Breastfeeding your teething baby may seem daunting, but it’s entirely manageable. In fact, breastfeeding can be one of the best tools for comforting your baby through the discomfort of teething.
The late-night wakings, the drool (THE DROOL!), pearly white chompers, the fear for your nipples.
Yep, we’re talking about breastfeeding your teething baby.
There’s no doubt about it: Teething can be a challenging time for parents and babies alike. For babies, it’s physically painful to sprout new teeth. For parents, it’s distressing to see their little ones in discomfort. What’s more, you may worry about how teething can impact your breastfeeding journey.
We’re here to reassure you: It doesn’t have to.
All about teething
There are some things about parenting that no one looks forward to—and teething is one of them. Each baby sprouts teeth on its timeline. Some babies start getting their milk teeth at the tender age of 3 or 4 months old. Others don’t pop their teeth until 1 year or later. The average age? Around 6 months.
A new tooth takes a little more than a week to come in. You may see symptoms of teething show up 3 or 4 days before the tooth actually shows, and they can last through when the tooth fully erupts. These symptoms include:
Fussiness and irritability
Difficulty falling or staying asleep
More drool than usual
Swelling or inflammation of gums
Rash around the mouth
Mild temperature (Less than 100.4)
Biting, chewing, or gnawing
These symptoms often show up in breastfeeding behavior. For example, your baby may constantly want to nurse, or they may avoid nursing. Swollen gums may make latching more difficult, or they may try biting or chewing while on the breast.
This might make you cringe and reconsider breastfeeding at all. Remember that they’re looking for ways to relieve discomfort. The pressure on their gums as teeth begin to erupt can be highly uncomfortable—clamping down on something can feel good.
Note that not all babies experience significant discomfort during teething. What’s more, even if they do, getting new teeth often gets more manageable as your baby gets older. What is initially an aching pain at 5 months old may become more manageable when they are 8 months old.
Nursing and teething babies
Is breastfeeding a baby with teeth worrying you? It shouldn’t. When babies are nursing correctly, their tongue moves past their gums to draw in the nipple, meaning their tongue shields your nipple from their teeth. What’s more, babies use their gums to compress the areola to express milk. So even if babies have a mouth full of teeth, they don’t need them at all to get milk.
That being said, if your baby does bite in response to teething discomfort, there are lots of things you can try to help him, or her manage the pain.
Give your baby a frozen washcloth before nursing to help numb their gums. Another option? Breast milk popsicles or mesh feeder bags with frozen breast milk subes to chew on for comfort.
Massage your baby’s gums with a clean finger.
Hand express before latching—quicker access to breast milk may help your baby focus on nursing more quickly and easily.
If your baby is old enough, you may be able to give them an age-appropriate dose of baby Tylenol/acetaminophen. (But always check with your baby’s healthcare provider before doing so.)
Adjust breastfeeding positions to shift pressure points and help your baby find a more comfortable latch.
Pay attention to your baby’s feeding patterns. If you sense your baby is slowing down his or her feeding, fidgeting, shifting the tongue, or tightening the jaw, unlatch your baby and offer him or her a cold washcloth or teething toy to relieve discomfort. After your baby has had a chance to bite or chew, try breastfeeding again.
Consider distracting your baby during nursing. For example, sing a song, give them a toy to play with, nurse in a new location, or simply talk to them.
What’s more, breast milk has analgesic and anti-inflammatory qualities. That means that your breast milk itself can help reduce pain and discomfort for your baby.
If your baby bites
Break suction immediately and offer him or her a cold washcloth or teething toy.
Calmly tell your baby, “No biting!”
If your baby wants to nurse again, offer the breast—but if he or she bites or clamps down again, discontinue and find another way to comfort him or her.
If your baby bites or clamps down hard enough to break the skin, wash the area with soap and water and apply antibiotic cream after each feeding until the injury has healed.
What if my baby won’t nurse when teething?
This situation can be just as concerning as biting—sometimes even more so. You want to be sure your baby is well-nourished, after all!
Start by checking if your baby has a temperature over 100.4 or for any other sign of illness. If your baby is otherwise fine, try the suggestions above (offering a cold washcloth or teething toy, changing nursing positions, etc.). If those don’t work, offer your baby expressed milk in a cup or a bottle.
However, if biting is a problem, discourage your baby from chewing or biting on the bottle nipple. You want to prevent your baby from developing problematic feeding behaviors!
Teething remedies to avoid
Orajel/benzocaine, viscous lidocaine, and other topical anesthetics. These solutions pose serious health risks to infants and young children. Moreover, they numb your baby’s mouth and make breastfeeding more difficult. As of 2012, the FDA has recommended against the use of benzocaine products in children under 2 years old as they may lead to a rare but serious condition known as methemoglobinemia.
Homeopathic teeth tablets and gels. While homeopathic remedies often present themselves as safer and more natural, they are unregulated by the FDA and contain dangerous substances. For example, in 2017, the FDA found inconsistent levels of belladonna, a toxic plant, in homeopathic teething tablets, sometimes exceeding the amount on the label.
Teething necklaces. Amber and hazelwood necklaces claim to diminish teething pain, but they pose a severe risk for strangulation and choking
Clove oil. Some homeopathic medical practitioners recommend clove oil for teething pain, but clove oil may lead to seizures, liver damage, and fluid imbalances if ingested by children.
Teething doesn’t last forever
Late nights, crabby babies, and, yes, drool. Teething isn’t easy, but it’s a short stage. Within a week, your baby will be back to his or her old self. And as pointed out, teething often gets easier to deal with as your baby gets older. Not only does he or she become more accustomed to the sensation of teething, but you also learn the best techniques to soothe your little one.
Your Journey, Our Support
Even though you’re not the one teething, you might feel overwhelmed. We’re here to help you figure out what works for you and your teething baby. Book a convenient online video appointment with a Nest Collaborative IBCLC and get support today!
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