Definition of Nipple Confusion
Nipple Confusion means a baby is having difficulty latching correctly to the breast after being exposed to artificial nipples, such as those found on baby bottles or pacifiers.
What Age Is Nipple Confusion Most Common?
Nipple Confusion is most common in breastfed babies that are given artificial nipples in the first 6 weeks, but can occur in babies 3 months old or older. The older a baby is and the more he has figured out breastfeeding, meaning the baby (and the mother) know what a good latch feels like, less likely baby will become confused by the introduction of an artificial nipple.
Why Does Nipple Confusion Occur?
Nipple Confusion occurs because human nipples and artificial nipples are fundamentally different.
- They have a different feel
- They are shaped differently
- They release milk (from the breast), formula (from a bottle) or nothing (from a pacifier) in different ways
- They require different tongue placement
So when a newborn or young baby who isn’t yet a breastfeeding pro is introduced to a either a bottle nipple or a pacifier or both, the baby must learn a new way to hold the nipple in the mouth and new tongue placement. The more frequently the nipples are switched, the longer it takes for baby to get used to any of them and the more “confused” and frustrated baby will become.
The Effects of Nipple Confusion
Breastfeeding can be a real challenge with getting the right hold, supporting baby in the right way, getting a perfect latch, and encouraging baby to trigger let downs. When a baby is introduced to artificial nipples too early, and begins to suffer Nipple Confusion the baby may forget how to latch correctly or may have become too lazy (from the easy flow of a bottle) or too tired (from hours of sucking on a pacifier) to breastfeed effectively.
When this happens baby often begins to reject the breast by refusing to latch correctly or maintain the latch or by being very fussy at the breast. When this begins to happen many parents reintroduce the pacifier to calm the baby or give the baby a bottle for nutrition. This leads to poor milk removal from the breast which begins the breast shut down process. Once on this path most babies become exclusively formula fed.
How to Avoid Nipple Confusion
The simplest way to avoid Nipple Confusion is to not introduce any kind of artificial nipple to the baby until breastfeeding is very well established:
- Baby has a perfect latch
- No nipple soreness or pain
- Good milk supply
- Good weight gain by baby and following a growth curve
- Baby is at least 6 weeks old, preferably 3 months old
After these are all met it is generally considered safe to introduce an artificial nipple. If introducing a bottle nipple to give breast milk or formula, it’s best to select a size zero or newborn size so that baby doesn’t not develop flow preference. A baby with flow preference will begin to reject the breast because it doesn’t flow as fast or as easy as milk from a bottle.
How to Correct Nipple Confusion
If your baby is exhibiting signs of Nipple Confusion you are at significant risk of losing your milk supply and needing to exclusively formula feed your baby. Here’s the steps to correct nipple confusion:
- Stop giving all artificial nipples – if this is not possible, for instance if you are away from baby for extended periods and a bottle must be given, choose a size zero or newborn size nipple that is shaped as close to your nipple as possible and have the caregiver latch baby to the bottle in much the same way you would latch to the breast.
- Insist on perfect latches when you breastfeed. Be prepared that it may take up to 10 minutes of trying to get the latch right before you get a perfect latch. Just keep in mind that baby is having to relearn this skill because of the nipple confusion.
- Breastfeed as often as possible. Practice makes perfect.
- If your milk supply has begun to suffer as a result of the nipple confusion, be sure to add one to two additional breastfeeding session and one to two additional pumping sessions. Consider taking a supplement that boosts breast milk supply, such as Lactiful Supply Max.