The long weeks and months leading up to the eruption of your baby’s first tooth can feel long and difficult. Subsequent teeth can also be a distressful and unpleasant time for your little one. There are many remedies out there to help with teething. But does breastfeeding really soothe a teething baby? For most moms, breastfeeding is one of the most natural ways to relieve discomfort during this time. I have felt breastfeeding has helped in my experience of two infants who have gone through this.
Does breastfeeding soothe a teething baby? For a lot of babies, breastfeeding soothes a teething baby through the action of suckling at the breast along with skin to skin contact. When your baby is nursing, be that for comfort or nutritive feeding, it can help relieve any discomfort or pain your infant may be going through.
This article discusses some of the studies carried out that have demonstrated how nursing can have a pain-relieving effect. Breastfeeding your baby for example during an uncomfortable procedure such as a heel prick test or a vaccination. We can take from these studies that nursing at the breast whether for feeding or comfort will soothe a baby when they are feeling discomfort. I have also briefly discussed other issues such as signs of teething in a breastfed baby. Tips to help if it becomes difficult feeding a breastfed baby and different ways your baby can find relief when teething.
Does breastfeeding soothe a teething baby
Although not directly linked with teething, research has been carried out to test how effective breastfeeding acts as a pain reliever when babies are undergoing uncomfortable or painful procedures.
This study showed that breastfeeding throughout a painful procedure acts as an analgesic in term neonates and is at least as potent as the combination of sweet solutions and a pacifier. Breastfeeding effectively reduces the response to pain during minor invasive procedures in term neonates.
Another study in 2013 was undertaken to determine the effect of breastfeeding on pain relief on full-term neonates when receiving an immunization. This is often an uncomfortable and painful procedure for babies. The results showed that breastfeeding reduces pain and is an effective way to relieve pain for babies when receiving an immunization. The study also suggested the reason as to why breastfeeding appears to act as an analgesic. They include skin to skin contact, maternal odor, antinociceptive effect, the sweet tasting of milk and the act of sucking.
We can take from these studies that breastfeeding does have a pain relieving effect when they are experiencing pain or discomfort. It can be assumed that this could also be the case when a baby is teething.
A lot of mothers may also find that their babies feed more often when they are teething or near to teething. Otherwise known as comfort nursing, this may be due to baby finding comfort at the breast at a time when they are cranky and in distress. Comfort nursing is normal for breastfed babies as it is a way of helping them relax. It also has overall positive effects on their physical and emotional wellbeing. It has been shown that a baby’s heart rate decreases when she is either feeding or comfort feeding on the breast. Studies also showed the smell of milk itself, even without the close presence of the mother was comforting.
Whether for teething or any other need for comfort, suckling at the breast is usually the answer to whatever is troubling your baby. It has the added bonus of getting a feed and sleep-inducing hormones along the way. When feeding, hormones released by suckling and absorption of milk fat induce relaxation and pain relief. The sweet taste of breastmilk stimulates a narcotic-like effect in the brain, decreasing the perception of pain.
Skin to skin contact is more likely when breastfeeding your baby and this brings its own benefits. It is also known from studies that pain is also relieved and baby feels more secure being close to her mother. Stress and blood pressure is reduced and helps stabilize body temperature and breathing rates. This will inevitably make a difficult time like teething more bearable and easier to cope with for both mom and baby.
Signs of teething in breastfed babies
For babies who are breastfed, there are some specific signs that a tooth may be coming soon. This includes:
- Some babies experience gum discomfort when nursing and may pull off and cry and fuss and not want to continue
- Other babies may want to continue to nurse, and the movements of feeding may provide comfort
- ‘Gumming’ or ‘chewing’ on the breast may occur which can result in sore nipples for mom
- Teething babies can sometimes bite down to relieve their discomfort
Along with these signs other generalized signs of teething include:
- Excessive amounts of drool is a common feature with teething; this should subside when an episode of teething has ended
- Nighttime fussiness. Frequent waking and disruption of naps due to the pain and discomfort of teething
- Attempting to bite, chew and suck on everything in sight
- Swollen gums. The area appears red and inflamed.
- Irritability. Along with the signs of drooling and swollen gums, your baby seems irritable and difficult to settle. They can show signs like rubbing their face, pulling their ears and crying for no other apparent reason.
Breastfeeding a teething baby
Breastfeeding can often be a challenge when a baby is going through the teething process. This can be painful and uncomfortable for a breastfeeding mom. One of the most common issues is biting at the breast when feeding. Swollen and painful gums can cause your baby to bite down to relieve discomfort.
Feeding in a laid back position can help as it frees one hand to intervene if your baby does bite. When your baby is latched on correctly, biting should not be a problem. This is because the nipple will be positioned towards the back of your baby’s mouth at the soft palate. However, if your baby begins to slip off, have your little finger placed at the corner of their mouth. Then place your finger into the side of their mouth between the gums and take her off the breast.
If you feel that your baby is biting at the breast for comfort during comfort nursing, gently take your baby away from the breast. You can offer her something else such as a cool teething ring or a cold, wet washcloth to relieve their pain.
When feeding, keep baby close to you with their nose free to breathe. The closer they are, the less likely they are to slip off and bite you. Try to give your baby your complete attention when nursing as they will be less likely to bite.
If your baby catches you off guard, try to stay calm and not react as your baby may refuse to feed further if startled. The article “Breastfeeding a teething baby” gives a thorough guide to the main issues you will encounter during this time and tips to deter your baby from biting.
How can I help my baby with teething pain
One of the most common ways to soothe teething pain is to offer a teething toy or washcloth that has been cooled in the refrigerator. They can gum and bite on these to give some relief. You can also put some ice cubes or crushed ice in a cloth and tie at the end with a strong elastic band which can have a soothing effect.
If your infant has started solids, you can offer cubed foods that they can gnaw at, which can also have a cooling effect. For example, a chilled cucumber or melon. You can also use a clean finger or washcloth to rub baby’s gums as this pressure can ease your baby’s pain and discomfort.
If you feel these attempts do not have much effect you may need to try some pain relieving medication. Acetaminophen or ibuprofen can be used to relieve more severe pain. These can be also be given 20-30 minutes before a feed to make it easier to nurse.
Do babies nurse more when teething
As mentioned above, nursing can provide relief and have a soothing effect. Some babies tend to nurse more at night when they are teething. During the night there are fewer distractions. Your baby may want to nurse as this will be their primary source of comfort to ease their symptoms.
However, this is not the case for all teething babies who find that nursing can become more uncomfortable. Instead, baby can become fussy at the breast and at times refuse to nurse.
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