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Breastfeeding journeys – toddlers and teeth

I reckon that nobody sits down and reckons that they’ll breastfeed a toddler. 

I mean a teeny, tiny baby is one thing and seems natural, but a hulking big, climbing, wriggling, talking child? 

And then the possibility of teeth.

The bald fact that you are planning on putting something very sensitive (because even though you’ve been through the equivalent of cheese grating your nipples during the early weeks, they are still rather on the sensitive end of the scale when it comes to body parts) into somewhere populated by brand new shiny and more importantly sharp teeth.

Are you utterly crazy?

I mean that has got to be a recipe for a disaster.  Or incredible pain.

But you see, you don’t set out to breastfeed a toddler. 

You start off nursing a perfect, tiny baby and then they grow.  And they are thriving on your milk.  And let’s be honest, if you can make it through the intense hard work of the early weeks, if you make it to the place where suddenly you wake up and its easy, its natural and all it requires is for you to whip out a boob then it does seem a lot easier than the thought of swapping over to bottles and sterilising and the confusion over how to make up formula properly as the guidelines chop and change all over the place.

And so you carry on.

And on.

And you find yourself at six months and ready to start your growing child on solid food and you discover that they don’t just stop needing milk at 6 months, that they will have some solids and some milk. 

And so you carry on.

And on.

And then your little darling starts teething.

Gulp.

Double gulp.

Because you now have the interesting combination of a baby who loves their breastmilk and milky cuddles but also appears to have taken on the persona of Jaws.

The good news is that generally the bottom teeth come first and nature is a wonderful thing and in order to breastfeed your baby will need to stick their tongue out over those sharp nashers and so avoid biting you. 

But then they grow top teeth.  And then they may try and bite.

Now there are two schools of thought, although I’m not sure that the second has actually been bitten, just saying. 

The first school of thought is that its entirely natural to shriek and nearly throw your child across the room the first time they bite you and that 9 times out of 10 the shock will persuade them not to try again in a hurry.  At least this was the case with Bigger.  One loud yelp and nearly landing in the fireplace and she was very much on message about the teeth vs nipple debate.

The second school of thought says you must not make a fuss (uh huh) in case you upset the baby (upset the baby?  I have a new hole in my nipple and milk coming out of the side!) and they start a nursing strike.  I say show me the person who does not react in some way if their nipple is bitten.

We found ourselves in the position that Littler would be nursing until she decided to wean and that we’d just have to get on with it. 

And she was a slow learner.  When I say a slow learner I mean I have lost count of the number of nights when she’d sleepily have a chew rather than a suck.  But we carried on.  And we got through a nursing strike when she had a pretty epic sulk after I had yelped too loudly one night when she’d clamped down rather harder than usual.  And we got through there bit where she went through a phase of pulling off and stretching my nipple between her new teeth. 

But we persisted and we are now in a place where despite her having 7 teeth she knows how to nurse with biting and I know that when she’s teething I need to keep my little finger by the side of her mouth to pop in if she starts looking as if she might have forgotten the difference between Mummy and a sippy cup…

I won’t pretend that there haven’t been times when I haven’t wanted to give up.

I won’t pretend that there are times when I look down and it seems a bit strange to be nursing a big child that can totter up to me, delve into my layers and clearly sign that actually she would like some milk.
But you know what, despite having not intended to nurse past age one, here we are, still doing it and she’s thriving on it.

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Here are a couple of links you might find interesting around ways to prevent a baby biting and ways to help if your baby goes on a nursing strike

If you’d be interested in guest posting about your breastfeeding journey, drop me a message either through this site or Twitter.

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24 comments to Breastfeeding journeys – toddlers and teeth

  • erm…at 4.5 months my little one got teeth. On the top. She started biting. She drew blood! At that point I started expressing and breast-feeding ended I’m afraid. Am I a wuss?

