Nipple Confusion Syndrome: Symptoms, Causes and Prevention

Nipple confusion syndrome tends to occur in premature babies, but with some patience and knowledge it can be eliminated completely.
Nipple Confusion Syndrome: Symptoms, Causes and Prevention

Last update: 29 November, 2018

Many babies have issues feeding directly from their mother’s breast. Nipple confusion syndrome is one of the problems that can arise.

Some babies even cause harm to the mother when they suckle. This is especially true in the case of premature babies. It’s very common to have pain and mistreatment of the maternal nipple.

This happens because the baby, when not possessing a good capacity for holding on to it, tends to hurt her. This is known as nipple confusion syndrome.

In this situation, it’s necessary to complete the baby’s feeding without interfering in the suction of the nipple. Using a syringe is a good method to feed babies who can’t take the nipple well.

Let’s take a closer look at what this problem consists of and how to solve it.

What is nipple confusion syndrome and how is it produced?

Nipple confusion syndrome is caused when the baby shows resistance to being fed with the mom’s nipple. The baby tends to prefer the teat of the baby bottle because of the low effort required to obtain the milk.

This problem is generally produced when babies are fed with the baby bottle and nipple at the same time. This happens because it sends the wrong messages to the baby and confuses him or her when suckling.

Many mothers use baby bottles when they lactate because they don’t have any other options. The problem is that this can generate confusion in the baby when he or she has to suckle the teat of the baby bottle and the nipple.

Nipple Confusion Syndrome

Normally these cases appear in newborn babies who are separated from the mother at a crucial time.

This can also happen with babies who are fed in an artificial form when the mom isn’t at home. This syndrome can generate what is known as a “nursing strike.”

This “strike” affects the mother’s milk production and can cause mastitis. In cases where it isn’t treated in a timely manner, it can mean the end of the mother’s lactation.

How can you avoid it and correct it?

One of the ways in which you can prevent the presence of nipple confusion syndrome is to avoid giving the baby pacifiers and baby bottles. At least do this for the first six months of life, or don’t ever use them if possible.

If it’s produced by an overwhelming force, like the mother going back to work or the baby being taken care of by a third party, it’s recommended that the baby be fed with a slow flow teat.

In the same way, another measure that the mother can apply is to opt for the usage of a syringe. She can place her middle finger on the baby’s palate and let him or her suckle to get the milk out of it.

Methods to feed with a syringe

Here we’ll indicate some methods that you can use to feed the baby with a syringe:

  • The syringes fit for feeding a baby can be 60 cm or smaller.
  • At the time of feeding with this method, you place your middle finger on the baby’s palate and when he or she starts to suckle, you slide the milk in the syringe down with your finger.
  • The mother must be sitting down and comfortable, using both hands. The baby should be calm.

This method is ideal of premature babies or those who tend to confuse the teat of a bottle with the nipple. You can correct this syndrome, taking into account that you must have patience and dedication.

As we’ve already mentioned, experts recommend getting rid of baby bottles and pacifiers. Experts recommend that the mother nurses the baby when he or she is calm. You shouldn’t do this in moments of desperation because the baby is hungry, since this will allow the baby to adapt newly to contact with the nipple.

In the same way, if the mother is a bit scared because she doesn’t have much flow of milk, she can use a breast pump a few minutes before the feeding so that she’s full of milk by the time the baby feeds.

Nipple Confusion Syndrome

When is it convenient to use a breast pump?

The breast pump is a useful tool for situations where the mother feels that her breasts are too full because they’re producing more milk than the baby is suckling. This is why it’s necessary to unload the breasts with the breast pump to alleviate that weight.

This gives the father the chance to participate in the feeding. All you have to do is give him the milk and he can use a baby bottle.

You can see that nipple confusion syndrome has some effective solutions, although it’s important to have patience.

With the information listed here, you’ll be able to get your baby to suckle from the nipple without any problems.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Bandara, Sandya & Nyqvist, Kerstin & Musmar, Samar & Procaccini, Diane & Wang, Shu-Fang. (2012). Use of Alternative Feeding Methods in the Hospital. Journal of human lactation : official journal of International Lactation Consultant Association. 28. 122-4. 10.1177/0890334412437706.
  • National Health and medical Research council (2012). Infant Feeding Guidelines. Canberra: National Health and medical Research council.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.