I managed to avoid nipple confusion with both of my children. With that said, my journey into breastfeeding was not easy, and it wasn’t smooth sailing by any definition.
The struggle was real with my first baby.
But both of my children ended up guzzling happily from the boob, bottle and, now that they are toddlers, bowl. Yup! They will invert a container of yummy goodness and bring it up to their mouths, sucking down any remnants in the bowl… Not a problem!
I had no idea that nipple confusion was even a thing until my learning journey and troubles with breastfeeding with my first daughter.
I had NEVER been aware of this term until my first daughter was born.
So in case you are in the same boat that I was, have never heard of it before and are questioning whether or not I am taking the piss, let me enlighten you as to what NC (nipple confusion) is.
What is Nipple Confusion?
Nipple confusion is when a child struggles to adapt to sucking the various types of nipples that you present it with (bottle, boob, dummy, nipple guard).
Most babies can do the switch from breast to bottle and back again. Your baby may learn to suck on a bottle or dummy and find it hard or even refuse to go back to booby.
To be extra honest, when I first heard the term used by the midwife at the Alice Spring Hospital, I giggled a bit before asking what it was (with my best ‘WTF’ look painted on my face).
My daughter was tongue-tied. It meant that she had flaps of skin holding her tongue too close against the bottom of her mouth and another that didn’t allow her lip to flip upwards.
It resulted in her not being able to create the formation of her mouth that she needed to latch to my big old boob properly. The unfortunate thing had no hope of sucking any milk out of that thing until I fixed it.
I snipped her ties, and after a few days, I had retrained her and myself to do the boob well, but the result of her not being able to open her mouth was that she had practically ripped my nipples to bits.
Breastfeeding was a harrowing event in the first few weeks.
While I was still at the hospital, my mum suggested using nipple guards (another term I had never heard of before… and another immature giggle from me). She told me that these would protect the delicate skin that was remaining and lessen the excruciating pain that I was experiencing every time I feed my baby due to her inability to latch. She had created a crevice between the outer of my nipple and the areola… seriously, my nipples were a mess.
My mother also suggested alternating between breastfeeding and bottle feeding with expressed milk to give my nipples time to heal.
I thought it sounded brilliant and approached one of the midwives to see what she thought and where I could get my hands on these nifty little devices.
ME: ‘Can I use nipple guards? Can I alternate between bottle and boob? Would that make it easier?’
CRANKY AND OVERWORKED MIDWIFE: ‘That is certainly not a good idea. It will create nipple confusion…’
ME: ‘Nipple huh? Say what?’ (insert stupid adolescent giggle)
She said that it was more convenient for the baby to draw milk from my breast using nipple guards and bottles, and it may result in her not wanting to breastfeed.
Latching problems can be different from nipple confusion. As an example, some mothers have firm breast tissue, or some babies may have lip and tongue ties.
If you have ANY CONCERNS about feeding at all, it is always best to see a feeding expert or infant feeding specialist.
Is Nipple Confusion Real?
Most babies can go from breast to bottle and back again. Some babies find it easy to transition; others may take a little more time and patience to master the art of the nipple switcheroo.
The term nipple confusion itself can be a bit misleading. I thought it sounded bizarre.
Nipple confusion doesn’t mean that it is confused about what a nipple is. It is merely that your baby finds it more convenient to bottle-feed and may be reluctant to breastfeed.
Both of my babies fed from my breast and a bottle. We chose to do this very early so that their dad could be involved and form a bond with them. I would express milk, and he would give it to them from a bottle (it also meant that he could do some of the night feeds when I was too exhausted).
It didn’t matter what my children were drinking from; they didn’t get confused. Nipple, bottle, nipple guards, they were happy to take any of them.
However, nipple confusion does occur, and it took some patient prodding for my children to go back to my boob after being fed from a bottle.
Why Does Nipple Confusion Occur?
Nipple confusion occurs after a baby switches back to the breast after feeding on a bottle. Some babies find it difficult after a few bottles, some after one, some not at all.
It is easier for your baby to get milk when sucking from a bottle than from your breast.
Some people will tell you that nipple confusion is due to your baby being lazy.
Your baby is not lazy. You are not failing; you are not a bad mom.
Your child is a genius.
Your baby has to work harder to get your milk to come down and out of your breast. It is not the case for a bottle.
It is due to gravity and the bottle’s design for quick and continuous flow for the baby.
