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Late Nipple Confusion

Carrie Ganz
Arlington VA USA
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 16 No. 2, March-April 1999, p. 43

We provide articles from our publications from previous years for reference for our Leaders and members. Readers are cautioned to remember that research and medical information change over time.

At our last Area Conference, a Leader I know commented that sometimes it seems she has experiences just so she can pass the information on to other women. This reminded me of a recent incident with my daughter, Walden.

I leave my babies infrequently, but when Walden was six months old, I needed to leave her for two hours with my husband. I left plenty of pumped milk and lots of instructions for Walter. Among his many options for feeding the baby, he chose to use the bottle. She took to it well and fell asleep in his arms. I nursed her immediately after I walked in the door and she latched on fine.

The next day was a different story. She was fussy at the breast for most of the day and in the evening she bit me. The day after that was even worse. She bit me so hard that I yelled, and that triggered a six-hour nursing strike. I was scared to nurse her again for fear of being bitten, and she refused to latch on. Finally, she became sleepy and we nursed lying down in a dark room.

At one point, while I was carrying her around in an attempt to calm her, we walked past the drying rack in the kitchen, and she reached out for the bottle! I felt awful! That was the clue that made my co-Leader suggest that the bottle triggered the nursing strike. I had thought she was too old to have trouble switching between bottle and breast, especially since she seemed to nurse well just after she had the bottle.

Then I remembered that my older daughter also had problems with artificial nipples. When Meridian was 14 months old, I was providing childcare for other young children and they used bottles. One day, Meridian decided that she needed one, too. I gave her one filled with water. For the next week nursing was very uncomfortable for me, and she left teeth imprints on my breast, which she had never done before. Things did improve, and after that I avoided giving her bottles even to play with.

We say babies have "nipple confusion" if they have difficulty breastfeeding after using artificial nipples, whether bottles or pacifiers/dummies. The term is usually associated with newborn babies, and some authorities disagree about how significant it is. Whatever the label, it makes sense that an older baby might struggle, too. He can bite on an artificial nipple (or on a cup with a spout) with no consequences. Sometimes, a mother may even be unaware that her baby is biting these inanimate objects. But she can't fail to notice when he does the same thing at the breast.

Since having this experience, I've talked with other several other mothers who had similar problems with older babies. Some of them had made the connection between artificial nipples and biting for themselves, but others had not realized that this could be a problem for an older baby. Their sharing and support not only helped me to get my baby back to the breast, but made me wonder if nipple confusion persists beyond the early months. I hope that hearing my story will help another mother avoid a painful bite or work with her baby to stop his biting.

Adapted from an article from the January 1998 issue of LLL of Virginia's Area Leaders' Letter Visions.

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