Eighteen Weeks and Counting
From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 18 No. 2, March-April 2001, pp. 53-54
When my daughter, Maya, was born, she had a lot of difficulty latching-on and sucking. I was unaware that I had flat nipples. Flat nipples remain flat, rather than protruding, when pressure is applied to the areola. This condition compounded Maya's own problems with breastfeeding and made latching on that much more difficult for her. My assumption that I would breastfeed was threatened, and I was completely unprepared. Despite these challenges and the flood of good and bad information I received, my two-and-a-half-year-old daughter is nursing today.
Although I initially worried about and regretted using the nipple shield offered to me by the hospital nurses, I now believe that the shield enabled my daughter to overcome our difficulties in her own time. During our five-day hospital stay, many nurses offered breastfeeding suggestions. Still, we had no success. After Maya's first week, she would struggle to nurse from the shield but could not latch on to my breast. Overwhelmed and concerned that we might never nurse naturally, I contacted Deborah, a board-certified lactation consultant for help. Deborah came to our home, weighed Maya before and after nursing, observed our nursing efforts, and made suggestions to help Maya latch on as well as to help me maintain my milk supply. Deborah assured me that Maya had consumed a sufficient amount of milk through the shield and that we should continue nursing in this manner as we worked toward latching on naturally. So I began offering Maya first my breast and then my breast with the nipple shield. I also pumped after each feeding to help maintain my supply since breastfeeding with the nipple shield on was not enough to maintain a good supply of milk.
As the weeks passed and Maya showed no interest in nursing without the shield, I grew more depressed and worried. I periodically called Deborah asking if we had passed the point of no return. Each time I asked that question, Deborah told me that she didn't know and that I should keep trying. Kim, my sister, also provided me with near daily encouragement. She reminded me that babies change every day.
When Maya was four weeks old, I visited a coworker. As we talked about our breastfeeding experiences, she told me that her daughter had also started on the nipple shield. After five weeks, her daughter started to breastfeed without it. I took comfort in knowing that another baby had made the successful transition from shield to breast. The next week, Maya latched on for a few minutes. I was elated and certain that our remaining days with the shield were few. Unfortunately, her attempts were sporadic and had stopped altogether at the end of her seventh week.
The stress and second-guessing had taken their toll on me by the time Maya was eight weeks old. I was depressed and unable to fully enjoy my beautiful child. I acknowledged to myself that even though we might not get past our problems, Maya and I were still developing the precious relationship between nursing mother and baby. After I got my stress in check, I was fully able to enjoy Maya. Despite the lack of interest from Maya, I continued to offer her my breast without the shield and to pump after each feeding. I occasionally called Deborah to ask again if we had passed the point of no return, but Deborah never told me it was too late. She never told me that we could not nurse naturally. She just provided me with much-needed support and encouragement. Kim also continued to encourage me during the ensuing weeks.
At 12 weeks, Maya latched on for two feedings and my hope was rekindled. At 18 weeks, Maya began to latch on regularly. By the end of that week, she no longer needed the shield. Although the benefits of nipple shields are disputed, I am certain that we would not have succeeded without one. The support of my certified lactation specialist and my sister were equally important. I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to both of them. If Deborah had told me that Maya could not switch from nipple shield to breast at six, eight, or ten weeks, I would have believed her. Instead, Deborah provided me with the information and tools we needed to succeed. For Maya's first 18 weeks, I counted the weeks until we were off the shield. Now I joyfully count the weeks, months, and years that we snuggle together and nurse.