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Nipple Shield Perspective

Sarah Clemmit
Rockville MD USA
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 20 No. 2, March-April 2003, p. 58

I had no idea how hard breastfeeding could be, but I am so glad that I hung in there. My daughter, Kai, was born on January 6, 2002, a healthy full term baby. Breastfeeding, while not immediately easy, was going along fairly well by the second day. Unfortunately, Kai spiked a fever and before we knew it she was in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Although she was a little trooper through the spinal tap and the IV sticks, breastfeeding fell apart. Fortunately, there was fantastic breastfeeding support. The doctors and nurses constantly encouraged us, and a lactation consultant stopped by numerous times a day to offer assistance. But Kai just wasn't buying it.

As Kai's weight dropped, we became increasingly concerned. To make matters worse one of the medications she was on required that she be well hydrated. I never considered changing to formula, but clearly Kai needed to eat.

On her fifth day, a defining moment in my new role as a mother occurred-I trusted my instinct. Late that night we were told that Kai had lost 13 percent of her birth weight. Fourteen percent was the maximum the doctors would allow. Kai was having a terrible nursing session, not latching on and crying. I melted. Through sobs I asked my husband, Bill, to get a bottle and give Kai my milk that I had pumped the previous day. Feeding was the one thing in this scary ordeal that I could control. I needed to get food into my child.

I cannot express the relief I felt as I watched Bill give Kai her first bottle. She chugged it, absolutely refusing to let Bill pull the nipple out to slow her down. Amazingly, she kept it all in. The nurse hung around for a while, most likely to make sure that the previously sobbing mother was okay. I was totally at peace. For the next few weeks I pumped and bottle-fed. With the lactation consultant's help we tried various methods including finger feeding and a nursing supplementer, but a bottle was clearly the way that worked for us.

I had high hopes that when Kai was released, she and I would relax and move into breastfeeding. I knew a number of people for whom this had worked and the NICU was full of breastfeeding success stories. As time wore on I realized two important things. First, I was becoming exhausted pumping so much. Second, I wanted to spend time with my baby that did not involve trying to convince her to go to the breast. I needed to get on with the business of being a mother. Once again, I met with the hospital lactation consultant who prepared to ask how best to benefit Kai's health without eroding my sanity. She had one more idea. She placed a nipple shield on my breast and moved Kai in. Kai latched on and contentedly sucked away. I cried.

With renewed energy and enthusiasm, I worked to slowly move Kai off the shield and onto me. Nothing worked. Honestly, my biggest frustration was the total lack of guidance in any literature, including La Leche League publications. Every book I looked in merely advised not to use a shield or I'd be stuck with it. The way I see it, the nipple shield saved our breastfeeding relationship, and used as a last resort, I think it is entirely appropriate. As the weeks passed, I realized something. I was asking Kai to breastfeed, and she was. She simply needed a piece of silicone between us. I was the one that needed to let go. I armed myself with lots of shields so we would never be caught without, keeping one in each car, the diaper bag, my purse, and my pocket, and I went on with the business of being a mother. When she needed to nurse I used the shield with less embarrassment.

Children have a way of doing things when they're ready. Kai was 11 weeks old. We were on the couch nursing when the shield slipped out of place. As I leaned over to retrieve it, she latched on and continued as if nothing was awry. We've never looked back. In those two months, Kai taught me three valuable things: trust my instinct, listen carefully, and keep a reasonable perspective. It is possible to reach a goal and not even notice.

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