Nursing Through Confusion

By Olga April

“If you don’t give a bottle to your baby in the first two months, he may never take one,” said an article. Wouldn’t want that to happen, I thought. I knew that I should not give artificial nipples in the first six weeks. To be safe, I decided to wait seven.

By seven weeks, nursing was quite familiar and pain free. I made the decision that it was time to try a bottle experiment. I hand-expressed about an ounce into a bottle and sat down to see if David would drink it. After some initial hesitation, he took it and then happily went back to my breast. I breathed a sigh of relief. I thought I could go back and forth from the bottle to the breast with no problems. A week later, I gave him his second bottle.

Uh oh. There’s trouble in paradise. David wouldn’t open his mouth wide enough to nurse. When he did open his mouth, he immediately stuffed his fist into it and then was furious that there was no milk there. I swaddled him to keep his hands confined but he kicked off his blanket. After a great deal of effort, I’d get him to latch only to hear the dreadful clicking sound. He was sucking his tongue instead of properly latching. When he did latch, I was afraid to take him off even if I was in pain. It took so much work to get him latched, even if it wasn’t a good latch, that I didn’t want to stop and start all over again. The bad latch continued. The blisters came back. The pain came back.

Nights were the worst. Time after time, I sat trying to get David to latch on. I tried all sorts of variations: lying down, sitting up, with or without the Boppy. Time was ticking away and still my baby was hungry. He was screaming, I was wailing and my husband was about to break down, too. The frustration of the whole situation was about to overwhelm us all. At one point my husband asked me “Are you going to feed him or not?” “I can’t feed him,” I sobbed back, “he has to feed himself.”

After forty-five minutes, David finally latched on and soon he is asleep. An hour and a half later we were doing it all over again.

Looking back at it now, I have no idea why I didn’t just give David a bottle. In my exhaustion I simply sleepwalked out of the realm of reason. Instinct took over and the bottles were not an option. I just knew that I had to put my son to the breast if I wanted to feed him. By sheer luck I avoided the slippery slope of nursing sessions replaced with bottles, increased nipple confusion and perhaps progressing to decreased supply and a premature end to breastfeeding. I danced on the edge of a cliff and didn’t even realize that it was there.

I was just plain lucky that David never rejected the breast. Perhaps waiting those seven weeks did that much good. It was obvious that he knew where the good stuff was and he wanted to get it. It just seemed as if he had forgotten how. That quickly, after only two bottles a week apart and with a spoonful of milk each, he was confused about how to latch. I never realized that nipple confusion could grab a hold so quickly or fiercely. I didn’t know that even an occasional bottle could jeopardize my entire nursing relationship.

I don’t remember how long this nightmare lasted. Time sort of suspends itself when you are struggling with your baby. I know that the worst was over within ten days. A month later it was all a distant memory as I was telling a friend how smoothly our breastfeeding relationship had started.

Two and a half years later, I start my days with my son snuggled against my breast. If I needed a reward for holding out against nipple confusion, I couldn’t have asked for a better one.

2 thoughts on “Nursing Through Confusion”

  1. While I respect this woman's experience, I fear that when women read things like this they will assume that their experience is or will be the same. My baby has gotten one bottle of expressed breast milk since being 5 weeks old and it hasn't affected her latch at all and it allows all of us to get more sleep. Lots of babies whose mom's work take bottles during the day and the breast at night. It can be done!

    1. Yes, it can be done. There are babies that go back and forth from the breast and bottle with seemingly no problem. There are moms that seem to have no difficulty maintaining a supply while combining nursing and pumping. I do not know how old your baby is or what your personal goals are for breastfeeding. In the United States there is a remarkably low breastfeeding rate and even though the recommendation of the AAP is to breastfeed for a minimum of a year there is only a very small percentage that are still nursing at a year. Since I know the marked difference in the health and development of exclusively breastfeeding versus formula feeding, the predominance of women who supplement and the often quickly plummeting milk supply that can follow, the heavy support to the point of encouragement to give a baby a bottle and the small number of Pediatricians that are truly breastfeeding knowledgeable and supportive, I relish the opportunity to work with Dr. Jay and encourage exclusive breastfeeding. I am very pleased to have given the opportunity to many mothers to tell their personal story because those stories reach out and offer support to nursing mothers in the same situation and feeling the same feelings. Every story isn't what every mother is looking for. I hope that you find a story or article on our site that supports you in continuing to nurse your baby. Look for one. We have them. And I want you to feel supported, too.

      Blessings.

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