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Breastfeeding was not something that came easy for Beckett and I. It’s one of those things that you think should be easy, but for most people, it’s not. In our case, the problem was structural. When Beckett was born, my nipples were flat. There was nothing for him to latch on to. In fact, the day after he was born, he left a hickey on my areola because it didn’t feel any different from my actual nipple.
The first few days were very frustrating, for both of us. Beckett tried so hard. He would make angry sounds, and head-butt me, and try to latch on to anything he could. Chris and I tried everything, including putting ice cubes on my nipples to make them stand out, but nothing was working. The nurses could get him to latch for a few minutes, but he would fall off and not be able to latch back on.
In the middle of the night, the day after he was born, we were having such a hard time that I called the nurse in. She tried everything, and could see that Beckett was hungry and getting angry. There was no lactation consultant working because it was midnight. Finally, she said that she would try to find a nipple shield. She explained that she was not a lactation consultant, but she had seen them used. We could try it until the morning when the lactation consultant could come in and help. Luckily, she was able to find one, and brought it in and showed me how to use it. It was like magic. I’m telling you. He immediately latched on and was able to eat. Finally! We were both so relieved.
Even with that relief, I still worried. Would I have to use nipple shields forever? Is that okay? Would nurses or lactation consultants try to talk me out of using them? Should I be working on him latching without it? So many questions.
The next day the lactation consultant came in to help. She looked at me and at the shield and explained that I did have flat nipples, and that the shield was exactly what I needed. She also told me that using the shield, and eventually pumping, would actually correct the problem. Once corrected, we wouldn’t need the shields anymore.
The consultant and the nurse both talked to me about guilt, and both told me that I should not feel guilty for having breastfeeding difficulties or for using the shield. They explained that I was doing what was best for my baby, and continually told me that I was a good parent. I was so grateful for their encouragement.
So we ordered lots of shields (and cases for the shields), and went home using them. In the next few weeks, many people told me that they had similar problems, had used shields, and eventually the problem corrected itself. Even with all of that support, I was still worried, and frustrated. What if I was the one person whose nipples didn’t correct themselves? What if Beckett became attached to the shield and wouldn’t eat without it?
As grateful as I was that there was a simple solution to our breastfeeding problems, it wasn’t without its difficulties. When Beckett got hungry, I had to make sure I had a clean shield nearby. They are clear and hard to see, so they got lost really easily. Beckett had to wait while I got it placed correctly, and when he finished, there would be milk built up inside the shield that would dump all over me, my clothes, and the furniture (our couch or my bed). Forget nursing in public. It was all far too complicated for that.
I started to become very frustrated, and after about two and a half weeks I confided in my mom and husband that I hated breastfeeding. I was sick of being covered in milk, felt like I had lost my freedom, and on top of that, I needed help doing something that should have come naturally. I was so embarrassed to feel this way. Did it make me a bad mom? Wasn’t I supposed to love breastfeeding?
As I mentioned in this post, I found a book about breastfeeding that was so helpful and made sense of my many feelings. At the same time, I started trying to wean Becks from the shield, and to my surprise, it was working! By the time Beckett was about 3 weeks old, he was weaned from the shield during the day. It took a little bit longer for us to work out night feedings, mostly because I was so tired and popping a shield on was just easier.
By five weeks he was completely weaned, and since then, my nipples have slowly become less and less flat. Now, five months later, they are completely normal. You would never know there was ever a problem. The best part is that they won’t go back to the way they were before. I won’t have this problem with my next baby, and that is a huge relief.
Now, I have to be honest, even though things are better for us and have gotten much easier, I am not one of those people who loves breastfeeding. There are pros and cons. I am grateful that it is easy for us now. I appreciate that it is the healthiest option for Beckett, and that it is a comfort to him when almost nothing else is.
On the other hand, the necks of all my shirts are stretched out, every time his eating habits change I become engorged (which is painful), and I’m still covered in milk (and spilled several ounces in my bed a few days ago).
There are so many people who talk about loving their breastfeeding relationship with their babies. I am not one of those people, and I think that is okay. I love my baby. I love my relationship with my baby. And I love that I am able to breastfeed and give him the healthy nutrition that he needs. Actually, I don’t even really think of it as a breastfeeding relationship. I have a relationship with my baby, and I breastfeed him, and that’s it.
For those of you out there who are struggling, know that you are not alone. I’m with you. Breastfeeding isn’t easy. It should be, but its not. It does get easier. And if you don’t ever love it, that’s okay. You are doing the best you can for your baby, and that is all anyone can ask of you.