Does nipple confusion really exist?

nipple 11.22.2007

In her book Bumpology, Linda Geddes sets to work explaining the science behind pregnancy, birth and the all important baby-raising bit. She has dug around behind the scenes to uncover the real scientific evidence that exists. Then she has pulled together accessible ‘answers’ to questions that we all have about the minefield of reproducing. 

She tries to explain clearly what scientists really know about, say, caffeine intake during pregnancy or the impact of pain relief on the length of labour. There’s so much that I like about her book, it’s a whole other post for another day. But one thing I like most about it is her attempt to answer this single question: 

Does Nipple confusion really exist? 

The received wisdom in the UK at least is that bottle feeding too early on (even if there’s breast milk in the bottle) is not a good idea because babies get confused. That once this magical line has been crossed the baby simply won’t go back to or start feeding from the breast. This was the message I got from all of the breastfeeding sessions I attended. Loud. And. Clear. 

Well, in trying to weigh up the evidence and give a clear answer to this question Linda found a study undertaken at Dartmouth Medical School in New Hampshire, USA. It involved 802 mother-baby pairs who had a combination of breast- and bottle-feeding during their first week in hospital. Of the study she says this:

"Although such combination feeding shortened the amount of time that white babies were breastfed, this was not the case in Latino or black babies. While it’s possible that black and Hispanic babies are biologically different to white babies, this seems improbable.

More likely is that the use of a silicone teat was irrelevant, and the white women were giving up breastfeeding for different reasons, possibly because they expected breastfeeding to be a struggle after bottle-feeding and this then became a self-fulfilling prophecy.

By contrast, Hispanic women have a strong tradition of combining breast- and bottle-feeding and see it as completely normal.”

So, while the mixed feeding seemed to scupper breastfeeding for the white mothers this was not the case for the black and latino mums. Huh. Linda’s tentative attempt to find an explanation for this difference is logical, right? In a (white, middle class) culture where antenatal education unfailingly sends the message that mixed feeding is firstly not a thing, and secondly a bad idea, are we creating mums and dads who are set up to fail? 

While I cannot speak for others, Linda describes my experience described to a tee. While we both had physical difficulties with breastfeeding if I really scrutinise what happened, one of the biggest hurdles was that my heart had sunk. My boy had bottles very early on for various complicated reasons and as a result I felt like a fraud. And why wouldn’t I? Everything we had read and been told in antenatal education clearly stated that bottles and then breast was simply not an option. In fact bottle feeding didn’t exist, and nobody ever said the phrase ‘mixed feeding’ apart from the lovely midwife we saw on Day four. The result? We felt scuppered and behaved accordingly. 

Whole lines of products have been created to pray on our fears of nipple confusion. I know, I bought them all thinking I could ‘fool’ my baby back (when what I really needed was good, pragmatic help with breastfeeding). We tie ourselves in knots trying to work out the right time to switch. New mums often feel wretched if a bottle’s introduced before the allotted deadline that her midwife or health visitor probably rather randomly suggests. The suggestion that the confusion we so dread may not exist… or at least not as concretely as we vehemently insist… is worth a moment of our time.

Our insistence on the existence of nipple confusion is fuelled by a desire to just get more women to breastfeed. It’s about steering mums away from bottles, full stop. Now if this worked as a strategy then so be it. But it doesn’t work. It’s time to try something new.

Photo courtesy of Sarah Pilliard on Flickr.

Of all the many songs I sang to my son in an attempt to get him to sleep, this is my favourite and the one with the most longevity. The singing has become less frequent, which is good news for everyone. But tonight I had to pull it out of the bag for a little comfort.

And tonight, something amazing happened: he sang along. A solo became a duet. Yes, of course, he didn’t sing every word but when the little pip squeak suddenly sang “Hey! Hey!” along with me, I couldn’t quite believe it. It’s surprisingly hard to keep singing when you’re beaming ear to ear. 

The Longest Shortest Time: Kick Starter Campaign

So, I’m sure I’ve mentioned The Longest Shortest Time podcast before? Right? It’s the best podcast about early parenthood that I’ve come across. Actually probably the only one. 

Hillary Frank had a hard time giving birth and after her daughter was born with a tough recovery. So she started her podcast about the ‘longest shortest time’ of those early days. You probably know the one’s I mean, and if you don’t… well, I’m not sure we’d get along.

Her podcast is stellar. She takes the difficult, sometimes odd and always challenging aspects of early parenting and gives them a new spin - or sometimes just a regular spin by talking about them as real problems. She interviews parents about their experiences and puts together these small glimpses into the crazy world of the early days. Man was I happy when I found this podcast, and I think you would be too.

Hillary wants to do more podcasts more regularly. And she needs our help. Her kickstarter campaign has launched and runs until 16th October. All she needs to raise is $25,000 and she will produce 20 episodes over 6 months. 

