From everything that I read before beginning to breastfeed, I thought that nipple confusion was the end all to nursing and THE thing to prevent from happening. In my mind, it was one of the worst things that could happen to you and your baby. Now I’ve been nursing at least one baby for eight years, and I know better. There are worse things that can happen than nipple confusion. Mastitis, thrush, or dealing with a poor latch are all more painful than nipple confusion.
Nipple confusion is when a young baby is introduced to too many different types of nipples. . .a bottle, a pacifier and/or the mother’s breast. Each type of nipple requires a different type of sucking and for whatever reason the baby gets ‘confused’. Nipple confusion may actually lead to the baby rejecting the breast entirely, and can also lead to serious latch on problems.
The truth is though, that most babies switch easily from breast to bottle to pacifier without ever getting confused. Babies instinctively need to suck and most babies are quite content to suck on anything. However, a few babies do find the transition hard and I can tell you that it is so much easier to prevent nipple confusion than it is to deal with it once it happens. This is why breastfeeding books advise so strongly against giving the baby a bottle or pacifier until breastfeeding is well established. (Pacifiers and the occasional bottle can also mess up a mommy’s supply but that’s a topic for another blog!)
My own descent into the mire of nipple confusion began when Meghan, my third baby, had more than your average case of jaundice and ended up in the hospital under a blanket of lights for a whole week. We nicknamed her the vampire baby because of her ability to draw blood and you can click on the link to read more about it. I would not normally give bottles to my babies but the situation was unavoidable. We simply had to get her eating better to get rid of the jaundice, not to mention the fact that I couldn’t be at the hospital for every feeding. Also, in our hospital, breastfeeding interfered with her treatment for jaundice and so I really couldn’t spend the amount of time with her that I needed to in order to build supply and feed her.
Nipple confusion, as I’ve already pointed out, is very hard to fix. It requires patience and a substantial amount of time. Some moms are never able to fix it and give up entirely. If you can avoid bottles and pacifiers you should do so. If you cannot, I highly encourage you to feed your baby expressed milk through either a cup or a medicine dropper. It is not the fastest way, but it is worth it to avoid nipple confusion. These are preventative measures but sometimes your baby might have to receive a bottle (as in the case of hospitalization) or a pacifier (pacifiers are actually recommended for preemies). Tomorrow we will discuss in detail how to unconfused the nipple confused baby.
Added Note: This blog was written assuming that the baby in question is full term and the mom intends to breastfeed exclusively.