Is Nipple Confusion Actually a Thing?

By Carrie Bruno

January 30, 2020

Carrie is the founder of The Mama Coach. She is a RN, IBCLC lactation consultant, sleep consultant and mama of two little guys. She leads the North American team of Mama Coaches and is committed to making motherhood easier.

Are we the ones confused about nipple confusion?!

If you breastfed your babies in the past or are pregnant, planning to breastfeed your baby then you’ve likely heard of nipple confusion. Told that introducing a bottle or a soother can sabotage your baby’s likelihood of successfully breastfeeding to some degree due to nipple confusion but do we truly understand what nipple confusion is and why the belief of it circulates our society today?!

By definition, nipple confusion is referred to when babies used to sucking from the nipple of a bottle have a difficult time transitioning back to or downright refuse to suckle from the breast which can be due to a variety of reasons.

Today mama, we’re going to get rid of that confusion — as a Registered Nurse and Lactation Consultant having worked with more mamas and breastfeeding babies than I can count, I believe it’s more a matter of nipple preference than it is confusing for our babies.

At even only days old they can link work of suckling to the return volume of milk they receive so while we’re saying confused, I say oh, so smart. Catching on quickly that they don’t have to work nearly as hard to get milk from a silicone nipple, often dripping from the nipple with the gravity of a tilted downwards bottle. Whereas your breast can require an effective latch and suckling for a few seconds to upwards of a minute before the flow of breast milk begins with your let down.

How then do you introduce a bottle while still successfully breastfeeding — here are a couple of important tips to ensure that the transition from breast to bottle and back again is smooth and successful for both you and baby:

1. Ensure breastfeeding is well established before introducing a bottle or a soother, this is often around six to eight weeks of age
2. If a “top-up” is medically recommended and breastfeeding is not well established, ask your provider to teach you finger feeding or how to use the supplemental nursing system at the breast instead
3. Check out: paced bottle feeding practices and positioning to further simulate breastfeeding
4. If your baby is struggling to transition between the breast and a bottle, work with a Lactation Consultant to ensure there are no underlying feeding or supply concerns

And remember mama, you are not alone in this journey and your mental health will always matter, so if you find yourself longing for the day you can have an evening out with your partner, when you can take a bath, or perhaps simply sleep through one-night feeding, that’s OKAY! The introduction of a bottle or soother does not make you a bad mama or mean that you’re sabotaging your breastfeeding journey because when taking a slow, educated and informed approach, you and your baby will have time to experiment and learn what works best while still achieving all of your breastfeeding goals.

Like all things in Motherhood, yours will always be unique to any other mama and will always be about finding what works for you and your family, regardless of what that looks like to others! If you find yourself feeling uncertain, anxious or with questions about introducing a bottle or soother, I encourage you to reach out to your local Mama Coach. We can both in-home and virtual feeding services where we can work alongside you to create a plan that will work for you, exactly where you’re at, without any judgment.

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