I’m a cuddly mom. I love getting in there, giving bunny kisses, tickling noses. When they were still babies, my girls got ever so excited about this curly-haired mom in their face. The giggles, the wet bubbles, the kicking legs, the eyes growing wide with delight… I could do all that over again today.
But if I think hard enough, flashes of me recoiling from a baby fist yanking my hair, from baby fingers pinching and scratching my face, are burnt somewhere in my memory. In fact, I can now clearly remember my annoyance at these darling little babes who seemingly delighted in hurting me so often when I came close. It was like playing Russian roulette.
That, after I got up for them at night and cleaned their poo. In my slept-deprived state I may even have taken it personally.
I’ve since spoken to many a mom who remember being bitten and clawed at by her breastfeeding baby, and occasionally, like me, ended up irritated and seriously annoyed. Swiftly followed by the guilt. Babies are babies, how dare I get upset?
And all I want to do now is hold them in my arms again, tickling tummies and counting toes.
So what is the correct response when baby hurts us?
Obviously they don’t mean to hurt (I’m spelling it out for the vulnerable mom who may suspect otherwise). They’re discovering their pincer grasp, playfully exploring cause and effect – look! Mama makes a face! – and trying to reciprocate your gentle nudges.
Scolding or screaming at your baby, then, is clearly the wrong approach. Explaining to baby in adult language exactly why they should stop pulling may also not land well. And for goodness’ sake, don’t hit back.
Wrangle your hair free, tie it up next time, and file down the sharp little finger nails.
When you do get hurt, gently say “no”, shake your head, explain to baby that it hurts (“owie”), and play or speak to them from far enough so they can’t hurt you for a minute. It may elicit a few more giggles but eventually, as your baby’s language abilities develop, they’ll realise that it’s not fun for mom.
Show them what you do enjoy, say “gently, gently” and take their little hand in yours, stroking your arm or cheek. You’ll have to keep doing this all the way into toddlerhood, when they may get a new sibling or kitten.
When baby bites while breastfeeding, don’t pull baby away, whatever you do. Instead, gently press baby into your bosom for a second and then pry your pinkie into his mouth to separate the gums. The fun eventually passes and they get over it.
So, this is your safe space. If you’re fed-up with your cute baby biting, scratching or poking your eye out, feel free to let us know, anonymously if you like. Send your stories to firstname.lastname@example.org and we may publish them.