I hadn't even heard of a nipple shield.
When I finally came to use a nipple shield it was a great relief. Here's what happened.
I thought breastfeeding was going to be fine, figured I would just pick it up.
But life can turn out differently to your expectations. There I was, new baby in arms…day 1. So delicate and cute.
He was so sleepy after he was born, a beautiful little squishy face, so cuddly and calm.
Then the time comes and you have that moment when you get your first go at breastfeeding.
With a lovely midwife by my side we let the baby find the breast, his nodding little head and searching hands. He did a great job, but the next bit wasn’t so easy.
This little guy was trying his best but latching was such a challenge for us. The great thing was, I wasn’t pressured to get him on. No one forcing his head, just kind hands and gentle encouragement and observation.
It just wasn’t happening this first go, so we went to the back-up plan of hand-expressing colostrum into a cup and watched this little guy sweetly lap at the milk like a kitten. It was divine.
Not my dream start but what a privilege to be feeding this baby the amazing liquid the human body creates. At least I had a way to begin.
Step 1. cup feeding - still no nipple shield
Cup feeding was ok for the first couple of days but I was realising this breastfeeding thing was really hard. I thought it would just happen but it really wasn’t.
I had some time with the hospital lactation consultant that 1st week, and thought I had it worked out, but once on my own back in my own home, the fumbling and stress, and isolation was starting to grow into anxiety.
Every time I would go to feed, the latch was such a challenge. And looking down I was getting such a sense of how small this little guy was.
MY BOOB WAS BIGGER THAN HIS HEAD.
And not just by a little bit, these boobs of mine had grown to such a degree that his little mouth just couldn’t make a big enough opening. His mouth was trying to latch to a bloomin’ watermelon. Overnight breastfeeds became the worst time. Sitting in the dim light trying to latch a baby when you are simply exhausted was a harrowing way to feel. The desperation each time we would try together was intense and increasing each day.
The good news, he was still growing.
Whatever I was doing to get by was having a wonderful impact on him so one less thing to worry about at least.
After 2 weeks of this battle, on a Friday night struggle, tears, stress and fatigue, my husband vocally decided…
“Tomorrow morning we are calling in some help, I don’t care what it costs, we can’t keep going like this.”
He was right. This was breaking me and taking all the joy away from what was meant to feel so wonderful.
And then we got a nipple shield.
As I sit here recounting this story I am in tears, re-experiencing what was some of the most difficult couple of weeks I remember. With feelings of failure, embarrassment that I couldn’t feed my baby the “right” way and utter disappointment, I was apprehensive & glad when that lactation consultant walked into my living room.
We had never met this lady but she had a kind presence and pragmatic appeal. “Pop him on” she said “…and show me where you are at.”
So I did just that, explained what I had been trying and was met with some simple but validating words.
“You are not doing anything wrong, and neither is he. But darling you breast is too big for his tiny face right now. He will grow and you will be fine but right now the puzzle doesn’t fit together. I want you to try this”
And she handed me a nipple shield. Taught me to stick it to my skin with cooled kettle water and pop the baby on.
Magic. He could latch the nipple shield just fine. He could take my milk. We had found a new way.
Nipple shields were wonderful for us. And just as she said, by about 8 weeks old when he was big enough to latch directly to my breast, the nipple shield was no longer needed again.
Now this story is not uncommon. I have heard variations of it in clinic, treating new mums for engorgement, mastitis & blocked ducts. You just need help early. If your goal is to breastfeed, and for me that was an absolute, then get the help and reduce the emotional strain.
The statistics are huge for women prematurely weaning their baby for the struggle they go through. Don’t feel alone. Someone out there knows exactly how you feel.
The key is education. Find the right someone to educate and support you and breastfeeding can still be the wonderful journey you were after.
A nipple shield can be a wonderful thing.
Author: Katie Willy
Osteopath & Your Two Jugs Co-Founder
Elise Fuller & Katie Willy
Osteopaths & Your Two Jugs Co-Founders
Elise & Katie are Melbourne based osteopaths who have been actively treating breastfeeding women in clinic since 2015. During 2020 lockdown they launched their company Your Two Jugs to educate more women about how to treat their own breastfeeding conditions. Their online video based course, Boobology, is available now with heaps of education and hands on techniques to teach women the do’s & don’ts for mastitis, blocked ducts & engorgement. More recently, Your Two Jugs launched a full health care practitioner course, called The Boob Hero, to educate manual therapists on their contribution to supporting breastfeeding women with hands on care. Empowerment all starts with education, and the more support available for women, the better.