Bottle Breastfeeding Nipple Confusion: This Post Could Change Your Life Forever

bottle breastfeeding nipple confusion

Of course that’s ridiculous.

A random blog post can’t change your life. However, I am excited to introduce you to an idea that could save you a lot of unnecessary heartache and sleep loss, bottle breastfeeding nipple confusion.

I’m sure if you’ve picked up even one baby book (make it this one) or just hung around other mamas for long enough, you’ve heard the term nipple confusion. But what exactly is nipple confusion?

I once heard nipple confusion compared to the transmission of a car, and it was a light bulb moment for me. Maybe it will help you out too???

In my book, driving a stick shift is pretty much up there with quantum physics as far as complexity goes. Confession: I can barely drive an automatic. I am that driver on the road that drives you insane because they’re moving so. stinkin. slow.

My palms get sweaty just thinking about all the parts that have to work together in sync, the clutch, the pedals, the gears, in order for a manual not to turn on you and come to a complete halt in the middle of an intersection.

Why Learning to Drive Stick is Just Like Learning to Breastfeed

If newborn bambino could talk, she would fill you in on the tremendous feat she was about to accomplish:

Bottle Breastfeeding Nipple Confusion

  • First she’s gotta open up WIDE to draw the nipple as far back into the mouth as possible.
  • At the same time, her lips have to be flanged in order to form a tight seal.
  • Her tongue then presses the nipple to the roof of the mouth.
  • Next her gums compress the breast tissue around the nipple as the tongue moves in a wave-like motion to get the good stuff flowing. Baby’s tongue is to mama’s breast as farmer’s hands are to cow’s udders. Now please accept my sincerest apology for comparing you to a cow, my sincerest……
  • And after all that work, she has to wait for mama’s milk to let-down, which normally takes a minute or two. The longest two minutes ever….

{Side note: This is why sore nipples are an indication of a poor latch. If a baby’s gums compress the nipple, instead of the tongue, because the nipple is not far enough back in baby’s mouth, sore nipples are pretty much a guar-un-tee. This is why teeny, tiny newborn mouth plus Pamela-Anderson-pregnancy boobs do not an easy latch make.}

And she must accomplish all this minutes after being wrenched from warm coziness.

Why Driving an Automatic is Like Drinking From a Bottle

  • To drink from a bottle all baby has to do is suck with his lips. No need to draw a nipple far back. No need to use his tongue. No need to form an airtight seal with his lips.
  • Whether he sucks or not, milk comes.
  • And it comes immediately! I mean, who doesn’t love instant gratification….

Some of us have tried to learn how to drive a stick shift, and it just never worked out (that would be my hand in the air).

Some of us are super cool. We can drive both and switch back and forth like it’s nothing.

Some of us know how to drive both but have such a preference for one that we refuse to drive the other.

In the same vein, our mini-me’s are not that different.

For some mamas and babies, breastfeeding just doesn’t work out (once again, you would see my hand raised for our first baby). Sore nipples and broken skin are all signs of a baby struggling with driving stick.

Some mama/baby teams are Olympic-level and can switch seamlessly between the boob and bottle. These babies #dowork. You should ooh and ahh over their remarkable eating capabilities.

And some babies, who start out breastfed, discover that the bottle is really their jam. Once they get a taste of driving automatic, they refuse to go back to manual. This is called nipple preference. Nipple preference is often confused with nipple confusion. Baby is not confused. Baby is hungry!

{Side note: Please, please, please hear me when I say that breastfeeding does NOT equal success and bottle feeding does NOT equal failure. Babies are not one more object by which we measure ourselves. They are complex little souls entrusted to us. Let’s waste our mental energy wondering how lucky we got to be called mama rather than beating ourselves up when things don’t turn out like we imagined they would.}

Bottle Breastfeeding Nipple Confusion

And dismount from the soapbox…..

Let’s say you are aspiring to both breastfeed and bottle feed. Maybe you work. Maybe you want Dad to participate with feeding, say especially around 3 am’ish…..

