Badass Breast Feeding– Nursing with Teeth

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Anyone who has experienced a baby’s wide-open mouth, full of teeth, come straight for your delicate nipple, has likely felt at least a little shudder of apprehension.

Emily got her first teeth at four months.  This is a milestone at which moms may decide to throw in the breast feeding towel, for fear of the obvious:  getting bitten.  While part of me feels compelled to respect a mom’s personal decision to wean when her baby gets teeth, the other part of me feels really sad.  I can’t imagine how difficult abrupt weaning is emotionally or physically for both mother and child.

Nursing a baby or toddler with teeth is also an event that many people feel the need to comment about.  These comments are often snide, and usually from the commenter’s own insecurity.  “Isn’t he a little old to be nursing?” or, “Aren’t you scared to nurse that baby with all those teeth?”

Physiologically, a baby has to stick out her tongue, over her two new teefers, to latch on, so in most cases, biting is not much of a problem.  Sometimes, a baby will nip the nip out of curiosity, or to soothe teething pain.  In this case, if you give a (usually involuntary) yelp, firmly say “NO biting!” the problem should fix its self.  Nursing manners are important, after all.

 Sure, I have been bitten.  I admit, it isn’t pleasant.  Emily actually bit me before she even had teeth.  She was born with a very tight latch, and her gums were enough to open up a wound on the tip of my right nipple that didn’t heal until around 11-12 weeks into the nursing relationship.  I should note that this nipple was already vulnerable after nursing through Emily’s tongue-tie, thrush, and mastitis.

I wish I had taken a picture of this wound, because it really was one for the medical journals.  When I flashed it at my husband after he wondered why I cried every time Emily nursed, he nearly passed out.  My amazing and knowledgable lactation consultant looked at it in wonder and horror before declaring, “Um, yeeaaahhh. . .  I’ve never actually seen anything like that before.”

At one point, I was nursing Emily in the pediatrician’s office.  I had brought her in for a well-baby check, and when she unlatched so she could be examined, her face was covered in a crimson sheen of my blood.  She looked like a baby-vampire, and her MD was kind enough to mitigate my humiliation by joking about how popular vampires are these days.  “It’s just a little extra iron for her,” she chuckled.

This wound actually bought me a ticket to a wound clinic, where they turned me away, saying that the only way it would heal would be if baby weaned.  And that wasn’t my plan.  Thanks, but no thanks.

What I did decide, in conjunction with my beautiful IBCLC, was to nurse solely on the non-damaged breast, and to let the wounded one just dry up.  Psychologically, this was a difficult decision for me, because I was afraid of having to supplement with formula.  But the pain was causing depressive symptoms, affect my relationship with my family, and making me loathe and dread nursing my baby.

I gradually decreasing nursing sessions over a few days on the damaged side.  I dealt with the engorgement by using ice, motrin, and stuffing cabbage leaves in my bra.  In a wonderful twist that surprised everyone, the wound healed up within a few days, and I was actually able to fully restore my milk supply on that side.

I have a crescent shaped scar on the tip of that nipple, to this day.  It reminds me that I’ve fought too hard for this nursing relationship to wean over a few teeth, or the fear of getting bitten!

Of course, they do not give out awards for the most badass breast feeding mom.  It is not a competition, and anyway, who could judge what a mom does or doesn’t do in a situation like that.  I had amazing supports in place to enable my creativity, and everything worked out for me. Sadly, not every nursing mom has such a support system.

I share this with you in order to point out that when Emily and ten teeth close in on my breast, I try not to  cringe.  Like I said, she has bit me a couple times.  It startled us both, but in the end, was really no big deal.  There was no blood or lingering trauma of any kind.

Actually, while I frequently hear of nipple trauma from new moms, I don’t think I have ever heard of nipple trauma from the mother of an older baby, so that kind of puts my fear into perspective, for me.

In the end, a lot of motherhood or parenting has to do with perspective.  Our babies nurse for such a short time over the course of their lives.  So, yeah, Emily has teeth, and I know that it scares and concerns some people that I am still nursing her.  But that is their problem, not mine.  My son self-weaned at 23 months.  I remember feeling slightly embarrassed or secretive of the fact that he was nursing after 12 months.  I decided I did not want to feel that way with my daughter, and have adjusted my mindset to celebrate our breast feeding for as long as it continues.

So, while I won’t be accepting the “Badass Breast Feeding Mom of the Year Award,” I will be reaping the priceless rewards of an awesome nursing relationship.

Happily, I accept this reward every time Emily flashes me that toothy grin and makes the sign for “MILK” with her chubby, little hand.

Note from Charlotte:  After publishing this post, I spoke with a few moms who were wounded by their older, toothier baby.  Nipple trauma of any kind can be exquisitely painful, scary, and emotionally challenging.  My post and perspective was not meant to invalidate or minimize any other nursing mom’s experience, merely to tell my own story, and celebrate my triumph.  I greatly appreciate hearing other perspectives from other moms!  Thank you so much for sharing!   

 

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8 responses »

  1. What a great post. Can’t believe you had it that bad and still carried on! My little girl has her first teeth through at 4 months and I carried on feeding her. Got the odd nip but you have to think that babies aren’t daft either, even at that age they are going to know that that isn’t going to get them very far!
    Such a great Bond if you can do it!

    • Thank you, thank you! It is so great to hear from other bfing moms about something for which I have such passion. No, babies are much smarter than we even know! They are amazing… it is just a shame they are only babies but for such a short time.

  2. You said, “I don’t think I have ever heard of nipple trauma from the mother of an older baby, so that kind of puts things in perspective.” It *does* happen sometimes, unfortunately. 😦 When Samuel was 12 months old it happened with us (and badly) http://atlantamomofthree.wordpress.com/2012/09/16/healing-from-babys-bite/ Thankfully, I did find a solution to help aid in the healing and I am still breastfeeding now at 15 months, but I promise you the idea of weaning was VERY tempting through it all. I knew the pain would be temporary, though, so I struggled through it. 🙂

    • Ugh. That sounds really rough ! It must be additionally frustrating to get through all the rough patches of the early days only to get wounded so far down the line. Thank you for letting me know your story! I’m glad you healed.

    • Valerie, I did just read your post. I can’t believe that peroxide helped, wow! I had such a sensitivity to anything on my nips, I could never have gotten away with that. I was advised to use hibiclens at one point, and it made my thrush come back. Anyhoo, I found that the best thing for sore nips is extra virgin coconut oil. It has natural antifungal and antibacterial properties and it feels great! Let’s keep our fingers crossed, though, for no more nursing traumas!

      • My nipple was SUPER sore and hurt even with water touching it in the shower, but I was desperate so I tried the peroxide. It didn’t hurt at all (or, no more than water did) but it foamed (indicating it was picking up on something). I was happily surprised that it didn’t hurt. Cool about the coconut oil!! 🙂

  3. Pingback: Why I Love Nursing a Toddler and Why I Do NOT Think it is Weird or Gross | momasteblog

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