth further back begin to move. Although they are not likely to cause direct nipple pain, it is still uncomfortable. Your loving arms, the soothing reassurance of your milk, and comforting nursing will help your little one cope during these “teething times.”
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.
The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding. 8th edition, La Leche League
American Academy of Pediatrics Policy Statement on Breastfeeding and the Use of Human Milk
World Health Organization Global Strategy on Exclusive Breastfeeding