Breastfeeding: dummies and nipple confusion
Is a dummy a necessary soothing device for your baby, or does it stand between you and breastfeeding success? Sabrina Rogers-Anderson finds out.
dummies and nipple confusion

If you've ever had a bub with a strong urge to suck then no doubt a dummy has been your saving grace on more than one occasion. However, for every soothed sucking-obsessed baby, there's also the chance that the baby will love the dummy so much that it now won't have a bar of your breast. It's one of those things that you won't know until you try, so if you're afraid to take the leap, read on for some expert advice and how to increase your chances of dummy success if you choose to go ahead with it.

Nipple confusion

Breastfeeding counsellor Jessica Leonard explains, “Nipple confusion is when babies are given an alternative to the breast, such as an artificial teat on a bottle or a dummy, and it changes the way they suck at the breast.”

Instead of getting a whole mouthful of breast in order to get milk, babies only need to suck the end of a dummy or a bottle. While some will happily switch between the two, it creates a bit of a problem for others and they can end up rejecting the breast, says Jessica.

She suggests waiting six weeks before introducing a dummy or a bottle. “If you have a healthy, full-term baby and they’re feeding well at the breast, waiting six weeks or so until breastfeeding is well-established means that they’re less likely to get confused. But if your baby was born early and doesn’t have the ability to suck yet, introducing a dummy early on can actually be very helpful to teach them how to suck.”

What about my milk supply?

Anything used to space out feeds has the potential to mess up the supply-and-demand system that regulates milk production. For this reason, Jessica suggests only using dummies for comfort and not to try to space out feeds when your baby is very young and you’re trying to establish breastfeeding.

The advantages

As mentioned previously, dummies are very useful when you have a baby with a strong sucking urge who needs a little extra comfort. And although they shouldn't be used to purposely space out feeds at an early age, they can be useful if you're only going out for an hour or two and your baby needs comfort before you get back to give her the next feed. It can make things easier so you don’t have to express milk.

Ironically, dummies can also help if your baby suddenly starts to refuse the breast. “Try giving them something else to suck, whether it’s a bottle with a bit of milk in it or a dummy, and getting them into a relaxed sucking pattern,” suggests Jessica. “Then, gently replace the artificial teat with the breast.”

What are the cons other than nipple confusion?

Babies can get quite attached to their dummies and might even become dependent on them to get to sleep. When they wake up at night and can’t find their silicone soother, they might cry out for you to give it back to them. And as with all weaning, it can be difficult to get them to give up the dummy.


This article was written by Sabrina Rogers-Anderson and adapted for Kidpsot, New Zealand's favourite parenting resource for Early Life Nutrition.
Breastfeeding is best for babies and provides many benefits. Combined breast and bottle feeding in the first weeks of life may reduce the supply of your own breast milk. Always consult your doctor, midwife or health care professional for advice about feeding your baby. This post is part of the Early Life Nutrition story.
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