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.
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!