Clarifying nipple confusion

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Nipple confusion, an infant’s difficulty with or preference for one feeding mechanism over another after exposure to artificial nipple(s), has been widely debated. This is in part due to conflicting statements, one by the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2005 suggesting that infants should be given a pacifier to protect against Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, and the other by the World Health Organization in 2009 stating that breastfeeding infants should never be given artificial nipples. Despite the limited and inconsistent evidence, nipple confusion is widely believed by practitioners. Therefore, there is a unique opportunity to examine the evidence surrounding nipple confusion by assessing the research that supports/refutes that bottle feeding/pacifier use impedes breastfeeding efficacy/success/duration. This review examined 14 articles supporting and refuting nipple confusion. These articles were reviewed using the Johns Hopkins Nursing Evidence-Based Practice Rating Scale. Based on our review, we have found emerging evidence to suggest the presence of nipple confusion only as it relates to bottle usage and found very little evidence to support nipple confusion with regards to pacifier use. The primary difficulty in conclusively studying nipple confusion is establishing causality, namely determining whether bottles’/pacifiers’ nipples are causing infants to refuse the breast or whether they are simply markers of other maternal/infant characteristics. Future research should focus on prospectively examining the causality of nipple confusion.

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Correspondence to E Zimmerman.

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The authors declare no conflict of interest.

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