Everyone experiments… with breastfeeding advice! It’s true. Maybe you got suckered into buying those over-the-counter alcohol screeners to test the “safety” of your breast milk only to realize you can just measure your drinks for free, if you’re so inclined. Maybe you tried nursing your baby on the left side while pumping on the right (because ability to multitask is a commodity of motherhood) only to watch as antsy infant legs knock 10 ounces of just-expressed milk to the floor. Or maybe you casually decided to surprise your older infant with a nipple shield, as if no proper introduction is needed, only to find out they’d never play nice together.
I had my one-nurse stand with a nipple shield when Mai Tai was ten months old. While enduring my second bout of breast thrush (this time concentrated solely in the right nipple), I was inspired by the seemingly brilliant idea that a shield would at least give my burst milk bleb a chance to heal without additional molestation by a toddler’s unpredictably aggressive suckling habits. My breastfeeding-savvy peers assured me this was a worthy plan, and all I needed to worry about was picking the right size shield. Then, just go for it.
So I picked out a fitting shield and couldn’t wait to get home to try it. Ah, what sweet relief it would be to nurse pain-free on my poor achey right breast (my favorite one!). I placed it over my areola, oh so apprehensively, hoping MaiTai wouldn’t notice. I welcomed him into my lap, he all excited for his milky snack, and he assumed his usual open-mouthed position.
Oh boy, did he notice!
“What the HELL is THIS?” (Translated from baby babbles, I’m pretty sure these were his first words. Maybe I heard wrong, but he said something really loud and really angrily).
“Oh, uh… you noticed?” said me, sheepish and embarrassed that this twenty-some pound person had caught me in the act of switch-and-baiting. My familiar landmark chest was suddenly ruined by this nipple shield graffiti, imposing its hold on “his” turf, a distracting display of vandalism only adding pointless delay on his commute to work (a baby’s “desk job” is really a “breast job,” no?). It was like I had cemented over his favorite childhood pool or replaced all the living room furniture with folding lawn chairs without warning.
His face then began to swell with a fiery redness of anger like I’d never seen. His teeth were bared mere centimeters from the offending item (not many teeth, but enough to cause irreversible damage). I was genuinely terrified that he was ready to impulsively shred that shield apart with his incisors, the way his glaring pupils bore into it.
He. Was. Pissssed.
And so was I (why must I always neglect to keep my receipts of purchase? There goes eight bucks!). His Designated Dad was present too, and yes, he was just as frightened by “that look.”
“Oh my God, oh my God! Take that thing off! Take it off right now!”
Not very reassuring. They say to keep your distance from animals that appear confused, threatened, or you know…rabid… So I tossed the shield aside and made a wide berth around the wild child.
After my unsettling one-nurse stand with a nipple shield, I made sure to prepare my son for any changes in our shared breastfeeding experience as thoroughly as I’d prepare myself. I realized that breastfeeding is the one thing in his life that has never truly changed — it’s always there, it’s the amalgamation of all the first memories imprinted upon his fragile senses upon entering the world (the feel of my skin on his, the sound of my heartbeat, the scent of my pheromones and milk, the sight of my areola contrasted as a target on my breast). He counts on the familiarity and constancy of breastfeeding as he knows it.
And he didn’t know or trust that nipple shield one bit. Maybe I should have let him play with it first? Since the nipple shield “trauma,” he’s placed many an inanimate object over my breast just for laughs and attempted to nurse over them, including most memorably one of those baby books with a hole in the cover to allow a finger puppet to wiggle through — except this time it was my nipple that’d become the puppet.
I’ll sit still for anything these days to avoid seeing “that look” again!