Musings on Nipple Shields

My husband and I recently rearranged all of the bedrooms in our house. It was basically like one of those annoying tile puzzles you used to get at the dentist’s office as a kid. You know, the ones where you’re supposed to try to make the tiles into a picture and you can get two pieces just right only to realize you have to move them completely apart to get the third where it’s supposed to be? I hate those things.

It doesn’t help that we’re clutter people and terrible at throwing things away. But somewhere, in the midst of the piles of fall/winter clothes and bags of donations, we cleaned out a drawer and discovered one of these beauties:

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That’s a nipple shield, if you’re unfamiliar. They’re used to assist with breastfeeding, draw the nipple into a baby’s mouth, and protect nipples suffering from wounds due to poor latching. They’re simultaneously miraculous and evil.

I became dependent upon them after the birth of our first child, a kid who never managed to latch properly. We tried everything and the nipple shield was the only thing that worked. It would’ve been fine, but our dog developed a taste for them (of course) and we ended up spending so. much. money. replacing them. They’re stupidly expensive for such a small plastic doo-hickey, not to mention the trip to Target you have to make with a newborn as a neurotic first time parent.

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She was so good at snuggling, so bad at latching….

 

So, this is World Breastfeeding Week and I’ve got such mixed emotions. My babies and I never took to nursing easily. Breastfeeding was the single largest contributor to my postpartum anxiety and depression struggles. I desperately wanted to make it work. I wanted that peaceful, snuggly, nursing relationship and what I got was blistered, bleeding nipples, and (eventually) a prescription for Lexapro.

I wanted to breastfeed because I knew the science and I knew that it was incredibly healthy for my babies. I wanted to breastfeed because my own mother had and she made it seem so, well, doable. I wanted to breastfeed because it was economical. We got pregnant with our first baby on our honeymoon (holla!) so money was always tight. I just couldn’t justify buying formula when breast milk is so free.

 

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Pretty certain I had just stopped crying from the nipple pain…or was about to start crying…it’s all a blur, really.
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“They told her it was easy to nurse, ha ha ha ha ha!!”

 

And yet, it didn’t pan out. I exclusively pumped and fed my firstborn breast milk for six months until I couldn’t take it anymore. We switched to formula and I think it probably saved my life. (Sanity is worth any price, y’all.) And that’s how it kind of went with my next two babies: I nursed for about 6-8 months, got sick of pumping at work, and switched to formula. It was far from my dream goal of nursing each baby for a year, but it worked out. And through all that I worked hard to navigate my mental health struggles that were and are so wrapped up in motherhood.

Then I had my last baby and didn’t return to work. I knew my warning signs and triggers of anxiety/depression and had had my placenta encapsulated. We were doing all the things we could to make sure that the transition from three kids to four, from working to staying home, all of it could be as smooth as possible.

And breastfeeding sucked in the beginning. Again. It was awful yet again and even though I expected it to be hard, I felt myself slipping into alarmingly familiar territory. I was frustrated and struggling and angry and stubborn and about to lose it when my incredible husband walked in with a Target bag. That man bought me nipple shields. Unasked, he went to the breastfeeding section of Target and got me nipple shields, and cooling gel packs, and any other helpful items he could find to try to make it all work. And I cried like my baby.

Breastfeeding can be a very lonely journey. There’s an insane amount of pressure wrapped up in being the sole person who is tasked with keeping a new human alive. And when things don’t come easily, when latches don’t jive and nipples blister and bleed, sometimes all it takes is an overpriced piece of plastic to make a mama feel seen. I don’t know if I’ve ever felt more validated than when my husband walked in with nipple shields. He is a good, good man and it’s obvious that I married up.

And now, as we rearrange bedrooms and trip over a two-year-old (who is still nursing by the way…joke’s on me, obviously), I am so honored to have walked this breastfeeding journey. It has been one of the biggest challenges of my life. I’ve had to learn to let go of my expectations, to be flexible, to be more persistent than I’ve ever been before. I’ve learned that fed is best and that finding what works best for my particular situation usually trumps all of the “supposed to’s” that society throws my way. I’ve learned to love my body for what it can do and forgive it for what it can’t. I’ve come a long way from the shy, uncertain girl who hid in cars to nurse her baby. Shoot, I openly breast fed a toddler at Disney World this summer with no cover and felt so liberated, so…me.

For me, breastfeeding has been the biggest blessing and biggest pain in the ass of all time. My magical husband just got the youngest to go to sleep for the night without nursing for the first time ever. I mean, the sweet chum may wake up in five minutes and be a raging psycho, but it’s a start. I find it perfectly ironic that this is the way my breastfeeding journey will end. It’s the perfect example of “be careful what you wish for” and I know I’ll laugh about it when he’s finally weaned…so in, like, fifteen years.

 

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Can’t stop, won’t stop.

 

Happy World Breastfeeding Week, my friends. I wish all of you so many blessings on your breastfeeding journey, whether that lasts five years, or five minutes, or five seconds of thinking, “nah, that ain’t me.” It’s complicated, politically charged, challenging, breathtakingly beautiful, and it’s certainly something to be celebrated, however that looks for you.

 

Much love,

Mary Susan

2 thoughts on “Musings on Nipple Shields”

  1. Relaxing really helps. Relaxing is not a word in a new mother’s vocabulary, especially a first time mama. It was never what I needed to hear when I was trying to get pregnant and nothing was happening. Physical problems beyond relaxation intervene in the most supposedly natural life events. That’s why women should give our sisters the freedom to live the variations that are right for each one. We have tons of expectations coming from society and other sources. We need to lift each other up and to validate all the unique ways we accomplish our motherhood. I have two children I nursed and two adopted children I didn’t. One was 3 days old when I got him; one was a teenager. My bond with each of my four children is holy. It doesn’t depend on nursing or not. It comes from the heart, not the nipple!

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