You can sign up here to make a donation. If you have not listened before, try one out and if you think it’s worth $1 then why not donate? 

She is also producing these kick ass *Spark* cards which you can request a set of for free. The idea is you take them to your favourite baby/mum/toddler class and use them to trigger conversations. They are beautiful things, and each card contains a quote from one of her podcasts. My favourite one is this one:


I was a colicky baby for the longest shortest time and I drove my parents wild. I’m sorry they thought I was an asshole for the first 6 months of my life. 

Please take the time to listen and consider donating. If you think what Hillary does is good (and I bet you do) please share with others. Thank you.

Images from Longest Shortest time website:

Mama’s playlist


Everyone has a labour playlist, right? Not sure how many of us actually use it, mind, but I for one spent many happy hours compiling songs to listen to while I had my baby. I chose uplifting favourites, upbeat energisers and a few quiet ones for the down time. Come the day putting music on was the farthest thing from my mind. We sat up all night listening to 6music of course, but putting on the playlist just didn’t occur to me. And in the hospital it was out of the question since nobody would have heard it over the audible river of bodily fluids…

So while labour playlists are useless what every new mum really needs is a playlist for after the baby is born. Songs to give you confidence for the terror known as bringing-home-the-baby. Songs to cheer you on when you realise how hard it is to get that baby fed (however you do it, I hasten to add). Songs for the middle of the night, for the days that seem to start 5 minutes after the last one ended and for those evenings that seem too far away for you to make it. Songs, basically, will get you through. And they can help you capture those unfathomable highs too; they’re somewhere safer to put your emotions than directly onto your fragile, precious newborn. Which you may break by accident, remember?

So I’ve taken the liberty of kicking off with a mini-list of my own. Songs that will forever remind me of my boy’s first weeks and my first days as a mother. Enjoy…

Kate Bush This Woman’s Work 

Pray god, you can cope…

The first of many songs-that-broke-me post-birth. In a good way. The intensity. The sweetness. The hope and fear and ‘can I do this?’ feeling that for me, dominated those early weeks. Being on the brink of something totally awesome and trying to let go. Oh Kate!

I go through all this before you wake up, so I can feel happier… safe up here with you

What speaks to me about this song and motherhood is that intense relationship, which is sort of driving you to the edge of what you can take. So you find a little spot for yourself where you can express some of your bigger, scarier feelings or just be quiet, mindful and baby-free. Bjork goes up a mountain and throws cutlery off it. I sat in the car and had a can of Holsten Pils. Same same but different.

Dan Michaelson & The Coastguards If Not For You

I’ve been holding you for so long. Can’t feel any more in my heart. And if not for you, what am I for?

This is the song to accompany the ‘oh god, I’m a mother’ moments you have. This was in fact the first song I heard after giving birth as I tried to block out the sound effects of a noisy post-labour ward. You know, the sounds of other people’s babies crying and all that mama-wind knocking around those post-natal wards (you know what I’m talking about, newbies). It will hit you again, and again, and again. I’m sure you still have them when your kid’s 32 and turning up for Christmas. But golly, you’re a mother, aren’t you? Nuts. 

The Shirelles Mama Said

"Mama told me there’d be days like this…"

Yup, she did. Remember? A must play song for those kinds of days. We all have ‘em.

Band of Horses Nobody’s Gonna Love You 

"You are the ever living ghost of what once was…"

This falls into the category of songs I reinterpreted after having my boy. Essentially all love songs became about having a baby, not a boyfriend. All that wham bam, love at first sight stuff? “Oh! It’s about having a baby!” I thought. Golly, and the number of songs I thought were actually about breastfeeding is a bit embarrassing. Down to the Wire by Neil Young? Totally about breastfeeding. Just listen!

Anyway, cheesy as this song may be, I love it. When I heard this 2 weeks after becoming a mum I was in bits. OH! This is why mum’s hate all their son’s girlfriends right? Because, nobody ain’t gonna love this kid more than I do. Sorry girls.

Boy George Coming Home

I don’t know what I used to be, but everyday I’m feeling more like me. I’ve been gone too long, I’m coming home.

This was the track that made me think about making a new parent’s playlist. Boy George nails those feeling like myself moments that come to you along the way, at moments many and varied. When the early days feel like inhabiting another country coming home can seem a long way off, with a complicated multi-leg journey ahead for which you don’t have the right tickets. However far away home feels, girl, you’ll make it. So for now… put this on, turn it up and come on home.

