Nursing a newborn comes with its own set of challenges, especially for a first time mom. Everything from latch problems, to dealing with engorgement, to figuring out the best position to nurse in — it's a lot to handle. In some cases, your baby may have reflexes that make nursing painful and difficult for both of you. A common problem many newborns face is called the clampdown bite reflex and it can make nursing more painful than it should be. But what is clampdown bite and is there a way to fix it?
According to La Leche League International (LLLI,) the clampdown bite reflex is almost always present from birth. It causes the newborn to bite down whenever they swallow or whenever anything is placed in their mouth.
Despite that fact that newborns don't have teeth, the clampdown bite reflex can still cause significant pain for the mother, even causing cracked or bleeding nipples or engorgement from not removing enough milk. Luckily, babies usually outgrow the reflex within a few weeks, but it can be very difficult to deal with in the meantime. Although the reason some babies do and do not have the clampdown bite reflex from birth isn't completely known, LLLI stated that it's more common in babies with difficult or medicated births or when neurological issues are expected.
If your baby has the clampdown bite reflex, there are a few ways to help ease their reflex until they outgrow it or learn how to properly suckle. Baby Care Advice suggested that mothers experiment with nursing positions to find ones that help baby relax their facial muscles. LLLI noted that the football hold may be effective. Additionally, applying warm washcloths to your baby's face may help them relax and lessen their bite, or your can try applying gentle pressure to their chin as they latch on to help them not clamp down.
Although its an incredibly frustrating and painful situation for mothers, it's still possible to nurse (or express your milk and feed baby via bottle or syringe if they're not gaining weight as expected.) With a little bit of help, or simply in their own time, the reflex should disappear and your baby will suckle without biting down.