I was 17 when I discovered I had ‘abnormal’ nipples. That’s a daunting age to be told that a part of your body, a rather significant part, is less than optimal.
On the verge of adulthood I had decided that I needed to start doing some responsible adult things, such as getting my moles checked. I have a mole just next to my areola so I asked the doctor to check that while she was at it. In the most off-hand, matter-of-fact tone she said to me, “I’m sure you know you have inverted nipples, you won’t be able to breastfeed.” I nodded, smiled and said something really constructive like, “ Oh yeah, no worries,” put my clothes back on and left the room.
As I returned home, walked in and saw my mum, I burst into tears.
I wasn’t really sure why I was crying. Was it because I had weird nipples? Was it because I was told I wouldn’t be able to do something that I had never actually thought about doing? Was it because it just made me feel like a bit of a shit woman? I blubbered to my mum, “I can’t breastfeed.” She was suitably confused by my state as well as my statement. As far as she knew, I wasn’t yet sexually active which meant I couldn’t be pregnant which therefore led to the conclusion that I didn’t need to be concerned about breastfeeding, yet.
The woman behind the new LGBTIQ antenatal classes explains co-breastfeeding to the hosts of This Glorious Mess. Post continues.
It’s surprising how often the opportunity for people to see your nips arises in your early 20s. I dodged O-Week nudie runs, always left my bra on during romantic encounters and avoided ever getting changed with my girlfriends. It seemed society was doing little to dispel any theories I had about my malformed nipples as everywhere I looked I was confronted with perfectly shaped, erect, protruding nipples that looked nothing like my own. As far as I was concerned, I was a freak of nature.
When my husband and I fell pregnant, my mind flashed back to that doctor. I was suddenly confronted with a whole new world of problems. If I wasn’t going to be breastfeeding my baby, I knew I would constantly need to explain or justify to people why that was the case.
As my beautiful little boy tried helplessly to latch on for his first feed it became glaringly obvious that it wasn’t going to work. I had four midwives gathered about me, assessing and discussing the apparent lack of nipple. I felt a stab to the heart as one midwife declared, “It’s no good, her nipples are sub-optimal.” SUB-OPTIMAL? I had already dealt with an ‘unfavourable cervix’ during labour. Hey health professionals, here’s an idea, let’s try for some positive language to help a lady out when she’s trying to vacate a human from her vajayjay.
I will forever be grateful to my knight in shining armour of a midwife, Trevor, for giving his seniors the finger and in the dark of the night, smuggling me a nipple shield. I had never heard of them, let alone seen anyone use them (and certainly did not understand the stigma attached to them) but they helped me breastfeed my baby. Every new midwife that entered my room tried to take them away from me – but my baby would not be able to feed without them and I would have to be hand expressed and syringe-feed my boy. Then Trevor would start his shift and sneak them back to me and my baby would feed again. As we left the hospital, Trevor sly-handed me a packet of fresh shields and wished me luck.
For weeks I was too ashamed to feed my baby in front of anyone. The midwives had made me feel like it was wrong to be using nipples shields but without them my boy slipped right off. I was really only left the option to use them in secret. It wasn’t until my baby was six weeks old I decided to be transparent about how I was breastfeeding.
We had our first Mother’s Group meeting and I had decided it was the perfect opportunity to ‘come out’ with my dirty secret. At our first meeting I bravely announced to the room, “I have inverted nipples so I’m using shields to feed my baby.”
I was gobsmacked to learn four out of the six mums were also using them and each of them had also been made to feel that they were wrong for doing so. Each woman had a slightly different reason for using them; baby had a small mouth and couldn’t latch, flat nipples, sore nipples, so on. I was furious that all of these women had been made to feel embarrassed for doing what works for them and their baby. From that moment I made it my mission to use my shields in front of anyone and everyone and spread the word about these little silicone miracles.
As I whipped out my shields for each feed and was frequently met with curious gazes I used my go-to line, “My nipples are a bit sh*t so I’m using nipple shields to breastfeed my baby, without them I wouldn’t be able to.”
It still astounds me how many new mums use them in secret shame.
For me, nipple shields helped me establish feeding until I was able to wean my baby off the shields at around four months.
They’re not always the most convenient option – you have to clean them after each feed, and you have to expose yourself a bit as you put them on – but, they also allowed me to do the most natural thing in the world: feed my baby.