Photo by Adrian Pratt and reproduced from Flickr

In space no-one can hear you scream


One of the only times I’ve ever thought divorce was a real possibility for me and my husband was after a long haul flight. What happened was simple. An elaborate and delayed airplane journey coupled with a dreadful transit from airport to home became a molotov cocktail of marriage hell. Upon arriving home we attempted the simple task of making cups of tea and fried egg sandwiches. Something went mildly awry and suddenly it was armageddon. I’ll spare you the details but flying definitely brings the worst out in me and my husband.

The recent opportunity to fly with my husband and my toddler on a recent trip to Europe was a bit of a worry. You can’t divorce your own kid, after all, and arguing with a 2 year old is not practical nor wise. We flew twice before but this was before he got mobile. If the first time was a bit like flying with a hungry goldfish, the second time was more like flying with a talking octopus.

In some ways flying with a toddler was not as awful as I’d ever imagined, but in other ways it was worse. A lot like childbirth, actually. You spend time obsessively planning for the things you’re expecting to be bad but the things that are hardest are all ‘surprise!’ in nature. 

So, reader, here is what I learned about flying with a toddler.

  • The air stewards will stand over you and watch while you try (and fail) to strap your toddler into their own seat for take off and landing
  • Sorry, I didn’t learn how to stop them scooting under the belt and throwing themselves on the floor repeatedly while shouting ‘NO!’ All I know is that it’s over eventually, and if they end up underneath the seat in front of you… well… at least they’re stowed correctly.
  • Once aloft you should try and enjoy looking at the empty seat you were forced to pay £200 for despite the fact your kid won’t sit in it unless held down by force. If nothing else it is an expensive place to keep all the extra crap you brought with you that it turns out you don’t need.
  • You are beyond stupid if you lose your baby wipes in the airport bar. 
  • You are beyond naive if you think that trying to wipe your child’s face with a (clean) nappy instead of a baby wipe is a good idea. Truly.
  • Other passengers don’t matter. Turns out you don’t really give a shit if someone’s quiet time is a bit less quiet or somebody’s headrest gets knocked a few times. Why? Because…
  • … adults are more annoying and generally less civilised on planes than children. That guy, who see’s you trying to get out of your seat with a toddler and 3 bags and chooses to block your exit and then barges ahead of you? He’s way worse.
  • Showing a toddler the meal tray is a big mistake for which you will pay. 
  • Snacks for take off and snacks for landing are essential. Kinder Bueno? Not so much.
  • If your other half, say, happens to be desperately hungover and about as useful as someone who wants to drink coke, lose the boarding passes and carry something of an Eoyore vibe, remember that it doesn’t pay to hold it against them. You’ll still need them to carry the luggage on the other side.

So there we have it - lessons well learned, so you don’t have to. You’re welcome.

Photo by Stefan on Flickr and reproduced under CC Licence.

Not The Royal Baby: Guardian Witness

In some kind of un-royalist-but-yet-royalist-at-the-same-time gig, The Guardian are doing a 'Not The Royal Baby' Witness page. The idea being that parents can post a picture and story about their own July 13 baby. It kind of makes me go ‘ikk’ but then obviously if I had a July 13 baby I’d probably be feverishly posting some cack handed picture and blurb myself.

I liked this one particularly. There is real terror in this guy’s description of a c-section birth, and I love his rightful gratitude for the great care his wife and child received.

Oh, baby

Sorry for the silence, folks. Solo-parenting, a whole lotta juggling and bit of a loss of my blogging mojo have all meant nothing I’ve written has gone beyond draft status recently.

But I did write this for the fascinating Gas and Air blog. Writing my own birth story on my own blog has always felt too intense. Sure, I’ll write about my third degree tear and my ultimately disappointing boobs… but this just seemed a bit much. So if you’re into that kind of thing why not go and have a read. Clemmie posts a new one every Monday because she gets how fascinated we all are by other people’s birth stories. They rarely get boring.

Gas and Air

Written by Clemmie, the Gas and Air blog is a brilliant window into the life of a midwife and I love all her tales. For someone who quite fancies being a midwife except for the sticking your digits up people and stitching up their vaginas it’s a great way for me to live vicariously through her. I could totally be a midwife if I didn’t have to do either of those things, right?

Picture by Andrew Kantor and reproduced under CC license.

A new mum friend this week announced she is feeling more like herself again, a few months into the crazy world of motherhood.

I heard this song on 6music today and frankly, it’s my new soundtrack to that moment in early motherhood when you go “Oh! I’m feeling like myself again…”

Your new self, usually, not your old self. But you get me. 


At last, here’s That photo of my ma strangling Thatcher. No filter because its vintage already, y’all.

At last, here’s That photo of my ma strangling Thatcher. No filter because its vintage already, y’all.

I found this thanks to the Before the Baby blog and isn’t it just wonderful? Artists drawing their small people and capturing something of that time and their child’s essence as they do so. 

