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

Navigating Information Overload

Hey, pregnant mama! Isn’t the internet great? You can find information at insanely quick speeds, connect with people across the world, access support at the drop of a hat…it really is pretty incredible when you think about it.

 

While the internet can be one of your greatest sources of strength and information during pregnancy, it can also be a source of stress, anxiety, and overload, especially at a time when you’re probably feeling worn down in the first place. It’s hard enough to go grocery shopping and deal with the unsolicited opinions and advice from folks, but the internet can be an unfettered pipeline of information and opinion overload from what types of swaddlers to register for to the unending debate over the “right” way to give birth. (Spoiler: there’s no right way. You do you, sister.)

 

So, what’s a girl to do? How do you navigate this inescapable world of opinions and suggestions and fear mongering and unintentional shaming (or is it actually inventional?) and also have time to enjoy your pregnancy? This is a lot easier for some mamas to manage than others. Lots of women know early on how they want to birth, who they want to be there, and what type of diapering system they’re going to go with. Cool, that’s great! However, many women feel unprepared for the baptism by fire that comes from being a birthing woman in today’s society. There’s a lot to know, there’s a lot to learn, and most of it is somehow politically charged. These are the days we live in, folks, and its so normal to feel anxiety and fear. So, so normal.

 

So if you’re in this boat, here’s my advice…and please know that I see the irony in offering advice to people who feel overwhelmed by advice. So, here we go!

 


Know that our culture has not set you up to succeed. Neither girls nor boys are taught enough about their bodies and reproduction. The most many of us have ever seen is a birth video in health class. Maybe. If you’re an expectant mother or father, you really haven’t been taught to navigate the tricky medical system, so give yourself a break. There’s no way you can know every single thing people expect you to know overnight. It just isn’t possible, so cut yourself some slack and do one thing at a time. Maybe just starting with simple things, like who you want in your birth room or whether you’d like to find out your baby’s gender can feel like you’re starting a foundation of a plan.

 

 


Take into account the culture. When people share their opinions with you and tell you that you “have” to do something this way and should “never” do something that way they are seeking affirmation of their own decisions. Let me say that again. People share their opinions because they want to validate their own choices. Now, obviously this isn’t 100% across the board. There are probably many people who love you and are sharing advice because they want the best for you and your family…but that stranger in Starbucks who tells you that you’re a child endangering psycho for wanting a home birth or that if you get an epidural you’re not a “real woman” is just pushing her agenda so she can feel okay about the choices she made. Maybe she’s struggling with her own birth experience and hasn’t completely processed it. Either way, that’s just like, her opinion, man.

 

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Write yourself a permission slip. Seriously, do it. I know it sounds silly, but I swear to you it will help, especially with decisions you’ve made that may be unpopular for whatever absurd reason. If I were pregnant right now, I know for sure mine would say, “I give myself permission to not feel guilty over the decisions I make. I don’t have to make people happy with my birth.”

Or maybe you’ve decided that you want to get an epidural and that is the best choice for you even though everyone in your immediate family has had an unmedicated birth. Your permission slip could say, “I give myself permission to get an epidural because it is the best choice for MY birth.”

Maybe you’re completely overwhelmed by all of the books and websites everyone is telling you that you “have” to read. Write, “I give myself permission to read only one book about birth.”

Whatever it is you’ve decided, write that stuff down, sign it, and hang it up somewhere you’ll see it every day. Words are powerful, my friends, and permission slips help.

 


And speaking of books, there are a lot of good ones out there. There’s no way you could read and digest every great birth book in nine months. No stinking way. I am a huge believer that knowledge is power, but I also know that not everyone is ready to sit down and read 80 childbirth books. Regardless of what anyone else says or thinks or knows, this is your show. Ultimately, you get to choose how much you read or learn or do.

All that being said, I think it’s important to be an educated consumer and remember that every birth book and method is biased toward one thing or another. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, just something to remember. If you’re having trouble narrowing down all of the options for you, my number one suggestion is The Birth Partner by Penny Simkin. It is the most thorough, unbiased, book on birth that I’ve ever encountered. It reads more like a textbook, so you’re not going to get the touchy feely stuff from this one. It lists medications, how they’re used, and what the side effects might be; and has an entire section for the different stages of labor which includes what the mother might feel physically and emotionally, what her partner might do, and what a doula might do. It also has sections on epidurals and c-sections. It’s all the facts, none of the politics and I can’t recommend it enough, just make sure to get the most recent edition!

 


At the end of the day, there’s so much to know and so little time. Let me say again, that feeling anxiety and stress and pressure is so normal. Everything you’re feeling is valid. You’re allowed to feel annoyed or stressed or worried and you’re allowed to walk away from things that aren’t building you up. You are doing a monumental task of growing a human inside your body, a courageous task of raising a new person in this world. You are allowed to separate yourself from situations and people who do not honor the work your body and soul are doing right now. Remember that protecting your own well-being is protecting your child. It really, really is, so allow yourself the grace and gumption it takes to say no thanks to advice and not to feel guilty. Maybe write a permission slip for that one and come join us over on the Bright Birth Facebook page. It’s a safe place to vent, get input (that you actually ask for!), and make friends who are in your same boat. I hope to see you there and in the meantime, take deep breaths and lots of naps!

 

xoxo,

Mary Susan

Why Not My Mom?

Q: My mom has had seven of her own children and my partner took a childbirth class. How is a doula that much better than either of them?

