Stopping tugging, clamping, or biting

How do I stop my baby from tugging, clamping, and biting?

If your baby is tugging, clamping, or biting at the breast, take the baby off and try to determine the problem. Addressing it usually stops the behaviour. You can use a soft, higher-pitched voice to reward good behaviour, a louder, deeper voice to show you are unhappy, or a loud scolding voice to tell the baby the behaviour is very wrong. If it continues, you can pinch the nose to get the baby off the breast, continue scolding for a few seconds, and, if necessary, isolate the baby in a crib or other safe place for a few minutes. If your baby is generally unhappy and has a tendency to tug, clamp, or bite, your milk supply may be low.

A) Basic management of tugging, clamping, and biting

Babies don’t realize they are causing pain but the situation does need to be dealt with. If your baby is tugging, clamping, or biting:

  1. Take the baby off the breast.
  2. Try to determine what is bothering the baby.
  3. Address the problem.
  4. Return the baby to the breast if the baby is still hungry.
  5. Ensure the baby is healthy and gaining normally.

Addressing the problem generally stops the behaviour.

B) Avoid reinforcing the behaviour

Babies who experiment with biting sometimes smile or laugh when you jump. As cute and lovable as your baby is, resist the urge to smile back as this only reinforces their behaviour.

C) Teach your baby to behave

If your baby is growing well but continues to act up at the breast, especially by biting, you may need to be more assertive. Consider the following approach. Ensure that you are firm and consistent.

At each breastfeed:

  1. Use a “reward voice” when appropriate to let your baby know you are happy with the baby’s behaviour. This voice is soft, higher-pitched, and singsong-like.
  2. When the baby is about to do something unwanted, say “no” or “stop that” in a warning voice. The warning voice is louder and lower-pitched. Use it to let your baby know you are unhappy with their behaviour.
  3. If the baby continues with the unwanted behaviour:
    1. Scold the baby. The “scolding voice” is loud and deep. It should be loud enough to let the baby know the behaviour is very wrong but not so loud that it scares the baby.
    2. Immediately take the baby off the breast by pinching the baby’s nose closed for two or three seconds.
    3. Continue scolding the baby for a few seconds. They need to understand that this behaviour is not allowed.
    4. If the baby still misbehaves at the breast, you can isolate the baby in a crib or other safe area for a few minutes right after the behaviour. Just put them down and walk away. Isolating a baby is quite upsetting for them and is a form of punishment.

It is never fun to discipline a baby, but bad behaviour at the breast must be stopped. It can cause pain and damage to the areola and nipple, especially when the baby has teeth. It can even lead to the mother weaning the baby.

This approach usually works within one week.