I like to draw but I’ve never dared draw my boy. Maybe I will now. Capturing the people you look at so frequently and so intensely is the hardest drawing of all; you have to un-see them and see them anew. Gulp.

Visiting New Parents: A Guide

He loves me, He loves me not

Three friends have had three babies in the last three weeks. It’s a veritable baby boom, people. One of them reminded me of the pitfalls of visiting new parents by posting this  Huff Post piece up on facebook last week. My mind boggled over the guests who triggered it. Was it the ones who suggested popping to the pub, or the ones who turned up expecting lunch?*

Visiting new parents is a minefield, and if you’re not careful you can really mess it up. You can leave traumatised by a gory birth story, riddled with guilt because you took totally the wrong things or, worst of all, blissfully unaware of the havoc you have wreaked. As I’ve said many times before, parenthood for me meant apologising to my friends-with-kids. Primarily because on that first visit I had no idea. I mean I didn’t rock up with wine breath or anything crazy like that.. but you know, I just didn’t quite know how to behave. But I do now.

Here’s how:

Take food.

Take food.

Take food. Yes, it’s that important that it gets three mentions. Take a staple, take a luxury, take something that can be stuffed in your gob while you do three things at once. Don’t text asking what they need and expect an honest answer. Just turn up with some stuff. It will be cherished. Seriously, you remember the bread & milk gifts as clearly as the cool gifts for baby. I learned quite quickly that if you take food, essentially, you rock.

Don’t stay too long. Now one person’s too long is another person’s warm up, right? But when it comes to new parent visits, limit yourself to one hour absolute maximum. Unless you’re throwing in a bit of cleaning/putting out the rubbish/taking the baby out type activity as a bonus (see next point), which earns you an extra 15 minutes. Energy is limited and there’s a hit-by-a-bus vibe in the air for a good couple of months so be mindful and vigilant. Even if you catch parents on a good afternoon it is highly likely they will wave you goodbye and then quite literally want to lie down on the floor with exhaustion. I kid you not - I did a whole series family phone calls lying on the actual floor because it was too much effort to sit on a proper seat. British parents will generally be too polite to say ‘please fuck off I’ve started to hallucinate again’, but they may be thinking it. Pay heed.

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The big reveal

Mago // Magician

 Today I caught up with a woman who has seen me at my worst and most vulnerable. Someone who has seen me butt naked, throwing up on myself and sitting in a bath that was 60% water and 40% bodily fluids of every origin. She’s quite literally seen all of me.

We sat in the sun (YES!), admired the ‘baby’ and his enthusiasm for snacks, drank our drinks and swapped ‘and how are you?’ stories. Then we said our goodbyes, took ourselves home and that was that. Now I’m feeling nostalgic. Wistful. And just a little bit sad. This woman was my doula, and she helped my son be born. 

As soon as I knew what a doula was I knew I had to have one. Not in a must-have accessory kind of way, but in a must-keep-my-shit-together when having a baby kind of way. I was terrified of birth, fearful of pregnancy and dubious about my ability to enjoy the transition to motherhood. A doula seemed like a great way to man the barricades and give me a fighting chance at staying calm in the stormy winds of becoming a mum. She’d be a cheerleader of Team Me and Baby. 

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Elton, you’re not wrong

Sorry on Australia Day-sky writing, National Apology Day, National Sorry Day

One of the first things I did after having my son was apologise. To the doctor for giving her hell during a particularly nasty part of delivery, to my parents for all the usual, but mostly to my friends with kids. My phone bill got large, as I called them all to say sorry one by one. I found new ways to apologise. Different ways to show I knew I’d done wrong. The babies who had come before who didn’t get a card, or a gift, and more shamefully the women that made them that didn’t get a visit, a phone call, or the chance to tell me how they were really feeling. I’m not sure I ever asked “And how are YOU?” with enough force or care. 

But today I want to apologise to my friends who don’t have kids. The one’s I’ve not seen in months. The one’s I’ve bored senseless. The one’s I’ve confused with all of the “I *love* motherhood… I *hate* motherhood” rants and ramblings. The one’s I’ve patronised, or insulted, or just plain pissed off. I’m sorry.

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Thatcher & the time capsule

Anti-Margaret Thatcher badge

Last week I was rifling through old school papers when I found a little piece of personal history. A time capsule style note I wrote in the 1980’s to my future great grandchild, with three key facts on it, the first of which was this:

Margaret Thatcher is Prime Minister and has been for ages but I don’t know why!!!

The three exclamation marks are key to the analysis, right? I should have gone into political journalism after all. 

Fast forward a week and ding dong dell, eh? The first people I texted once I heard the news were my parents. I still remember my dad doing a little dance when Robert Maxwell died, so I could but picture the look on his face. His reply? “I remember where I was the first time she died.” Quite.

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