I have never in all my life been so conflicted over a product as I am with nipple shields, or as Pete calls them, "boob sombreros."
They're flexible silicon nipple covers meant to help baby latch during breast feeding if the nipple is flat or inverted. They also protect damaged nipples allowing them to heal. Or in my case, they provide a better latch for a struggling baby and a mom with otherwise normal nipples. I don't know what people did before this product existed. Without it, I'm sure I would have given up breastfeeding almost immediately for Walt's sake - he would have lost even more weight and that would have been really awful. I am deeply grateful for the existence of this product.
I loathe nipple shields. I hate them so violently it's a little shocking. No matter how much they've done for me, they're one of the most frustrating products I've ever used. If Walt so much as grazes the shield, it falls off. Unlike the breast, which responds immediately to baby's sucking with milk, the nipple shield has to adhere to the nipple first and milk has to make it to the tip before baby can taste it. This means when Walt is at his hungriest, he interprets my attempts to feed him as a cruel, food-less joke. Hand expressing into the nipple shield is an exercise in irritation. They also appear to be messier than feeding directly at the breast. Somewhere between 10 and 25% of the milk Walt sucks dribbles out the bottom of the damn shield. My shirt is damp, Walt is damp, the towel over the nursing pillow is soaked most of the time...
Once we started supplementing each feeding with an ounce of formula, following our pediatrician's advice, Walt became a lot calmer. For a couple of days, anyway, this seemed like a godsend. But over the last couple of days, reaching a fever pitch last night, Walt has become increasingly intolerant of the breast, and increasingly greedy at the bottle. I don't blame him - bottles are way less work. I love my son more than anything, and if it came to it, I would swallow my distaste for it and pump breast milk to bottle feed him if that was the only way he could get it. But I hate that idea even more than I hate nipple shields. Pumping is exactly as glamorous as it looks, and about half as fun.
Last night was just the worst of the worst. He slept really well the night before last, so I had been up since 10 am with no nap around dinner time. Last night he slept hardly at all. He wanted to feed every hour, but screamed like I was hurting him every time I lined him up with the nipple shield. At most, he'd nurse poorly for about 10 minutes, pulling off all the time to register his displeasure with the process. But right around the 10 minute mark at the first breast, he'd fall asleep, like he was passed out cold. 10 to 30 minutes later, he'd wake up and we'd go through the same process at the second breast, only he'd finish by screaming instead of sleeping. He was burping poorly too, so I can imagine there was some discomfort playing into it as well.
The scoop in the formula makes 2 oz of liquid, so we've been making up a 2 oz bottle, feeding him half and refrigerating the rest for his next feeding. Each time I gave him the bottle, he'd scream bloody murder when I tried to remove it at the 1 oz mark. And then he'd cry and cry and cry like he was still starving. This went on from about midnight through 6 am. At 4 am, I just let him drink the whole bottle and he was calm for 10 or 20 minutes, but between diaper changes and gas pains and whatever else, he was back to crying again. I was finally so exhausted and so sick of struggling with the nipple shield, around 5 am I pulled it off and shouted something along the lines of "I hate these stupid things!!" and hurled it at the wall. "That's IT!" I vowed. "No more nipple shields! EVER!" And by god, Walt breast fed without one, possibly out of fear. But more probably because he was really hungry and nursing without one isn't impossible, just difficult. After Pete got up to go to work, Walt and I retired to the bedroom and both slept from about 7 until maybe 11. Maybe just 10:30. And when we got up to nurse again, will wonders never cease, Walt ate well without a nipple shield throughout the whole feeding.
Walt has nursed better directly at the breast today, and we're still not fully done with the shields, but there's a light at the end of the tunnel. He's also appreciably bigger today than he was yesterday, so maybe some of last night's trouble were growing pains. The thing I (and probably most people) find most difficult about being a parent is deciding if I'm doing the right thing for my child. Walt isn't gaining weight fast enough, but overfeeding him can't be good. But if he's actively growing and needs more food, how will I know if it's overfeeding? And how much is it worth it to struggle at the breast if he's decided he really won't eat? Should I just give him a bottle and hope it calms him down? Should I let him cry and insist that he nurse at the breast? Should I let him cry and pump so that we both (eventually) get our way? Is modern formula good enough for it not to matter if he wants to insist on a formula-only feeding once in a while? How much should I let Walt determine his own eating patterns? There are lots of opinions on these questions out there - some of them are evidence based and some of them are just personal preference. It's hard to know who to turn to, what's over protective and what's just common sense. It's a little discombobulating to realize that "common sense" is actually hard to identify when it comes to your own kid.