Monday, July 13, 2009

The Redemption of the Nipple Shield

The other day I had the joy of holding my friends’ four day old baby girl. As I held the tiny bundle, I once again was in awe over how precious a new life is. I also could not remember Jack being that tiny - but as you can see, he was!

While there, I began talking with my friend about her struggles with breastfeeding. It seems most women have some issues in the first weeks (most women except my mom who was stunned to see how difficult it was to get Jack to latch on), but nobody really tells you that.

My first week as a mom was simply horrible. Jack would not open his mouth large enough to latch, then he would get frustrated and cry. This caused his tongue to go to the roof of his mouth which made latching on impossible! We would calm him down, try again, get frustrated, cry (not just him, I was too half of the time), and so on and so forth. On average it took 45 minutes to get him to latch on. Then he would eat for another 45 minutes during which I held my breath lest he should get startled, pull off, and we would have to start the whole process over again. By the time a feeding was over, I was done and wanted someone else to take him.

I felt so guilty because the thought of my son didn’t bring feelings of love, but of stress and depression. I remember holding him one day when it wasn’t feeding time. I cried over him and told him I was sorry for being so impatient with him (and I was impatient, trust me). I sang to him “Baby Mine” from Dumbo, promising him I did love him even if I didn’t feel it and showed it poorly.

Thankfully, God gave me the nipple shield. We never had a problem after that. I tried to wean him from it when he was 6 weeks old, but the added stress seemed pointless to me. I figured a nipple shield fit into my ideals of redemptive theology (God heals all things which are faulty and imperfect), so I ignored those who were concerned that a nipple shield wasn’t good enough. Seriously, I was shocked at how many “professionals” wanted me to wean from the nipple shield. Why? I was just starting to like my son. I didn’t want to break that streak. So, for the past seven months, we have used a nipple shield. Sure, at times it is irritating. Especially when it fills with milk, Jack knocks it off, and I’m suddenly soaking wet. But without it, I wouldn’t be breastfeeding today.

That’s my story. I wish I would have tried a nipple shield earlier. Then maybe I would have enjoyed that first week of Jack’s life. I could have been in awe over his tiny mouth, fingers, and toes. Next time I won’t wait so long to use a nipple shield.

Anyway… I didn’t start writing this thinking that I would tell you my story. I want to give little pieces of advice for those new moms about things that made breastfeeding easier for me. There’s just a few…

· Next time around, I am not going to give my baby a pacifier right away. We did that in the hospital and I think that hindered the latch. At the same time – I love the pacifier. It is still very soothing for Jack even though he usually treats it like another toy.

· Get two books: Breastfeeding Made Simple (WAAAY better than that la leche league book) and If These Boobs Could Talk. The first will clear up the confusion. The second will make you feel better, trust me.

· Don’t be afraid of a nipple shield. It saved my life and kept us breastfeeding. People say there are concerns about milk production going down and mastitis, but if you have the right size you will be fine (there are pictures on the Medela website to help you see if you have the right size). This article from helped me a ton.

· The Medela lanoline is the best.

· Invest in a couple of good nursing bras. Those bras from Target are not good. The Bravado Body Silk bra is my favorite. I don’t think I’ve ever had one that is so comfortable. And it really does grow with you! I’ll probably wear it when Jack is weaned… if it still fits!

· Rent a hospital-grade pump right away. Then, when you’re engorged you can pump away the pain. The milk from that time gave me a wonderful supply in the freezer.

· If you don’t work and won’t need to pump often, a hand pump is still a necessity.

· Though it is recommended that you pump after each feeding to keep your supply up– who the heck has time for that?! I really don’t think women have supply issues the way people talk.

· Johnson’s nursing pads were the best ones I found. The cloth ones from Gerber didn’t keep me dry. In fact, they became itchy when I was wet. And I still don’t see how those thin disposable ones do any good… I leak straight through them, even today.

· Oh yeah, and if you choose to use formula or to pump & feed, that’s great. You still love your baby. You are still a wonderful mom. In fact, if breastfeeding is causing depression and isn’t permitting you to love your baby, switching to bottles may be the best thing you can do. Then you can get over the stress and just enjoy your baby. (Also, then he or she will take a bottle which means: 1) daddy can do a 3am feeding 2) you can use a pacifier without problems and 3) you can have a babysitter to go on a date or have a girls’ night out! p.s. The nipple shield has also allowed us to do these thing)

Happy Feedings!


  1. Hey, I was just wondering how do you know the nipple shield fits correctly, I viewed the medela site, but it seems as though it is more about what baby's mouth can take.

    I read on babycenter's groups that women were getting clogged ducts cause it was 'too big' is this possible? Any advice?

  2. Katrianna, I don't know how to measure for a nipple shield, but a lactation consultant could help you with that. On the medela site I linked to above, towards the bottom of the page there are two pictures. The first of a nipple shield that is too small. The second is of one that fits correct.

    To find the correct size, I actually tried three different sizes. A standard nipple shield is too big for me. When I turn the extra-small size inside out like they say and suck my nipple into the shield it looks exactly like the second picture. My guess is the concern for the baby's mouth is probably with the larger sizes of the shield.

    As far as clogged ducts, this can happen to women with or without a shield. I think that if the shield fits properly, enough stimulation of the nipple will happen to keep the milk flowing. I had a clogged duct once and I treated it with a moist hot pack until the milk flowed again. Without proper stimulation, I believe milk supply can also decrease.

    Again, a lactation consultant can help you more than I can. My advice is purely from experience. I hope it is helpful!