Confessions of a Nipple Shield Addict; My 12 Step Recovery Plan

I don’t really know how to describe feeling like a slave to a piece of silicon, but that’s what it felt like.

Othniel was more than a day old and so severely tongue tied he still hadn’t been able to latch on to nurse at all. Not one single swallow. His ties (lip tie too) were so severe that you had to stick your finger more than an inch into his mouth to even stimulate the suck reflex. I’d bring him to the breast and he would push away and cry and cry until his blood sugar got so low we literally couldn’t wake him up.

Thus began my journey with the nipple shield. Latching him on the first time hurt so bad I shoved him away from me, and literally said “are you serious?!” and with tears streaming down my face latched him back on. And for the next two months, every three hours I would try to find my happy place while he, with fists clenched, neck tight and eyes squeezed shut would suck and chomp as hard as he could to get any milk out. It would literally take him between and hour and an hour and a half each session. I would try to nurse him without the shield, and it would hurt even worse.

After his tongue tie revision it took about 4 weeks until it started to improve, and finally got to the point where nursing was beginning to feel comfortable, only he wasn’t speeding up his nursing sessions, they were getting even longer. I would have to cut him off after an hour and forty-five minutes just so that he could get a bit of a nap in before he’d have to nurse again.

The thought had come into my head that the problem might be with the nipple shield. I had really been putting off giving it up because the thought of going back to the pain was really terrible, and because I really didn’t have any confidence. I had never nursed a baby before, and my son had never nursed without a nipple shield. Neither of us knew what we were doing.

Finally my husband, with as much gentleness as he could, told me it was time to ditch the nipple shield. And I did. And it worked. Here is my 12 step recovery plan.

Step One: Ditch the guilt

As a mom, when you see your child struggling, it brings on a slew of new emotions you’ve never felt before. “What did I do wrong that things are going this way?” Let it go. Even if something was “your fault” being stuck in the guilt doesn’t fix it. It just incapacitates you, and keeps you stuck in the past, unable to move forward.

Step Two: Let go of the failure feelings

Feeling like a nipple-shield-slave opens the door to all kinds of failure feelings. Failure at nursing, failure at parenting, failure at having enough resolve to quit. I was talking to a mom the other day (I hope you find this post, Mama) who was the mother of a fat and thriving six month old beautiful baby girl. She feels like a failure at nursing because she couldn’t give up the nipple shield and you can see it all over her face. She told me, “the thing that really gets me is that we’re six months in and still struggling with the same things we were struggling with in the beginning.” I didn’t think about it until afterwards, but I wish I had said, “But you’re baby is so healthy! That’s progress! If you didn’t change a single thing you were doing in your nursing routine, she would grow up to be a healthy and beautiful girl!” All the failure feelings do is open up the door to a lack of confidence. Which brings me to the next step.

Step Three: Get your confidence back

Sometimes the biggest obstacle here is your own brain. Every time you go to ditch the nipple shield the failure, the guilt and the lack of confidence all hold hands and stand against you. And if you’re like me, you just back up and let them bully you into not even trying. Really. I told myself that I was trying, but really all I was doing was thinking about trying. And pre-giving up.

Step Four: Have support

Maybe you already have supportive people around you, maybe you have to seek them out. And by supportive, I don’t mean people who keep nagging you to ditch the shield already, or just give that poor kid a bottle. I mean people who are genuinely sympathetic to your situation, but who aren’t going to let you sit around and whine about it. You might already have people around you, your husband, your sister… If nothing else, hire a lactation consultant. They can be a really great asset, and because you are paying them for their help, you are free to shop around until you find one that you like.

Step Five: Evaluate why you started using the shield in the first place

Was it because of a tongue tie? Because your nipples were sore? Because you couldn’t get them latched on in the beginning? Because your sister used one and liked it? Address the original issue before you try to move on. Consider having a tongue tie revised. If your nipples were sore from a bad latch, try giving your baby some time to grow so their mouth is bigger. Are you simply daunted because you’ve never nursed without one? Address the original issue.

Step Six: Evaluate why you are trying to give it up

If your baby is fat and thriving and the only reason you are trying to get rid of the nipple shield is that your aunt’s mother-in-law is pressuring you, maybe that’s not a good enough reason. Use your nipple shield in peace! If your baby is struggling or if nursing with the shield is painful, than that is a reason worth giving it up. Social pressure or the fear of “doing it wrong” isn’t a good enough reason to give up something that’s working just fine, thank you very much.

Step Seven: Let go of the perfect latch

All of the research that you’ve done on breastfeeding, all of the advice from your neighbors and their second cousins, make it seem like getting your baby to latch on is rocket science. Head tilted, big mouth, sniffing the breast, hug them in, nipple at the back of the palette… STOP! Most latches will work. Really. Some are more comfortable, and some are more effective, but don’t be daunted by the thought that you don’t know how to get that elusive perfect latch.

Step Eight: Don’t be afraid to let your baby practice

If you’ve been using the nipple shield for any length of time, your baby has probably developed some bad nursing habits. Don’t think your failing if it doesn’t work perfectly right away. Or if it hurts. Babies are smart and they are interested in learning  how to get the milk out with the least amount of effort. Even if it starts out rough, they won’t get better if they can’t practice.

Step Nine: It doesn’t have to be all or nothing

At first it was a big change for the little guy. Othniel would get (and still does) get huffy and seem frustrated. Part of it is because he’s emptying the breast so much faster than he’s used to I think it takes him a while to recognize that he’s full. And secondly I think he missed the comfort of the familiar. Sometimes I would put the shield on after he had drained the breast so he could comfort nurse for a bit afterwards. Or I would nurse without the shield during some sessions and use it at others if he was really struggling.

Step Ten: Try different techniques

Try nursing with the shield until your baby’s hunger is mostly satisfied than taking it off and trying to nurse without it. Try nursing with the shield for a few minutes and pulling it off while your baby is still latched on. Sometimes they will latch themselves back on without it and not notice for a few minutes. If they won’t nurse once they notice it’s gone, put it back on and do it again during another nursing session. After enough times they may stop resisting so much.

Step Eleven: Give up your routine for a bit

When I first started nursing naturally, it was a big change in our routine. We went from 1:45 minute nursing sessions to 20 minutes. Holy Cow. That’s a big change. Othniel started wanting to nurse a lot more often and even started waking up to nurse in the middle of the night again. Its OK to let your baby take the lead here as you wiggle into your new normal. Your milk production might have some adjusting to do as well.

Step Twelve: Don’t be afraid of the tears

One thing I noticed about Othniel’s protests is that they would be vehement, but if I waited it out he would calm down and we could try again. Almost like he was saying “I DON’T LIKE THIS!” but when I just held him on the nursing pillow in position for a while he would stop and I would try again. You don’t have to give in just because he get’s a bit fussy. You are the grown up. You win. Even if it takes a while. Don’t be discouraged.

I hope this helps. You’re doing great, Mama.



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