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Slightly over a month ago, Elisabeth started biting. Sometimes by clamping down hard, sometimes just a little nip. And, yes, it is that you’re thinking: she’s biting my nipple. And yes, it’s as unexpectedly painful as you can imagine or remember.

But Elisabeth bites my husband too, usually on the shoulder, sometimes on the leg.  She bites me in those places too.  But I get the brunt of those choppers, all four of them, because I’m the one feeding her. Her biting doesn’t coincide with new teeth, our trip, or any other trigger that I could think of.  Those body bites have given rise to my theory that she’s getting older and has learned that we don’t always understand what she wants, when she wants it and so she bites.  Elisabeth knows something will happen when she bites us.  We might give her Sophie teether, her banana toothbrush, a sippy cup with smoothie or some real food like apple, a teething biscuit, chopped grapes or an apricot.

But when Elisabeth bites me during feeding, something happens then too.  When I can, I try and pick her up and put her down on the floor with a “no bite” sound. The words are basically useless because Elisabeth is too young to understand and an angry tone in my voice doesn’t faze her in the least.  Neither, truthfully, does putting her down most of the time.  She might scoot away or start to laugh but I don’t think she really gets it.  The stories of moms whose babies/toddlers have understood right away that their action was not okay blows me away.  Really? Who are these babies?? Maybe Elisabeth isn’t as sensitive to the injured, firm tone in my voice at this point.  Regardless, my feeding her does stop, even if temporarily.

Elisabeth often bites when she’s nursing, usually at the end of her nursing.  Sometimes it’s like a punctuation mark, as if to say, “Done!”. That’s puzzling because she didn’t always need to announce herself in such a stinging way. Occasionally distractions work.  I giver Elisabeth her lovey to work with, hum a song to her or if it isn’t bedtime, sometimes I tell her a story in a sing-song voice with made-up words.  I pat her back, smooth her sweaty hair and stroke her arms.  Sometimes I keep distractions to a minimum and sometimes I amp them up, depending on when and where she is nursing. In very busy or new places, biting is less, I’ve noticed.  In the usual spots, biting increases.  Boredom and over-tiredness, too, seem to be important factors.

It’s incredible to me how much of our behavior is learned.  Elisabeth has no modesty and would scoot around the house naked if she could.  When modesty is learned, I don’t know.  Knowing our culture of the sexualization of young girls though, I suspect those days aren’t as far off as they were when I was small.  Most of us also learn that we should’t really bite the hand that feeds us, unless we no longer want to be fed. In her case, it’s a breast that supplies about 90% of her food to her.  90% is no small potatoes! Elisabeth is getting so much from our continued breastfeeding: amazing antibodies, key nutrients that she still needs, and much more that benefits her intellectual, social and physical health.  And yet Elisabeth still bites the breast that feeds her! Like modesty, she hasn’t learned this yet either.

So, no, don’t tell me about introducing cow’s milk!  It may save some bites but not all of them. And that kind of trade-off isn’t worth it to me.  There’s also another trade-off: not believing she knows what she needs. Like we did with introducing solids, weaning will be something that she initiates. I believe that even if Elisabeth is small and can’t walk or talk, she knows what she still needs.  I’ve met my goal of one year so everything else from this point on is gravy. But I’ll continue to breastfeed until she gives me the signals that she is moving on. And perhaps this is the beginning of my understanding of what it means to be a parent: constantly muddled; second-guessing yourself and realizing there are multiple reasons for the same action.  But maybe the flip side of that seesaw of balance is that you trust your child to tell you what they need.  For now, that’s good enough for me.

Agree wholeheartedly?  Disagree vehemently?  I’d like to hear your thoughts.  Leave a comment below.  As always, all comments are confidential until approved by me.

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