Whatever the reason, to prevent nipple confusion you may want to try:

  • Waiting to introduce bottles until after 3 – 4 weeks of breastfeeding. Because you asked (you didn’t, I know), this means pacifiers too. Sorry! (see below for more info on pacifier use). And if you know you’re going back to work, introduce bottle to baby sooner rather than later.
  • Embrace your inner slacker and let somebody else give baby the bottle. If mama is offering both boob and bottle, nipple confusion is more likely.

If you’ve introduced bottles and now sweet baby, already showing off his strong-willed resolution that will serve him well one day, refuses the boob, give these bad boys a shot:

      • Put on your big girl panties because this is NOT going to be easy or fun at all……ban the bottles for now. I would never choose to drive a manual over an automatic, but if my only mode of transportation was a stick shift, and we were all out of chocolate/wine/coffee (you know, the really important stuff), I would find a way to bunny hop my way to ye old grocery store.

Wear all the babies!

  • Shoot for as much skin-to-skin contact and baby-wearing as realistically possible. I have a special place in my heart for our Boba. Check out my Resource page to see just how scarily obsessed I am (not kidding even a little).
    • When in doubt, whip it out. If you think there’s even a smidggen of a chance that baby might be hungry, try to nurse her.
    • The path back to the boob is paved with unending amounts of patience as you make sure you get that latch right every. single. time. Not sure if you’re latching correctly? Check out this article.
  • Milkies Milk-Savers Breast Milk CollectorAin’t no gratification like instant gratification. Help sweet cheeks out by getting your milk to let down before you latch so that as soon as he latches he’s rewarded with milk. The easiest way to self-initiate let down is by using a nipple everter, which I wrote about here. You can also use a manual or electric pump to get the milk flowing. And because wasting even a drop of liquid gold is a travesty, you may want to try Milkies Milk-Saver Breast Milk Collector. Read about why I decided I had to have these in my life on our Resource Page.

Even if you’re a pro when it comes to driving a stick, transitioning to a manual may result in some sputtering and lurching. Been there done that. Babies are much of the same.

Still need encouragement? (Don’t we all….) This article “Reflections: The Latch” is so worth the time.


If you’re going to be totally outlandish (not really, just making sure you’re still with me) and try breastfeeding and bottle feeding, I highly! highly! highly! recommend the Breastflow Bottle. And shocker, I’m going to point you to the Resource page to see why it’s just the best. End of story.


When it comes to pacifiers, the evidence is mixed. Welcome to the Gray Zone.

I actually tried to make all three of our bambinos pacifier babies and they would have nothing to do with it. So rather than my two cents, which is exactly what its worth, let me introduce you to the two players in the game.

TEAM PACIFIERS ARE THE BOMB.COM: There actually is no scientific evidence that pacifier use negatively impacts breastfeeding. Check out “No more nipple confusion: Study says pacifiers may help breast-feeding.”

According to “The Bottle Conundrum,” sucking is how babies “relax their spinal column and strengthen their gut.” I get it. Margaritas relax my spinal column. Pacifiers and margaritas. That tish is magic.

TEAM PACIFIERS ARE FROM THE DEVIL: OK, that’s taking it a bit far, but you get the point, right? In order to be pinned with a Baby-Friendly Hospital ribbon by the World Health Organization, a hospital is supposed to hide their pacifiers so as not to interfere with latching!!!

As with most polarizing topics, my gut tells me we’re actually all on the same team. Does a pacifier help your baby thrive? Pacifier away! Does a pacifier appear to be getting in the way of breastfeeding? Chunk it!

I’m sure you’ve figured out by now, tackling nipple confusion/preference requires a soft heart and a sharp mind. Welcome to mamahood…..

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below. Have you experienced bottle breastfeeding nipple confusion? How did you come out of it? If you could retrace your steps, what would you do differently?

Please share and discuss below.

And if you like this post, please consider sharing it by quickly tapping one of the social share buttons below. Thanks as always!

photo credit: nerissa’s ring via photopin cc

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