Nipple Confusion

By Alicia Purdy

It's not until you become a parent that you really understand how frustrating nipple confusion can be. Your new baby won't stop crying, and nothing seems to help. You know she's not sick and you've checked everything else. She won't nurse or take a pacifier or a bottle and is getting more frantic by the minute. When your baby is screaming with no end in sight, it can be very distressing. You'd do anything to figure it out. Have you considered the possibility that your baby is suffering from nipple confusion?

Nipple confusion occurs when your baby has difficulty transitioning between the different sucking techniques needed for bottle, breast and pacifier. This is mostly true with very young babies who are still developing their understanding of how things work. Latching onto a bottle, a breast or a pacifier takes different mouth mechanics. Until your baby knows the difference, you may be in for some stressful moments. To help your baby overcome nipple confusion, experts have some helpful advice.

An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure

Pediatricians will tell you that it's easier to avoid nipple confusion altogether than to fix a problem that has already begun. One way to help your baby along is to stick to just one type of nipple. Don't introduce any others for at least four weeks. If your baby breastfeeds, don't offer pacifiers or bottle nipples until breastfeeding and latching on are well established. If you bottle feed, do that exclusively for the first few weeks before switching nipple styles or adding in a pacifier.

Can you introduce a bottle earlier than four weeks to a breastfed baby? Yes, however, you're running the risk of causing nipple confusion. It's easier to introduce a breastfed baby to a bottle after a few months than trying to undo confusion after its set in.

Ideas for the Nipple Confusion Cure

Clearing up nipple confusion is a process that is going to take time and patience, but it can be done. Praise and encourage your baby as she struggles to grasp the changes.

  • Focus on one thing - Eliminate all other nipples from your baby's life and focus on only one type. Stick with one brand of nipples if you bottle feed, or try to exclusively breastfeed until the problem is solved. Don't offer pacifiers while you're in re-training mode.

  • Stay calm - You and your baby both need to remain calm. While this is probably impossible for your baby, it'll help greatly if you speaking soothingly rather than raising your voice. There will be certain times when your baby is calmer - watch for those times. They are optimal for working with your baby on a big change.

  • Snuggle and smile - Help your baby associate feedings with love. Hold her close, sing, make silly faces and smile. You can also open your mouth to prompt your baby to mimic you. Even newborns can follow facial expressions.

  • Instant gratification - One of the biggest reasons your baby will get frustrated over nipple confusion is because the longer she waits to eat, the more frantic she will get. One tip is to put some breast milk into a small eye dropper and as you prompt the baby to take the correct nipple, drip a little milk or formula into her mouth. This will allow her to eat a little and stave off frustration while you're working on teaching her to focus on the correct nipple.

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