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As a lactation counsellor I have worked with over 70 babies and their mothers in different pockets of the world. And yet I’m unable to find the real answer to a question that most pregnant women are worried sick about — What really is nipple confusion?
Since it’s critical for a baby to start breast-feeding within the first hours of her existence lest the lactation diminishes or dries up altogether, a massive fear for mothers-to-be is what if the baby cannot find her nipple?
And if she uses an aide like a nipple shield to help the baby latch on, does that mean that the baby will want its nourishment only through an artificial teat? But the thought that crosses my mind every time I’ve held a new born baby in my arms is — can this tiny being really get confused about where her nourishment comes from?
All that a baby is looking for is food, warmth and comfort from his mum. And all a new mum wants is to feed her little one without any stress. Yet all this talk about nipple confusion only leads to HUGE amounts of stress and confusion, unnecessary tension, even an eventual drying up of the milk. I’ve seen several mothers panic if they haven’t managed to breastfeed their baby in the first week of her birth. Yet they refuse to use aides like nipple shields.
Please remember that breastfeeding is a skill to be learned both by you and your baby. And yes, sometimes it can be painful for you both, and if you feel you need help, then using a nipple shield to facilitate this process is much, MUCH better than giving up breastfeeding altogether.This one week of frustration and pain will only lead to more stress, more pain which would all eventually spiral down to lactation failure. All of this is avoidable if you take help that you need at the time you need it. In my experience not enough women know how to use nipple shields the right way. Yes, the worry is that once the baby gets used to it it will be impossible to get her back on the breast. Yes, anything which is used in excess will become a habit. But that holds true for everything! If you rock the baby too much, you won’t be able to put her down to sleep on her own. Some parents use the soother all the time–day and night! Some parents drive their babies around in a car to put them to sleep, otherwise they would bring the whole house down. Some mums put their babies 24 hours on their breasts thinking they are feeding them when really the baby is using their breasts as a pacifier.
You can use the shields temporarily, till you establish correct and pain-free breastfeeding. It also gives your sore nipples a break, and that helps everyone. Use the nipple shield if you get sore and cracked nipples, if your nipples are flat and inverted, if your breasts are engorged, later or earlier. And please don’t beat yourself up for doing it. Don’t compare yourself to others. Every baby is different. Every mum is different. Every mum’s situation is different. Bottom line– enjoy your motherhood, guilt-free. Happy Mum = Happy baby.
Consultant - Obstetrics and Gynecology