Britteny Perry is the proud mother of an energetic two and a half year old. She breastfed her daughter till the age of two!
I wanted to write this to talk about my experience using the nipple shield and the timeline in which I used it. There is so much information available out there, that I really wanted to boil this down to my own personal struggle in hopes that it could help someone going through the same or similar problems.
How's this Supposed to Work?
Nipples Come in Many Shapes and Sizes!
Breastfeeding was important to me. I somehow figured things would go smoother if I went a natural route and I wanted to be able to provide that for my baby. I knew it wasn't easy, but I hadn't fully comprehended how difficult breastfeeding really would be. I took classes, but classes teach you on a generic level.
I didn’t realize then how many different shapes and sizes nipples come in. I hadn’t seen that many, other than my own. To me, mine were just normal. It didn’t really hit me that my size and shape would factor in till I was watching my newborn root on my chest. I was mostly reclined, while the doctor stitched me up. My breasts were bare and looked about as tired as I felt. They were pancake boobs, flat and relaxed. My baby was on my breastbone, while my nipples were several inches away, about as flat as the rest of my boobs, like fried eggs, just a circle in another circle.
“Maybe we should help her.” My husband asked, watching her twist her head searching. But how?
“I don’t know. She’s supposed to be able to find it.” I answered. I had watched videos of infants rooting their way all the way to the nipple, but right then it did seem impossible.
Later, the lactation consultant came to help. She used two hands to squish my nipple around and basically shove it into my baby’s mouth, even holding my babies head with one hand and my breast with the other, to keep it from slipping out. She explained that I had a lot of boob and very small, soft, mostly flat nipples. The one on the right was semi inverted. So, how was I supposed to do what she just did? I only had two hands. She helped us one more time before introducing the “nipple shield.”
Medela Nipple Shield
The Nipple Shield
It was even more uncomfortable than it sounded. I had heard of them before, but not actually seen one. They look like small clear traffic cones or sombreros. One of my neighbors had a baby a year before me. She had mentioned it briefly, saying that she had wanted to breastfeed, but due to the shape of her nipples she had been using a nipple shield. She had clearly been very embarrassed when she said it. I had imagined an evil medical contraption. Reality revealed it to be innocent looking. But it was painful and more embarrassing than I realized at first.
The lactation consultant gave me the smallest size she had. She said there was a size smaller, but that it would probably be too small anyway. So, this one would have to do. She wet her fingers in a cup and used the water to help stick the suction cup/cone on my nipple. My baby, latched. I was so relieved, except now I was dependent on this tiny clear piece of plastic to feed my baby.
I was too embarrassed to breast feed in public, even under a blanket. It took an extra hand to get everything situated and I didn’t want to drop my little traffic cone on the dirty floor. My baby was a finicky eater too. She was always unlatching, reaching, fusing and generally upsetting the position of the shield. It was a handful. I was terrified of losing it late at night and not being able to feed my baby. I wouldn’t let myself fall asleep breastfeeding because I had to make sure I put it back on the table. On top of that it was painful. There was a little too much room in the cone section, so that when my baby latched, she sucked part of my areola in too and then mashed all that around in her little mouth. It left my nipple bloody and bruised.
Leaving the Hospital
When I left the hospital, I was given a breast pump. Their advice was to pump in between every other nursing session, because I wouldn’t be getting enough skin contact, due to the interference of the nipple shield. They also said that I should try latching without the nipple shield every so often.
Of, course I was Googling everything and there were plenty of warnings popping up about how nipple shields should be used only as a last resort and under the guidance of a professional. But, wait, what?! The professionals just sent me home with mine along with the list of possible problems and side effects!
Way to stress a mom out, right? In truth, I used the pump once to twice a day with no related supply issues. But my poor baby was extremely gassy and uncomfortable for about the first two months.
The best way to deal with these very real possibilities and concerns is simple. Nipple shields are meant to be used with the assistance of professionals. Even if the hospital doesn’t coordinate this, you can. Find and attend a breastfeeding group or class and make sure to talk to a lactation consultant about your progress as you go. Many of these groups also offer baby weighing, which can help monitor that your baby is getting what they need.
Finding a Breast Feeding Group
What helped the most was a breast-feeding class. My baby was already three months old by the time I found this, but it was a major turning point in my breastfeeding experience. I found them listed at the hospital. One of the lactation consultants led a class of mothers. They all came and asked their questions, or breast fed while the consultant gave constructive criticism on their latching and hold. Yeah, it was weird, but I think that’s why it helped. Being there around people with similar struggles, surrounded by women unashamed to pull their boobs out in a safe place and admit they didn’t know what they were doing, helped me let go of some of my stress and embarrassment over my latching problem.
The lactation consultant asked if I had tried latching without the nipple shield recently. I said no, but that about a week prior, my baby had pushed it aside in favor of my actual nipple. She hadn’t done it since. At that time I had completely given up ever nursing without the shield.
The consultant asked me to try, and I gave her a look that said, “Ok, you asked for it.” But miraculously my baby latched with only a little struggle. It wasn’t perfect and she was still biting down a bit, but it was such a huge relief to see that she could latch at all. I still used the shield for about a week more, mostly out of nervous habit. Then my baby pushed it aside again and I decided that was enough. So, I stopped using it! Just like that!
If you are stuck using a nipple shield here are some things to keep in mind.
- Buy extras on Amazon : This can help calm that irrational fear of loosing your one way to feed your baby.
- Make use of nursing spaces provided by malls and other public places: It can be scary to nurse publicly, but even more so if you have an extra facet to your process. Getting out there and using the safe spaces provided for nursing mothers could help you feel less like you have something to hide. You don't!
- Let your baby call the shots: It's never a bad idea to offer the bare nipple, but there's no use stressing out if your baby still rejects it. The nipple shield offers an easier latch, but makes for slower more difficult nursing. Eventually, your child should come to this realization on their own.
- Prep your nipples: Nursing requires you to relax, so this can be difficult. But whenever you have the extra zen available, this is a great trick for helping your baby latch without the shield. Nipples respond the stimuli, so try rolling them into a longer, stiffer shape or try getting them cold with a piece of ice. Using the shield or a breast pump can also pull the nipple into an easier shape for latching.
- Get professional help: The continued assistance of a lactation consultant is beneficial to both mom and babies' health.They can offer advice on pumping, supply and shield weening, while keeping an eye on your growing baby.
It's all Normal
I hope this was helpful. I believe there is an enormous benefit to be had in people just opening-up about uncomfortable topics. A huge part of my issue came from how embarrassed I was. I don’t know how many times I heard family members tell me I should just try without the shield or that I probably didn’t really need it. I think they meant to be encouraging, but to my hormonal ears it sounded as if they were as uncomfortable and ashamed as I was.
The nipple shield is a crutch and a complete pain to use, but it could help you breastfeed, so it’s nothing to be ashamed of. You should be proud of your hard work.
Boobs and nipples are as diverse as people are, as diverse as babies’ mouths are, and there isn’t a magical connection making sure they all fit perfectly. It is completely normal and natural to have issues latching. Using the tools and resources at your disposal can be beneficial.
I will say that I think along with the breast pump and frightening propaganda about lack of skin contact, the hospital should have pointed me in the direction of that breast-feeding class from the very beginning. Maybe my time with the nipple shield would have been shorter that way.
Some Helpful Links
Link to Amazon, nipple shield from Medela:
For information on nipple shields and how to safely use them:
To find out when nipple shields should be prescribed:
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.