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Weaning from the Nipple Shield: A Personal Depiction of my Breastfeeding Experience

It’s amazing how in a flash breastfeeding can change, for better or for worse. In my case, I birthed a late preterm infant. Breastfeeding has only gotten better and better day by day. I even had a major breakthrough, which was weaning from the nipple shield (a nipple shield is a plastic layer that goes over the nipple when breastfeeding a baby that can make a nipple more pronounced and also change the flow of milk affecting breastfeeding).

I am an aspiring IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant) and an RN (Registered Nurse) who has done plenty of studying and formed my own opinions and impressions about breastfeeding.  I definitely wanted to do everything right from the get-go, provide strong milk for my baby, and be successful with the process.  I vowed never to use a nipple shield because it can have an effect of limiting your supply of milk and offer less benefits to your baby, especially when it comes to some of the benefits breastfeeding gives to your baby by mechanically exercising their mouth properly. I was surprised when nipple shield use played out differently for me during my breastfeeding experience. It’s amazing how excited I was to breastfeed, and still am, but it’s also amazing how much I had over simplified it.  I was stuck in an “if then” style of thinking.  For example, if I don’t use a nipple shield then my supply will be better. If my daughter is able to learn to latch then she will always know how to latch, etc. When you are so happy to try something new, you have a tendency to over simplify it in your mind in order to connect with the excitement.  It’s not bad; just something for which to be aware.

Also, as I begun to nurse, I realized that in my eyes as mother no matter how I looked at, my daughter always seemed to be nursing so perfectly. I felt lucky that I didn’t feel any nipple pain, when many mother’s do. But to me my daughter was learning! I was just so proud of my young daughter.

The biggest piece of information I found was to not allow my baby to fatigue during breastfeeding. This was a large part of the reason why she went to the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) along with struggling to pass the glucose protocol. But it is so interesting to me that we did not need to use a nipple shield right off the bat.  My husband and I waited until she was approximately seven days old.  We tried it out of the blue.  My reasoning was that she had already been exposed to a bottle; why not a nipple shield too? Also, I hoped she would be able to leave the NICU as soon as possible with as little intervention as possible. To me, even though bottles were not ideal as far as breastfeeding goes, they sure were less invasive than a glucose IV or a temporary feeding tube.  I figured that if I used the nipple shield, it would help her be able to be more apt to accept bottles.  Bottle feeding is where she would be getting most of her nutrition for a while, from my pumped breast milk as well as donor milk, and then we would still be able to breastfeed for 15 minutes each time in order to “practice.”

In the NICU, I asked to work with a lactation consultant once or twice a day, and I sure did take advantage of that! To me, being in the NICU was a challenge and sometimes sad.  Getting to work with a lactation consultant was a way for me to “treat myself.”  After all, as an aspiring IBCLC, just being in other lactation consultants’ presence was very reassuring.  As they worked their magic, it always seemed we had a better nursing session. I thought the IBCLCs were so great I was sure I would be able to wean from the nipple shield in no time, but it was much a harder than that. But it did evolve and I never gave up

Ultimately, we ended up weaning from the nipple shield around two and a half months after birth, and I do believe it was baby-led. Although I tried to push it a few times, I, as the mom made sure I never went too far so as to curb any negative experiences.  Sometimes she would be crying and upset afterwards, but in those cases I would always give her the nipple shield. If that made it smoother for her, then so be it.  We would always finish our nursing.

We tried all the tips in the book and nothing seemed to produce a result. We tried pointing my nipple to the roof of her mouth. We tried starting with the nipple shield and removing it part way through a feeding and drying off my nipple and re-latching, etc.

Along the way, with this, I found out I had a bit of an oversupply and also learned that nipple shields can help with this, and help to inhibit the flow of milk so that the baby could handle it better, so that could have been a contributing factor of why a nipple shield was helping. Also the fact that I had smaller nipples. I had to work on bringing my supply and flow down a bit so she could handle it a bit better along with getting more hind milk (which is the fatty portion of the milk that follows the foremilk towards the end of the feeding).

But eventually it happened and I think it was partly developmental and baby led… she started kind of fiddling with the nipple shield during nursing which to me was a sign that she was annoyed with it. And right after I went to one la leche meeting (a meeting which offers breastfeeding support), I could see her beginning to wean from it. However I always wondered why they called it weaning? It seemed more like a break through to me. Although we had been working on it for a long time it seemed like one day we were using it, then another day, we weren’t.

I was so overjoyed when we no longer needed the nipple sheild. Less plastic to wash, I was more connected during nursing, and I knew my hard work had paid off. I learned that there truly is a mother-child connection and when the mom is working hard and patient with something the child senses it and takes baby steps in that direction to trying the easier way for the mom… whether psychologically, spiritually or physically. I’ve heard from other moms that they loved their NICU experience, and even though it was a struggle at times, I think in the end you own your experience, the struggles and the growth periods. I don’t know if I would have traded my experience for another, I never really let myself go to that place, instead I look fondly back on my experience and it is part of me, it is mine, just like this new child is mine also.