So for some babies, you can imagine their revolt to have your booby nipple presented back in front of them after they have been feeding on a bottle.
You can imagine some babies thinking, ‘Why would I do that and put in all of that effort when I can take the smarter road and use the other milk-expelling device that you gave me before?’
Your baby isn’t lazy… he or she is a genius.
Have you been a regular gym-goer for some time and then stopped? Often, just the thought of taking up your exercise regime makes you cringe.
Because you know it is hard work; you know it will take effort. Think of your baby’s reluctance to go back to the breast as a bit like this.
But just like most things we don’t like doing, if you encourage them enough and give them the right support, they may take it back up again.
I used to be a great speller too until I started using computers at college and discovered the word dictionary… I am now a terrible speller. You may call it laziness, but I think it is working smarter, not harder.
Let us change the word nipple confusion to nipple bias. Your baby develops a preference, a favourite. It is no longer nipple-neutral due to experience.
Why is Nipple Confusion a Problem?
Nipple confusion may result in the following:
- You may experience sore nipples because the baby’s mouth is not latching onto your breast adequately.
- Low breast milk supply can be a result of incorrect sucking patterns and technique. On some occasions, babies might reject your breast for an extended period which can lessen your milk supply as your body may respond to it by ‘drying up’.
- Your baby may reject your nipple because it finds a bottle easier.
How Can You Avoid Nipple Confusion
It may be that you have chosen to and can breastfeed exclusively. That is amazing.
I myself felt the pressure and wanted so desperately to breastfeed exclusively, but my situation didn’t allow it. If you can and choose to, you will not have to worry about nipple confusion. You will be providing your baby with one great choice.
You and your baby will learn to feed together, and you will do great!
Exclusively Bottle Feed
You may have decided not to breastfeed, or you may have trouble or not be able to breastfeed.
You are also amazing!
Just like women who exclusively breastfeed, you don’t have to be concerned with nipple confusion as you will also be providing them with one fantastic choice.
Together, you will be great.
Delay bottle or pacifier until breastfeeding is well-established.
There is no telling if your baby will or will not get nipple-confused or biased towards their nipple preference.
Many experts will recommend that you try and hold off giving your little one a bottle or dummy/pacifier until they have a great handle on breastfeeding.
Do this if it is possible.
However, sometimes things that don’t make this possible happen in life. You may also want to have a break now and then or let dad give a bottle so that he feels involved. Whatever your choice, it is acceptable.
A happy mom is the MOST IMPORTANT THING.
Alternate bottle and breast early.
Another opinion is to alternate between bottle and breast early. That is the course that I went down for a number of reasons.
Some mothers and parents have already decided before their children are born that they would like to alternate between bottle and boob.
Some mothers are unable to breastfeed.
Some mothers take a while to get used to the idea of breastfeeding.
Some mothers (like me) don’t find breastfeeding as easy as others and have to work on it together with their baby and learn.
Some mothers have to or choose to go back to work after having a baby.
Some parents like the idea of both parents being able to bond during the feeding of their baby or want a break now and then.
All of these are also okay. I am writing all of these down because each is fine. There is zero judgment here.
Mom, you are terrific; your decisions are marvellous.
Both of my children were being given a bottle every so often from their second or third week of age.
Now, It may be that my children enjoy their food like me (I still enjoy eating a lot. I don’t care if I have utensils, chopsticks or my hands. It doesn’t matter… I enjoy food), but
I believe that they were happy to drink from anything because we chose to alternate between boob and bottle early.
Please be comfortable in making the best decision for you and what you need as a mother.
Encourage the baby to hold their mouth the same way for bottle and breast.
Nipples that are on bottles are different from the shape and feel of a mother’s breast.
Babies have to use different techniques to latch and draw milk from bottles and breasts.
You can encourage your baby to approach the bottle and breast in the same way, with a big open mouth, tongue out and taking the bottle deep into their mouth.
See a feeding specialist.
When in doubt, call in the professionals! During my problems with breastfeeding, I wish that I had booked in BEFORE I had issues.
A specialist can provide you with the best options and show you the right latching techniques for all types of feeding choices. Take the stress out of it and speak and learn from someone supportive who knows.
Use natural bottles.
Some bottles are designed to help with sucking issues!
Some bottles are designed to replicate a woman’s breast nipple so that transitioning between bottle and boob isn’t so… confusing.
