Posts Tagged ‘breast shield’

Ditching the Shield

January 26th, 2015

Disclaimer: This post contains a frank discussion of some of the difficulties of breastfeeding a preemie. I try not to be vulgar, but I do discuss the mechanics of breastfeeding openly. If you’d rather not read, feel free to skip this post.

After two half-hearted attempts to get my nipple situated in Tirzah Mae’s tiny red mouth, the nurse told me to wait right there.

As if I could do anything else. The swaddled miniature in my arms was hooked to half a dozen monitors, keeping her – and me – tightly bound to our recliner.

I tried again, squeezing breast tissue between thumb and forefinger to make a “nipple sandwich”. But Tirzah Mae was looking away – and my attempt to draw her close caused my sandwich to fall apart.

The nurse returned, deftly separating the cardboard insert from the back of a blister pack.

“Here.” She handed me a clear silicone nipple with small holes on the end. “Your nipples are too big for her to latch onto.”

I thought about protesting. We’d barely tried to latch Tirzah Mae on – and nipple shields, I knew, were not without risks. But they’d drilled home the NICU truth – we couldn’t waste calories doing unnecessary things, even things like latching her on at the breast.

So that was that.


A week later, a different nurse asked me how breastfeeding was going as she weighed Tirzah Mae before a breastfeeding session.

I explained that we were using a shield, but that it was going okay with that.

I heard myself in her voice, urging me to try to latch on without the shield.

I nodded halfheartedly, just like my clients do when I make the same suggestion.

“You don’t understand,” I thought. “I only get to breastfeed once a day and that for only thirty minutes. I can’t waste our precious time trying to get her latched.”

And the frustration at NICU policies caught up to me – scheduled feedings that were spaced too far apart for my infant daughter who was clearly hungry, crying and eating her fists after just two and a half hours, being able to breastfeed only once a day, having breastfeeding timed and with before and after weights constantly measuring our performance. Hot tears rolled down my cheeks and I was thankful for the dimmed lights that hid my anger.


Once we had Tirzah Mae home, Daniel asked me occasionally how it was going – practicing without the shield.

I loved him for internalizing my antipathy towards the shield – and hated him for rushing me.

Practicing wasn’t easy. Tirzah Mae would become angry that milk wasn’t already flowing. I became impatient with her anger. I was tired, drained from long nights with little sleep and days where nothing got done.

It was so much effort to go without the crutch.

I cursed the nurse who gave it to us, who got us hooked on its subtle evil. I blamed her, crying stormily, as I fumbled with the shield with sleep-numbed hands. As it fell off – once, twice, five times.

Tirzah Mae grew angry with the wait and Daniel woke up to her wail. I blamed the nurse when Daniel complained of being unfocused at work the next day.


But we kept practicing, first once a week then more and more frequently.

We’re almost done with it, Tirzah Mae and I.

I never take it when we go out. I never use it when we’re breastfeeding around the house. It stays in the basket beside the bed, only to be used if Tirzah Mae’s too frustrated to latch after a few tries at night.

We’re on our way to losing the shield.

Good riddance, I say.

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