They may not have the teeth of a toddler yet but many babies do develop toddler behaviors early. By about seven months old, my baby had four teeth, and he used them often on my shoulder, arm, hand, and anything he could leave four perfect painful square bites on. Looking to the internet, friends, and parenting books I quickly realized that the common cures for toddler biting wouldn’t work on an infant. This also wasn’t an infant nipple biting while nursing; it was just flat out biting.
Why was my baby biting me?
There are actually a couple of reason an infant will try to take a chunk out of a parent or anyone else holding them for that matter. The first reason could be teething. Teething hurts and worse it itches. (I know I’m getting my wisdom teeth at 25.) This is why a teething baby mouths everything, but some babies discover the pressure of biting feels even better than mouthing and then you have a biter on your hands. A baby doesn’t realize that biting you hurts, all they know is it makes them feel better. The behavior is often reinforced by the surprised, painful, or amused reactions of the person being bitten. Your baby bites you, you react in this new and interesting way, and the biting continues.
Another reason for infant biting can be excitement. Certain babies (mine included) will bite onto usually shoulders when they become overwhelmed or stimulated. It’s their way of saying, “It’s too much!” The last reason which is right down the same drool stream is stress or frustration. Toddlers and some babies also throw tantrums in these situations, but other babies unable to voice their anger, stress, or aggravation at being unable to do something resort to biting. Kind of like the way you just want to scream into a pillow sometimes and let it all out. Rest assured that at this age your baby may be biting out of anger, but it’s not being used like a form of punishment the way an kid may get mad and punch another kid. Your baby isn’t trying to hurt anyone and doesn’t understand the concept of violence even.
What can you do about a baby that bites?
What not to do about infant biting:
A suggestion many other parents made to me was, “bite him back”. This approach does work with older children from most parents. They bite, they see biting hurts a lot, and they stop; however most infants don’t have the cognitive ability to make this connection yet. Likewise common suggestions like lemon or hot sauce will also not be effective in most cases.
The third most common suggestion was to yell in pain super loud and scare the baby every time it bit. This method goes right back to the reaction pile. While some babies may react well to this method, others will think this reaction is hilarious and bite even more. The other catch is if the bite was out of over stimulation, scaring the baby is not going to help. It may even prompt a full on tantrum.
What to do about infant biting:
With a baby the most effective approach is actually similar to time-out. When your baby bites you set the baby down in a safe place and appear to pay them no attention for at least 30 seconds. This does several things. It removes the baby from the position to bite in the case of teething. It removes the baby from stimulation in the case of excitement, provides a short breather in the case of stress, and it also reinforces that biting is a no-no because it loses the attention of care givers.
When you catch your baby biting you can also say “no” and touch a finger to their mouth so they clearly associate what the no is about. Younger babies may not quite grasp the meaning of no for quite some time, but it never hurts to start early.
Upon picking the baby back up you may want to offer something to chew on in the event of teething.
You may also find helpful:
Tips for Handling Infant Tantrums
Five Ways to Safely Relieve Teething Pain
Are Hyland’s Teething Tablets Safe?
Babies Today: My Baby Bites!
Baby Center on Infant Biting