What to Do if Your Baby is Nipple-Confused
If your baby is nipple-confused and you want to get them back on the breast after bottle, here are some things that you can utilise during this time.
Continue to express milk to keep your breast milk supply flowing.
Your body is smart.
Generally, if you stop using breast milk, your body will recognise this and start producing less or ‘dry up.’ If you keep using breast milk, your body will continue to create and supply it.
If you want to continue to breastfeed but are having trouble or unable to, express milk often to make sure you keep your milk supply up. You can store any extra milk that you have in the freezer for later use or donate it.
See a breastfeeding counsellor or infant feeding specialist.
If in doubt or feeling overwhelmed, always seek help. That is a basic rule that does not mean you are weak, helpless, useless or doing a lousy job.
Mum, you ARE FANTASTICALLY KICK ARSE and getting help to get what you need is SUPER STRONG.
You now know that your baby is a genius. They are working smarter, not harder.
Be patient with them and YOURSELF. Continue to offer the breast. Your baby is heavily opinionated about their nipple partiality due to what they have discovered is easier. It may take some time to sway them to go back to the breast.
It’s much like eating a sandwich filling that you don’t like. If you do it often enough, eventually you will begin to get used to it… and maybe even like it
Encourage and support.
I mean this for both YOU and YOUR BABY. Encourage and support them to go back to the breast if this is what you want. But encourage and support yourself as well.
Call on your support network to be with you when you need them to be. Get them to be around to be there at times of feeding if you need. Write and read positive affirmations about how great you are and how amazing you and your baby are together.
Ask other moms who have dealt with nipple confusion and use their tips and ideas. It does take a village to raise a child.
Expectations can be the devil at this time. Being stressed can also reduce your milk supply. You might be tired and frustrated or feel desperate to get your baby back on your boob. Not only will this stress you out, but your baby will also read your energy.
They are smart little humans. They know you are not okay… they react to your moods and the feeling they get from you.
If you are distressed, they will become distressed and unsettled. Do what you need to stay calm. Take a break if you need to. Try again a bit later or call on your support network.
Don’t beat yourself up over it.
One of the most significant lessons I’ve learnt through my years of being a mom is not to beat myself up. I learnt this after beating myself up over EVERYTHING.
Sometimes, things don’t go to plan. I am not dismissive; I am honest.
My first birth didn’t go to plan.
My relationship with my girl’s father didn’t go to plan.
My first breastfeeding journey didn’t go to plan.
It didn’t happen the way I had envisaged it, and I was devastated. I found every reason possible to self-blame.
I spent a lot of time mistrusting my abilities and being disappointed.
The time I spent doing this was a time that I lost where I could have been enjoying my children.
The topic of feeding your baby can be an emotionally driven conversation for many moms. I have seen many ‘mommy rivalries’ break out over this subject.
Mom’s from both sides (and people who aren’t mom’s or even parents) can get point-blank nasty and disgrace dissenters.
I am not partisan to any side of the story.
I think breastfeeding is fantastic if you can and choose to do so. I also believe that bottle-feeding your baby is excellent if you decide to do so.
And then, if you choose to do both, that is also fantastic, if you can and decide to do so.
I know that this is not an article that places breastfeeding versus bottle-feeding as its main point of discussion, but it is bound to start it up….
Because I mentioned both.
But quite frankly, enough is enough.
I have read and lived the arguments for both sides, and at the end of the day, mom, do what you
can and what is right for you, your baby, your situation, your life and your bloody mental health!
I was a mom who wanted to do everything by the book, and if it had of worked out that way, I probably would have.
But it didn’t, and I do not feel guilty or apologetic for it.
Breastfeeding didn’t come naturally to me till later, and by then I had heart-to-heart discussions with my children’s father that he wanted to be involved in this process where possible.
Whatever you choose is right for you. I raise my hat, my boob, my bottle, and my bloody wine
Glass to you.
I am standing with you, mum. I’ve had good and not-so-good times too.
We are waiting to hear your experiences because if we want our kids to be excellent, we have to be awesome too, and we need other moms to let us be awesome by standing together as mothers—not breastfeeding mothers, not bottle-feeding mothers, just as mothers.
YOU FRICKEN GO, MUM. x
P.S.: I read this article to my partner and asked him if it was both informative and entertaining. He responded with, "I am a man. Anything to do with nipples is exciting…"