Monday, January 2, 2012

The Nipple Shield: Friend or Foe?

I get the feeling that I should write down my memories of using the nipple shield now, before they fade away.  I guess I want to remember, for next time, how hard breastfeeding is in the beginning.  I'm already at the point where it seems almost odd how thankful I was to get the shield, and my baby is only 3.5 months old.  I believe that it saved our nursing relationship.

I did everything I could to prepare for breastfeeding, but there is only so much anyone can learn from books, the internet, and a couple La Leche League meetings.  My typical "research the hell out of it" approach needed some real world experience.  I was eager for my baby to be born so we could start.

I had heard and read many stories of moms and babies getting stuck with a shield, so I wanted to avoid it if I could.  My baby was a big, sturdy newborn who was happy to start nursing and my milk was coming in within 36 hours of his birth.  What could go wrong?  Well, nursing just became more and more painful over the first few days.  He didn't have a very good latch and, even though I was trying everything I could think of or had read about or seen in a YouTube video, my nipples were getting torn up.  Especially the left one, which was the side I had originally thought we were doing better on!  The right one was shaped a little differently, more oval than circular, so we had to start with side lying nursing for the first couple days.  I think this also saved that side from some of the more painful, initial damage from the bad latch.  Also, this helped us with getting sleep, because we had to be lying down.  My biggest problem was that my nipples would always slide part way out of his mouth, no matter what I did.  This left him sucking on half a nipple.  Ouch!!  This was creating clacks in the middle of the nipple.  As they became more and more painful, I kept thinking about the lactation consultant at the hospital suggesting a nipple shield and my negative reaction.  I thought I would be giving up if I started using one.  I know they can cause a decrease in supply.  I didn't want to do anything that might damage my ability to feed my baby, especially since my supply started off so well.  I also didn't want to have to worry about keeping one clean and always having it with me.

By day five, when we had an appointment with a nurse for a weight check, I knew I had to talk to her about breastfeeding.  She was also a lactation consultant, so I was hopeful that she could help.  She watched us for a bit and we talked about how things were going.  My husband seemed uncomfortable about this process, so he took a little walk.  I thought this was a little strange, as he is always very supportive of me breastfeeding.  But, this was hard for him.  He knew I was having trouble and wanted to help, but there was nothing he could do.  As the LC and I talked, I could see her only suggestion was going to be "power through the pain."  It was me that brought up the nipple shield.  I'm no wimp.  I didn't use any pain meds during the birth of my 9 lb 7 oz baby.  But, I didn't think that I was going to be able to keep doing this much longer.  I could tell that I was starting to dread every nursing session.  She didn't want to jump strait to a nipple shield, but we couldn't come up with anything else to help.  She finally pulled one out and we tried it in her office.  Wow!  I could feel myself relax and all the tension in my body drain away.  No pain!  I left her office grinning and feeling more optimistic than I had been all week.

I was careful to use the shield only as much as I needed it.  Baby didn't seem to care one way or the other.  I was happy that he didn't decide that he couldn't eat without it.  The shield also helped pull my right nipple into a shape where baby could get it in his mouth more easily and we could use that side sitting up.  I needed to use the shield almost all the time for the first few days, while my nipples healed.  Then, slowly, I was able to use it less and less.  I started to forget to put lanolin on my nipples after nursing.  I stopped worrying that my injured nipple would stick to my nursing pads.  After a couple weeks, my husband asked me how often I needed to use the shield, and I realized that I hadn't used it in days.  I haven't needed it since.

I'm still amazed at how comfortable we are with breastfeeding now.  I have always heard that if I could get through the first few weeks, it would get better.  Everyone's experience is different, but this was very true for me.  I look down now at my happily nursing baby and am so glad that I didn't give up.  I never thought that I would use a nipple shield.  But, in the end, I'm glad it was there when I needed it.

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