    • Muddling Along

      Not a wuss – there are times when if I didn’t have to carry on breastfeeding I’d stop, many many times, not least when I’ve got to express. I really don’t like expressing

  • Eeeeep! Thanks for the info. I’m definitely in the first school of thought that not shrieking when they bite you is not possible. I’m utterly baffled that anyone would ever want their nipple pierced too.

    I screamed my head off at a bite (and she’s only got 2 bottom teeth) and now The Baby’s sulking :). Will persevere ….

    All of this norky stuff is quite unexpected. Before I got knocked up I imagined breastfeeding would be one of the easier bits of being a mum. Ho Ho Ho :D.

    • Muddling Along

      I still hold by it being easier to just turn over and nurse in the middle of the night rather than sterilise etc but yes it is hard, but still a great thing to do, right?

      The baby will come around. Best thing we did was curl up in bed, both topless and cuddle infront of the TV for an afternoon – my milk monster caved after that amount of undivided attention and boob access

  • Erm, Max was born with a tooth. I had been going to attempt bf’ing with him, after it had gone so badly with Zack (tongue-tied but *I* ended up being the one telling the HV that when he was about 2 months old and he was happily chomping on a bottle by that point!), but I saw that tooth and just couldn’t do it. >_<

  • ChocOrangeCityMum

    I was lucky as my Boy didn’t get teeth until 11 months but I BF till 19 months, he nibbled a few times and once bit me so hard that blood came out instead of milk, ashamed to say I actually slapped his back – not hard and totally instinctive but the little monster just grinned at me.

    Still I carried on and wish I was still BF-ing him, I miss it. :(

  • We had teeth at 20 weeks – top two!

    Funnily enough we never had a problem – she was too keen on having breastmilk to risk the relationship ending!

    You’re absolutely right though – who sets out breastfeeding imagining they’ll still be going in two years time! I certainly never imagined I’d breastfeed until 3 years and 7 months.

    What a great post!

  • Annabel G

    I fed E until 14 months. She was a late teether though and only had about 4 teeth at that point.

    H is just over 2.5yrs now and still feeding. Not with any real regularity but a couple of times per week at bedtime. He can ask for it now with words and even choose which side he wants first. I never thought I’d be breastfeeding a child who could do *that*! Oh, and all bar one stubborn back molar, he has a full complement of teeth.

    My BFing war wounds are fortunately very few. I have been nipped a few times (and I did the shrieking and nearly lobbing baby across the room thing too!), but no drawing of blood or anything lastingly painful. Periods when they have been teething have been uncomfortable and ouchy at times but I think it was just them getting used to the new feel of their mouths and working out how to latch in light of it.

    Like you say, you don’t set out to BF a baby with teeth or a walking-talking toddler, or a pre schooler. You set out to feed your baby, one day at a time, and so it happens as a process, like so much of baby/childhood. And then you reach the point where you become aware you’re BF for longer than you ever planned, but if they’re still asking, it you think it would be stranger to stop than to carry on.

  • Vic

    I think you’re right that most mothers who have ended up feeding longer than a few months didn’t actually anticipate it. I sure didn’t.
    Teeth were ok at first. I guess I made it past the first month or so without being bitten. I was really concsious of option 2 and when I was first bitten I had to clamp my jaw shut to stop myself screaming all manner of obscenities not suitable for a baby’s ear! He’s only done it a couple of times since and I now recognise it’s cos he’s gotten bored but can’t really be bothered to move. Either that or he’s just scared of my scream!

