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Mama’s Milk: Breastfeeding, Nipple Confusion & Bottle Rejection

I come from a long line of formula fed babies.  For a variety of reasons, the women in my family had not nursed their babies.  When I started thinking about having children, I decided that I wanted to breastfeed my baby.  The health benefits could not be ignored, and anything that would speed weight loss was ok by me.  Because some of the women in my family had difficulty with their attempts at breastfeeding, I was really nervous about whether I would be successful at it.  I read everything I could about it and even took a class.  What I learned was, that for something so natural as nursing, it took a bit of technique and getting used to.

One of the lessons I had hammered into my brain from books, lactation consultants and classes was to avoid nipple confusion.  Nipple confusion occurs in infants when they are given a bottle or pacifier too early and they end up preferring the pacifier or bottle to their mother.  Most resources say to wait about 3-4 weeks before introducing a nipple/pacifier to assure that nursing is going smoothly.

Luckily, my attempt at nursing was successful and I was breastfeeding my tiny dancer.  It took some getting used to but we got the hang of it together.  But, I still had my families’ struggles at the back of my mind and with the fear of nipple confusion looming over my head, I prolonged the introduction of a bottle and pacifier.  When I got around to finally trying a bottle at around 2 months, I was shocked when the tiny dancer screamed in dismay and rejected the bottle and pacifier.  What was going on?

I later learned that just as babies can learn to favor a bottle/pacifier if introduced to early, they are also very likely to reject a bottle/pacifier if not introduced early enough.  My question was, why did I have to learn this the hard way?  In all the research I had done to prepare myself, nothing mentioned that the tiny dancer would reject a bottle.

Fortunately, I work from home so I didn’t have a pressing deadline to get the baby on a bottle.  And it’s not like I was going to give my baby formula, I wanted to give her breast milk exclusively – I just wanted to be able to give it in a bottle once in a while.  I did long for a bit of freedom.  Since I was nursing, I was my babies only source of nutrition.  That’s fine.  But sometimes mama wants a break, not to mention the long line of close relatives that want a shot at feeding the baby.   Also, leaving the house for more than a few hours became a mission.  I’m pretty modest and I’m not one of those women that would whip a boob out anywhere so unless I knew I would have a quiet place to nurse, so I would cut short all excursions.  Being able to give the baby a bottle would have made public outings easier instead of a constant source of anxiety.

We tried everything.  Nine different types of bottles and nipples, dad giving the bottle, me leaving the house, me trying to give the bottle.  Nothing worked.  We even went to an occupational therapist who basically told me to give up on trying to give her a bottle.  All the lactation consultants and therapists we saw said the same thing:  She’s smart, she knows what she like and what’s better for her.  Instead, the pediatrician had us start rice cereal a month earlier than usual, as well as a sippy cup.

Things are going well now.  The tiny dancer eats rice cereal but is still getting used to the sippy cup.  I find that more milk drips out of the cup than into her mouth.  Do I still wish she would take a bottle? Yes.  Having talked to many moms who were successful at nursing and making the transition to bottle when returning to work, many have said that from day one they gave only one bottle every night to the baby.  They didn’t have any nipple confusion problems.  If I were to do it all again I would probably choose this method.  All kids are different so of course there’s a chance that a child would get nipple confusion with this method, but in all the instances I heard of, there was no problem.  Do I regret my choice? Ultimately no, I just would have liked to have all the information so that I could have made an educated decision.  However, I’m happy that I’m successful at nursing and I think it’s one of the best things I can do for my baby – and I wouldn’t change that for anything.

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