Parents have been asking me a mouthful of questions about biting. Let me sink my teeth into this one and provide some information on this topic.
First of all, biting should not occur with breastfeeding, since it is impossible to nurse and bite at the same time. When baby is sucking at the breast, their tongue covers the bottom teeth and gum. When baby is not doing this, mothers will report that is when biting can occur.
If biting happens during a nursing session, make sure your baby opens wide when latching or relatching on. Remove your baby from the breast if you feel your infant is done. If your baby is not interested in feeding, don’t force them. Your baby will likely not have their tongue over the teeth and biting can ensue.
Biting can also happen when a baby is teething. For most babies this behavior is temporary and lasts only a few days or weeks. With teething, substitute a teething toy or something cold to bite on instead of a parent. Biting may also be a sign of affection in that it gets your attention. Your baby may not realize that this is not the type of attention that will make you smile.
What if your older infant or toddler is biting other children? Realize that your child is not actively trying to cause pain or hurt other children. They just want some attention. This behavior commonly occurs between 1 ½ and 2 ½ years of age. That’s when a child doesn’t yet have the language to express needs, so they communicate through an action like biting.
To prevent biting, try to remove your child from the activity where the biting occurs. Or you can put your focus on the person bitten rather than your own child.
Whatever you do, don’t bite your child back. Biting back doesn’t work to stop this behavior, and may reinforce it continuing instead. You can also show your child in a gentle manner that biting is not pleasant. You can press their forearm against their own upper teeth to feel the pressure. This could help them to realize that more pressure can really hurt, and that may do the trick.
Hopefully, tips like these will be easy ones to bite into to help your infant or toddler stop their biting behavior.
Lewis First, MD, is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Robert Larner, M.D. College of Medicine at the University of Vermont. You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and MyNBC 5, or visit the “First with Kids” video archives at www.UVMHealth.org/MedCenterFirstWithKids.