 

A: This is a common question and I think the answer lies in taking a step back looking at the big picture. Hiring a doula and having your loved ones with you during birth does not have to be mutually exclusive. It’s not either/or (unless you want it to be). You can actually have your cake and eat it too on this one!

 

Note: I’m going to be dealing in generalizations here. Obviously not every partner relationship and mother/daughter relationship are great. Even if they are great, not all mothers want their own mamas at their delivery. This is a very personal choice and there’s not a one size fits all answer. However, for the purposes of this post, we’re going to assume that the mother giving birth would genuinely be open to her partner and/or her mother attending her birth. 

 

There are lots of good reasons to have your partner and your mom in your birthing room. They love you like crazy, for starters! Your mother and your partner know you in intimate ways that your doula probably doesn’t. They know your history because they’ve walked it with you. They know what makes you tick and can offer valuable insight into how to best care for you during labor. Your mother has obviously given birth before, so she can empathize with you in ways that even your partner might not. Maybe your partner and/or mom have joined you for a childbirth class, too. That’s awesome! The more prepared your birth team is, the better.

 

All of those things can add up to a truly wonderful birth experience, no doubt about it. However – and remember you CAN have your cake and eat it, too! – a doula can be the glue that holds that wonderful experience all together.

 

Think of it this way:

A doula has*…

  • attended workshops, classes, and undergone training to master the art of labor support.
  • read countless books on childbirth, breast feeding, and postpartum.
  • written essays on the importance of continuous labor support.
  • gotten feedback from birth care professionals like midwives, doctors, and nurses.
  • researched (and continues to research) the most up to date information and studies on best birth practices.
  • made herself familiar with hospital practices and is prepared to help you navigate the medical lingo that can become confusing during birth.

 

A doula will…

  • be available to you throughout your pregnancy for questions, information, or just a shoulder to lean on.
  • give you unbiased information and will not try to sway you in one way or another. This is your birth after all.
  • have a list of resources and a network of information to get you the best answers to your questions.
  • be happy to answer any and all “awkward” questions that you might not feel comfortable asking someone else.
  • know how to help you manage labor with comfort measures, positions, etc.

 

A doula will not take the place of your partner or mother during your birth. Their presence is irreplaceable. Period. She will, however, enrich their presence with her own expertise. She will empower your partner to go ahead and try a particular support position. She will work with your mother to ensure that your spiritual and emotional needs are being met. She will make sure that everyone is on the same page as to your desires and pull the team together to be guardians of  your personal birth vision.

 

A doula is not a divider, but rather a unifier in the birth room. She honors the relationships you have with your loved ones and adds an indispensable element of information, care, and experience that will take your birth experience to the next level.

 

 

 

 

Additional Resources: 
“If You Don’t Hire a Doula” from Southern Pacific Doulas

 

*This refers loosely to DONA certified doulas or those working toward DONA certification. Other organizations have different requirements for certification and this is not an exhaustive list of the DONA certification requirements. For more information on DONA certification, follow this link.

Aren’t Doulas Just for Natural Births?

Q: Aren’t doulas just for people having natural births or delivering at home?

A: No way!

It is a common misconception that doulas only provide care to families who choose to deliver at home or who are planning for an unmedicated birth. While it is certainly true that doulas attend a lot of those types of births, doulas exist to improve birth outcomes and that means attending all types of births.

 

So, how can a doula serve me in a hospital setting?

Doulas are trained with current, evidence based information that keeps them up to speed on common hospital practices and procedures as well as ACOG* guidelines. A doula can help you navigate the often confusing medical jargon used in the hospital setting and lead you to information that will help you make the best decisions for your family. Doulas are not medical practitioners, however, so your doula should never tell you “yea” or “nay” on any particular intervention, procedure, or medication. She’s there to give you unbiased information and support you in your decisions, whatever they may be. Remember, this is your birth, not your doula’s.

Doulas are also trained to assist in comfort measures such as pain management techniques and positioning, so if you’re waiting to be okayed for an epidural or are at a loss as to how to cope with monitors, your doula is there.

It’s a common thought that, once your epidural is placed, there’s nothing to worry about since the pain is gone, right? As a culture, we commonly forget that, though the pain may be dulled, a mother is still laboring. She may not physically feel any of the sensations of contractions, but many mothers still grapple mentally and emotionally with the labor process especially after they’ve gotten an epidural. The holistic approach of a doula makes her especially qualified to support families in this situation.

Many times mothers who have received an epidural have a hard time during the pushing stage of labor. It’s really difficult to know how/when to push when half of your body is numb! Doulas are there to guide mothers in pushing and to encourage mothers when the going gets tough.

 

But what if I get a c-section?

You may think that a doula is relatively pointless once a c-section is scheduled, however in certain circumstances (dependent upon the care provider) doulas can be allowed in the operating room with their clients. This practice varies based on geography and hospital policy, but it’s definitely worth exploring, as a doula can be a great support in the operating room. After a baby is delivered via c-section it is common that the father or partner goes to be with the infant while the mother is stitched up. Closing a c-section incision takes around 45 minutes, which can be very hard on a mother. While her partner and baby may eventually be near her, it is incredibly helpful to have a person right by a mother’s side to comfort her, keep her informed, and hold space while the operation is completed.

 

Doulas are an incredible asset in absolutely any birth scenario, whether medicated or not. In hiring a doula families should feel they’re hiring a person who is dedicated to supporting them and educating them to make the choices that are best for their family.