Nipple confusion is when a baby has been given a combination of the breast and a bottle. This may also include dummies or nipple shields. A baby sucks differently at the breast as they do on a pacifier so they become confused as to which way to suck.
Babies are born with instincts that allow them to find their Mothers breast. If put skin to skin they smell, feel and crawl towards the nipple where they latch themselves on.
The way a baby sucks and extracts milk from the breast is an innate behaviour. They continue with this sucking mechanism as long as they are exclusively breastfed.
Look at this video of a baby breastfeeding:
The problem occurs when a baby is given a teat, especially before 6 weeks old. They then discover a new way of sucking and using their tongue that’s a lot less work.
If a baby has 2 different methods of getting food, one that is easy and gives them milk quickly compared with the other which is more effort and the milk comes slowly, then they adapt to learning the easier method.
So what happens when they go to breastfeed? They suck like it’s a bottle:
- They don’t open their mouths wide enough.
- They don’t stick their tongues out far enough to draw in the breast to the back of their mouth.
- They don’t use the muscles in the back of their tongue properly. This is what creates the negative pressure, drawing the milk from the breast.
- This is demonstrated here:
- They stop being able to get milk from the breast efficiently so they become frustrated.
- The Mother becomes upset that her baby is crying and frustrated and gives them another bottle.
If you feel your baby is suffering from nipple confusion, get support. Note it may take time to reverse the habit.