    • Muddling Along

      Bigger was like that – tried biting and realised she was on a fast track to having no milk so decided against it

      I definitely didn’t think I’d still be nursing at this stage – I was planning on mix feeding from 7 months and only going until 1 year… oh well

  • Haha. Not shrieking? Certainly, that must be somewhere out of the Scientology Books…

  • […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Keira O'Mara and Hannah, Hannah. Hannah said: Blogging about breastfeeding and teeth http://j.mp/iju4fj […]

  • GinaW

    I intended to try to bf for the first four months, if I could. Now I have a nearly 2 year old toddler who is still happily demanding BooBoo every evening and morning. I thought she would self wean but not apparently that keen to give up her milky snacks! She has been good when it comes to biting though, as I have a strict policy of ‘Respect the Booby’ which means no biting, no flicking and no seeing how far Mummy’s nipple will stretch. I think I have turned into one of those freaky parents who will bf her child until she is 14 or something… how did this happen???

    • Muddling Along

      I like the idea of respect the boob!

      I started out thinking I’d nurse until 6 months (Mr and I liked the idea of being in the 1%) but then with Bigger went on until 12 months (when I ended up in hospital on a drip with dehydration and very gladly gave up – not that Bigger seemed to notice) – this time around I was aiming on 12 months but the milk protein allergy means I’m still there and still going strong

      Strange how things change when you’re on the ground!

  • I’ve had a few nipping with teeth instances, they are quite painful but usually happen when Miss C has fallen asleep during her bedtime feed. She’s almost 21 months, I never expected to be feeding her this long and I’m really thinking about stopping soon. But then I think, she might be my last baby so I don’t know whether I’m ready to give up that bond yet. She isn’t showing any signs of wanting to stop either!

  • Aly

    Proudly breastfeeding my daughter who’s 3 next month and she starts preschool.No, I never planned to feed her this long.I wanted to do 2 years so yes I had planned to feed a toddler.She has a morning feed and I’ve managed to deny her feeding during the day as I’m a single mum who works from home it had to be done.She has quite easily accepted it and will cuddle up to me instead.Teeth were the one of the reasons I didn’t feed my first beyond 11 1/2 months but had I had the support and knowledge I got when I had the girls I would of carried on.We learnt sign language to help her tell me why she was biting, which was teething.She would suck on a couple of ice cubes before nursing then I would give her herbal powder in the evenings.Well done to everyone who breastfed no matter how long it was for.

  • Elizabeth

    I’m not really sure how long I intend to bf for; baby is 8 months now and I would love to get to at least a year I think.

    She has had 2 teeth from 3 months (as you say, the bottom ones, so no probs there); but then just recently she has got 6 more, including 4 top ones, yikes.

    She does bite from time to time, and I yell loudly when it happens. I can sort of sense when she is about to do it actually, as her latch changes.

    Right now I am hating the pinching, which is seriously ouchy, and apparently her favourite pastime while feeding.

  • I think I was quite lucky with this. I fed both mine until they were a year, and they both had plenty of teeth by then (like a few other comments here, Theo also got his two top ones before the bottom ones) but I think I only got bitten once by each child, and not too badly (though did ‘startle’ with both – how would you not?!). The stretching nipple with teeth thing makes me feel a bit funny!!!!

  • Great post – I too am on the “screech and almost drop the baby” front – and I did that before teeth arrived. A gummy chomp can be excruciating too!

    I was very lucky because when I was pregnant first time around I had some great online inspirational breastfeeding mums to set a fine example to me and I decided I’d bf until it no longer worked for us. Be it a day or a year.

    I’m now tandem bfing my son (4 years and 4 months) and my daughter (21ish) weeks old. My little girl got her first two teeth a few weeks back and so far has only nipped me a few times. I am not looking forward to the boob kneading and nipple stretching that lies ahead either but on the whole I do enjoy bfing.

    I can’t express for toffee anyway and I know the biting stage will pass but I can sympathise to all bitten mums as it doesn’t half ruin the fluffy side of bfing when you are offering boob while curling your toes in anticipation…

    (

  • Patricia

    Thank-you for posting so I know I am not alone! my 18 m/o has been really good in learning not to bite/gnaw, but one of her new teeth is really uncomfortable, and she cries, signs “hurt” when I tell her it is hurting :-( We will work on it though, hoping to get to 2 years :-)

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