Definition of tugging, clamping, and biting

What are tugging, clamping, and biting?

Tugging, clamping, and biting during breastfeeding can cause nipple pain and damage. Tugging happens when the baby pulls back while latched onto the breast. Clamping occurs when the mouth closes on the nipple and areola with more force than needed to remain latched. The top gums, and top front teeth if present, make contact with the areola, but the bottom gums and teeth are covered by the tongue, so they are less likely to cause pain. Biting occurs when the tongue is pulled back and the top and bottom gums or front teeth are suddenly in contact with the nipple or areola.

A) Painful breastfeeding caused by the baby’s behaviour at the breast

Breastfeeding mothers can have nipple pain and damage for a variety of reasons, including the baby’s behaviour at the breast which include: tugging, clamping, and biting. They have a variety of causes and the behaviour should be addressed. Trauma from the baby’s teeth can also cause nipple or areolar pain and damage.

B) Tugging

Tugging occurs when the baby pulls back while still latched onto the breast. They may suddenly turn their heads toward a distraction such as a loud voice or person entering the room. This has been called “nip-lash” (nipple and whiplash) and can be painful.

C) Clamping

Clamping occurs when the mouth closes excessively on the nipple and areola during breastfeeding. This excess pressure can cause pain and even damage of the nipple and areola. The top gums and, if present, top front teeth (incisors) are in contact with the areola and can also cause pain and damage. The lower gums and, if present, lower front teeth (incisors) are covered by the tongue, so they are less likely to cause problems while the baby is tugging or clamping.

D) Biting and other problems caused by teeth

Biting happens when the tongue is pulled back and the top and bottom front gums (or front teeth if present) are both suddenly in contact with the nipple or areola. When biting, the baby is no longer latched.

Pain from teeth can start as soon as the teeth are present but babies do not necessarily bite because of teething.

Abnormal teeth can cause pain and damage of the nipple and areola.

A baby’s top teeth may cause a wound on the areola if the baby breastfeeds for extended periods. This type of skin damage is caused by pressure from the baby's teeth.