This blog is written by GoldiLacts Lactation Consulting (IBCLC & CLS)
We’ve all said it: “What am I gonna do when the baby gets teeth?” Some of us counted down the days, nervously watching for those little chompers to pop through our cutie’s little gums, and anxiously awaited the first time they would bite down on our nipples. We may have just gotten comfortable with the whole breastfeeding jam, and now we have to worry about…this?!
For some parents, breastfeeding a teething baby can be an extremely anxious time. Babies’ gums can become extremely inflamed and itchy when they are trying to cut a tooth. They want to explore anything and everything they can get their mouth on to help relieve the discomfort. They start to explore different textures and materials to see what helps relieve the sensitive nerves in their mouths, and sometimes the most comforting thing they can do is bite down on the nipple that has brought so much soothing throughout their lives so far. It just so happens that nipple is on YOUR body, and this sweet little exploratory action of self-soothing HURTS!
The important thing to remember is that this phase is temporary for baby. Once they get the hang of it, teeth should not impact their latch! Some babies may adjust according to which area in their mouth is most affected at the time new teeth are sprouting, but the tongue is actually between the nipple and their bottom teeth. If a baby is actively nursing with a good latch, you shouldn’t feel teeth at all! Once the exploratory and somewhat awkward phase is over, breastfeeding should continue to be comfortable for both the nursing parent and baby for as long as the two of them would like to continue the relationship.
In addition to the nutritional benefits of nursing an infant into their toddler years and well beyond the dental development phase, breastmilk is a natural analgesic, so it actually helps to relieve pain! It also contains powerful antioxidant and anti-microbial properties, which can help prevent bacterial infection and cavities! According to an article by a group of paediatric dentists and biostatisticians (Allison, Walker, Sanders, Yang, Eckert, & Gregor, 2015) in The Journal of Clinical Pediatric Dentistry, titled “Effect of Human Milk and its Components on Streptococcus Mutans Biofilm Formation”, the protein found in breastmilk, Lactoferrin, has been shown to (actually murder) significantly decrease levels of S. mutans, the main bacteria known to fester in our mouths and cause dental caries (a.k.a, cavities). The research continues to show that while breastfed infants are not immune to tooth decay, breastmilk is not the direct cause.
If you are having trouble navigating the teething phase with your breastfed baby, be sure to invest in some durable teething toys and always have something else they can chew on handy when breastfeeding. Purchase a teething necklace that YOU can wear so when they decide they want to turn into a baby shark and prey on your nipple, you can easily offer them something else to soothe their itchy gums.
Try to remember your baby isn’t biting you to inflict pain purposely; they are biting because latching to a breast and using their oral muscles is uncomfortable. They’re just trying to find their way to food as pain-free as they have in the past. Of course, it’s alarming the first couple of times it happens because who wants tiny incisors reminiscent of safety pins being thrust through their nipples (unless you’re paying for some piercings…in which case, go ahead with your bad self!)
In the case of a teething baby, though, a strong negative reaction may elicit fear and therefore create a negative psychological response to breastfeeding if done repeatedly. Try to take a breath, detach as swiftly as you can, and look at babe while you say something like, “That hurts. You can bite this until you’re ready to try again”, then offer a favourite teething toy or chunky necklace. You may have some awkward and painful moments in the beginning, but you’ll find your way and be able to return to nursing as desired - in a way that is comfortable for both of you. We promise you’ll get through this, and you’ll be amazed at how comfortable nursing a toddler with a full set of teeth can be!