A while back I posted the first in a series of breastfeeding must-haves, in the hope that my foray into literally EVERY breastfeeding aid might offer some insight for others who are planning to breastfeed.
I have been breastfeeding my daughter for 15 months now. Although I absolutely love feeding her, I still find it awkward or painful from time to time. I have never been one of those Earth Mother-types who can seemingly cradle their peaceful breastfeeding new-born whilst dipping their toes in a babbling brook, humming kumbaya. I wanted to be that mum, but the reality for me was sobbing in agony on the sofa, popping pain-killers and sedating myself with Dairylea Dunkers, whilst Googling ‘why does breastfeeding still hurt after eight sodding weeks????’. I wrote more about all of this here.
I was in constant pain. I also developed mastitis a couple of times and I was slipping into depression because I felt like I was failing at the one thing I should be able to naturally do. I panic-bought tons of breastfeeding aids in a desperate attempt to find some respite from the nipple torture. These included; different breast-pad options and nursing bras, breastfeeding shields, breast shells, boob slings, nursing pillows, not to mention an array of lotions and potions to soothe sore, cracked nipples.
The first breastfeeding must-haves post focussed on the Medela Swing breast pump, and it was a total life-saver for me – I wouldn’t have been able to carry on feeding without it. A close second to the breast pump on the list of ‘booby-buys’, were the Medela nipple shields.
About three days in to breastfeeding, the scabs on my nipples were so bad that they were inhibiting the milk flow. I was instructed by my midwife to take three days ‘nipple rest’. I now laugh at the use of the word ‘rest’. Pumping as well as or instead of breastfeeding is anything but a ‘rest’. It took bloody ages. And when I should have been sleeping when the baby was sleeping, I was instead milking myself like a factory cow and despairing over the pitiful amount of milk that was pooling in the bottle below.
After three days, my nipples were starting to heal so I was advised to use breastfeeding shields for a few days before I put the baby directly back on the boob. Because shields can sometimes make it harder for the baby to extract milk, I was also advised to pump after feeding her, to ensure I was emptying the breast of milk (and avoiding engorgement). This took even longer than pumping. Every breastfeeding session lasted around 90 minutes, and I’d spend another 30 minutes pumping after that. I was totally exhausted, and mentally drained.
But despite the extreme fatigue, the breastfeeding shields were a total hit. For the first time since the baby was born, I was able to feed her and crack and almost semi-smile instead of a pained-grimace.
They can be a bit fiddly to get on initially, especially when you’re bleary-eyed at 3am. And they do look strange. It’s kind of like a Hannibal Lecter mask for your breast (except it’s your baby that will be chewing on your nipple-flesh, and not the other way around). I found the best way to get the baby to accept this ‘foreign nipple’ was to express a few drops of breastmilk into the teat, so that it tasted less plastic-y.
There are three different size options so you can find the best fit for you and your nips, and they honestly do minimise the pain. I would have sold my soul to the Devil at that point to make feeds less excruciating, so paying less than a tenner for them felt pretty reasonable to me. There are a number of brands on the market, but a good few midwives and lactation consultants recommended the Medela ones, apparently because the silicone is very thin so that they allow for a more natural latch.
They also come in a little yellow case, so you can sterilise them in between feeds and take them out and about with you. This was a huge deal for me as I’d been imprisoned in the house by my exclusive pumping regime for the first few days after birth. The shields allowed me to feed the baby in only mild discomfort, and I didn’t need to be tethered to a pump! The first time I put them in my changing bag and headed out with the baby, I felt like Julie Andrews at the beginning of The Sound of Music – arms wide open as I greeted the outside world.
Now for the down-side. Technically, nipple shields aren’t really a long-term solution to severe breastfeeding difficulties. Supposedly, this is because it can limit your milk production and prevent the baby from draining the boob and getting a full feed. New-borns can also get ‘nipple confusion’. In my case, I don’t think the baby could have been any more confused about breastfeeding – she really didn’t get it at all, bless her. So I wasn’t really concerned about this a whole heap. The break from the excruciating pain was enough of a bonus for me to persevere with the nipple shields for about a week exclusively, and then I slowly introduced one feed a day without, eventually upping that number until I wasn’t using them at all after about two weeks. I also had mum friends that used them for weeks on end, and they carried on breastfeeding successfully afterwards.
Some lactation consultants are really against the use of shields, but if you are digging your toes into the carpet and crying every time you feed, you need to seriously think about getting a couple of these silicone-saviours.
Medela Nipple Shields: I give these bad boys a rating of 4 shrivelled nipples out of 5
The nipple shields and the pump are the two key things to help you to continue breastfeeding if you’re having trouble, but to really persevere, you need to limit the amount of pain you’re experiencing in between feeds, too.
I bought the Avent breast shells to put into my bra so that the bra fabric wouldn’t press and rub my red raw nips. This was a great idea in theory, but a few major issues popped up pretty quickly.
Firstly, I couldn’t leave the house with them in my bra, because I looked like a Fem-Bot from Austin Powers with ‘machine gun jubblies’. Secondly, I made the mistake of falling asleep with them in my bra and I woke up with a sore blocked duct where they had pressed too hard on my skin.
In the early days of feeding, you also find that these babies will fill with milk relatively quickly. Apparently if the shells are sterilised and only worn for a short period of time (less than 30 mins), any collected milk can be poured into a bottle and used to feed the baby. This seemed a bit gross to me. Milk isn’t like a fine wine – you don’t need to let it breathe at room temp to achieve optimum tastiness. Added to this, the holes in the top of the shells (designed to allow for aeration) could quickly become a watering can feature if you bend over too quickly, and you could end up inadvertently showering your feet (or someone else’s nearby) with old breastmilk. All in all, these were more of a pain than they were a help, so they didn’t see a whole lot of use.
Avent Breast Shells: I give these a rating of 1.5 shrivelled nipples out of 5
Coming up next in this series of breastfeeding must-haves, I’ll be covering the many ways I tried to soothe and heal my chewed-up nipples. Lots of tried and tested methods to share with you, so watch this space!