When Baby Bites

why babies bite and how to teach them not to. CanDoKiddo.com

I have a confession: we have a biter. Not just an every now and then chomper but a full-blown flesh-seeking vampire baby. He bites while breastfeeding, bites shoulders when held, tries to bite the arms of other kids, attempts to bite the dog.

I used to work in a childcare center and I told my husband last night that if Rowan was in daycare, we'd be getting incident reports and having meetings with his caregivers about his lovely little biting habit.  So what can you do when your baby bites?!

Baby Biting - tips for tackling biting while breastfeeding, biting while held and biting other kids. CanDo Kiddo

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Why Is My Baby Biting?

As a pediatric Occupational Therapist, I'm often tasked with trying to figure out WHY a child has a particular behavior - is it sensory, boundary-testing, attention-seeking, a way of communicating, a lack of understanding? Is it meeting some sort of physiological or neurological need. So I put my detective hat on with my own kiddo, too!

I noticed that the biting definitely gets worse when my guy is hungry or tired. Not to say he never bites at other times, but if he's repeatedly lunging mouth-first into my thigh as I'm trying to cook dinner, he's probably ready for his meal, too. The hard part is that these are also times when he seeks close, cuddly physical contact - he wants to snuggle or nurse when he's sleepy or hungry. So I just recently started to offer him some baby signs for "eat" and "sleep" to help him better communicate those needs without the bitemarks and I offer him a paci during our snuggle times so that we can get lots of cuddles in safely.

I also can see that, in our case, the biting doesn't seem aggressive or out of anger or frustration in response to other people (as it often is for toddlers who bite). When it's not a hunger/tiredness cue, it genuinely just looks like the boy wants/needs to chomp on something and flesh feels best (but he'll settle for destroying a board book, the edge of the coffee table or the strap of the diaper bag if necessary).

Teaching Baby Not To Bite

This might sound silly, but I actually act out biting scenarios in play on a regular basis. While we're playing on the floor I'll stop and say,  "Oh, I need to bite! Mommy's teeth are hurting!" and then I'll grab a chew toy and gnaw a bit and then offer it, "Do you want to bite, too?" Or we'll play with the baby doll and I'll open my mouth and dramatically look as if I'm going to bite her, then stop and say "I don't want to hurt her, I'll give her a kiss or a pat-pat instead. Can you give her a kiss or a pat-pat, too?"

Rowan thinks I'm being hilarious but I know he understands. Sometimes now he finds a chew toy, gnaws a bit and then offers it to me. Or he picks up his baby, puts her hand or foot in his mouth and then stops to kiss or pat-pat. This also solidifies some language that I can then use when biting takes place ("I don't want you to hurt Sam the dog, can you give him a pat-pat instead?"). Play is one of the biggest laboratories for our kids to learn so I try to harness the power of our playful moments for teaching. 

Biting While Breastfeeding

Every nursing mom's biggest nightmare - brand new sharp little baby teeth clamping down on one of your most sensitive body parts! I admit the first time I was bitten while nursing (at around 4 months), I screamed and quickly pushed Rowan's cheek away with my fingers. It was reflexive and I felt horrible afterwards (my nipple didn't feel so great either). I tried to come up with a strategy so that I wasn't purely acting on those dramatic instincts when he wielded his sharp new teeth again. Luckily for us, biting while nursing only seems to come in phases (usually corresponding to new teeth). 

Biting and breasfeeding - tips for managing teeth during nursing. CanDo Kiddo

One La Leche League Leader uses the phrase "keep your friends close, but your enemies closer" to help moms remember to push baby into the boob when they bite (which is the EXACT opposite of what you're natural reaction is). The idea is that they release so that they can catch a breath of air. This worked sometimes but not all the time (my bosom may note be, ahem, large enough for this to be 100% effective) and so I opted to just gently pinch the baby's nostrils shut to get the same effect. In about .004 seconds, he unlatches (and doesn't scrape or pull off!) - every time. I tell him that I can't let him bite my body because it hurts and it's not safe.

