A question was posed recently on The Other Baby Book’s Facebook page by a mama seeking support in weaning her nursling from a nipple shield. The question and its ensuing responses thrust me back to my own nipple shield-wielding past, a time when I was similarly exasperated and longing to ditch that silicone nip for good. My recollection of my early breastfeeding difficulties has slipped into a soft and distant focus–a luxury, I suppose, of someone who is still nursing strong and nearly effortlessly after nearly sixteen months.
In the beginning, breastfeeding kicked my ass. It kicked my nipples’ ass. It kicked my self-esteem’s ass. But, eventually, breastfeeding evolved from a serious ass-kicking to a seriously kick-ass experience. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the nipple shield’s past role in my current kick-ass breastfeeding relationship.
During my pregnancy I’d read abundant books and blogs dedicated to breastfeeding education and support. I attended a breastfeeding class. I regularly attended a local natural childbirth circle where a La Leche League leader was often present and where breastfeeding was celebrated. I had friends and coworkers who were lactation consultants, who were routinely sharing their enthusiasm and insight with me. I was pumped (no pun intended) about breastfeeding. I thought I was prepared. I thought I had breastfeeding in the bag.
I had a medication-free birthing, and my son, Arlo, was immediately placed on my chest and spent the first hour or so of his life there at my breast. He never left my room during our stay in the hospital. Lactation consultants worked with us regularly. I felt certain that everything that could be done to get our breastfeeding adventure off on the proper footing had been done.
Except I couldn’t get good latch from my baby. And together Arlo and I were a hot freakin’ mess, y’all.
I could share specific, sad memories with you. Like, say, our first night home from the hospital when my husband ran out to pick up some take-out for dinner, only to return to find me and Arlo in the nursery, both soaked in my tears and snot, both crying the exaggerated cries of the helpless and hungry. Or, you know, those nights when I would start crying as soon as Arlo began smacking his lips, because my nips were to’ up from the flo’ up. He would try to latch, and it was searingly painful. It was a toe-curling, cut-a-bitch kind of pain. Breastfeeding was not fun for either of us. I was so, so ready to throw in the burp cloth.
During this time I continued to follow up with the hospital’s lactation department as an outpatient, and I was given a nipple shield and shown how to use it. It opened up a whole new world for us. Feedings became more relaxed, and I began to feel more empowered. I was able to be in the moment with my baby as he nursed, instead of holding my breath, gritting my teeth and hoping for a mercifully quick nursing sesh. Those moments–the ones where my nursing son and I were lost in our cozy breastfeeding bubble, where we stared at each other like we were the only two people who existed, where I listened with pride to the glorious “kuh” sounds of his swallowing milk–they were boozy, and they hooked me hardcore on breastfeeding.
It took us just over 4 weeks to totally wean from the shield. It was an exercise of persistence and vigilance, and it wasn’t easy. I found it difficult to find supportive words on the internet during the time I was trying to wean Arlo away from the shield. Everything I read discussed how bad nipple shields were, how they jacked with your milk supply, or how they promoted nipple confusion. The worst? When people would say that nipple shields were the devices of the weak, employed by those who can’t hack it. It was so thoroughly dispiriting, and felt a lot like getting kicked when I was down.
If I wasn’t deep-heartedly committed to hacking it, I would have never resorted to the shield. The nipple shield served its purpose for me and Arlo: it protected our breastfeeding relationship. It was a bridge to this gorgeously tender place that we now share more than a year later.
Rhianna typed this post from her bed, which she shares with her hubby of 11 years and her toddler of almost 16 months. She once dozed off while nursing her son on an airplane and was thoroughly embarrassed when she awoke moments later to discover that her son had slipped from her boob, and it was just hanging in the breeze for everyone in row H to see.