Our Lactation Consultant assured me that it was normal for babies to bite some but reassured me that he doesn't have a right to hurt me or damage my "milk equipment". If the biting continues more than once in a feeding session, I put him down for a few minutes and tell him I have to keep myself safe and his biting isn't safe for Mommy. And then I try again in 3-5 minutes. Often the biting happens at the end of nursing anyway, when he's "playing" more than eating and so he declines when I re-offer. 

Alternatives To Scolding Or Punishing A Biting Baby

Because scolding and punishing (including biting him back) aren't part of our parenting philosophy at this stage of the game (10 months old), I'm left with the dilemma of what to do when my baby bites me, the dog or another child during playtimes. I know that these tips may not work for everyone or may not fit with everyone's parenting style. I only offer them as ideas from one parent to another, to take or leave. 

Redirecting and Teaching Safe Biting

I always assume my baby understands more language than I think he does (probably a holdover from working with non-verbal kiddos for years - but also because on a daily basis he's proving to me that he DOES understand more than I think he does) and so we tell him, "No bite. That hurts mommy. I have to keep myself safe and biting isn't safe. Do you need to bite on this?" (offering a safe alternative).  Most of the time I now wear a Chewbeads teething necklace {affiliate} and redirect Rowan to chew on that. We also use our Booginheads pacifier straps {affiliate} to clip chewy toys to his shirt so that he always has a safe teether available (and so that we always have one to redirect him to).  From watching his behavior, it seems that at times he just NEEDS to bite and he's definitely still teething.

Moving Away From A Biter

Just like with nursing, if biting continues (and sometimes it does despite teether toys and chewy jewelry) I set Rowan down or move away from him, explaining that I have to keep me safe and that his biting hurts for Mommy. I try not to turn it into a big dramatic scene or a game of chase - setting him up with a toy (preferably a chew-safe one) definitely helps. The dog (his best buddy) gets put outside or in another room if Rowan repeatedly tries to bite him. 

Avoiding The Power Struggle Mentality

I have to remind myself often that he's only been on this planet for 10 months and has a lot of sensations from teething. My job is to help him learn how to handle the 7 little teeth growing in his mouth and figure out how to use them for good and not for hurting. Rather than engage in a power struggle by asserting my might, punishing or scolding, I *try* to use each bite as a teaching moment and remind myself that I'm in his corner, on his team - not against him (note: this is REALLY hard by 6pm on a Friday when I've been flying solo with the mini-vampire all week while Daddy's at work). 

Setting The Stage For Success

We've taken a break from library storytimes lately in part because they're in the late-morning right before lunch and nap -  leaving Rowan primed and ready to sink his teeth into other kids. My husband and I agreed that it was setting him up for constant redirection and endless "I can't let you bite- biting hurts" to let him roam in a crowded room of kids at a "biting time". 

Instead we play with other kids at the park where there's plenty of space or engage with other kids when he's rested and fed. I stay really close (like almost on top of him) if he's having a "biting day" and we're around other kids, so I've always been able to catch him before he clamps down to redirect him to give a gentler touch or move him away if necessary. I do realize this strategy would be nearly impossible in a child care setting or with more than one kiddo, but it's worked well in our case. 

Toddler Biting

Toddler biting can be a bit different from baby biting. Here are some great resources for toddler biting:

Toddler Biting: Why It Happens And How You Can Stop It from Happy Hooligans
When Kids Bite from Picklebums
Managing Biting In The Toddler Environment from Teach Preschool

Chew toys and teether toys for biting babies. Tips for teaching baby not to bite people. CanDo Kiddo

Our Favorite Chewy Toys

Nuby Soft Silicone Teether
Sophie The Giraffe Teether *
Toogli Teether Gem (taken off string and put on Booginheads paci strap)
Honest Company Baby Teether

*I think the larger softer Sophie is more popular but we have a squeaky toys are dog toys policy in our house so no big Sophie for us

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