Talking about Nipple Guards

Let's start this off by stating that we are not lactation consultants. This is just my (Laura's) story and I want you to be informed, so that, should the need arise, you feel a bit more familiar with these. I’m talking about nipple guards.

I hadn't even heard of nipple guards before I had my daughter. But when that little bundle of cuteness surprised us 5 weeks early, she had a hard time latching. I pumped dutifully, and thankfully, my milk supply came in quickly. So my baby was bottlefed in the NICU.

Every day, I tried to breastfeed her at every feeding, and every day, she couldn't latch. Nurses had mentioned a nipple guard, and finally, the lactation consultant got me one. Worked like a charm! She successfully latched and breastfed. Talk about one happy mama! Oh, and that oxytocin was flowing in a very real way!

My baby needed the nipple guard for about a month after she came home, right up to her original due date. After about 2-3 weeks, I would try to remove it during her nursing, or have her latch without it. It didn’t always go well. But one week, I tried again, and presto! She’s been a champion latch-er ever since.

In retrospect, I wish I had asked for a nipple guard sooner. As in, after a day of her not latching, said something like, "You know, can we just TRY the nipple guard?"

I think I would have felt a lot more relaxed about her nursing, but it became this source of worry and concern (on top of all the other stuff that comes with the NICU). Things would flood my mind, like, "Will she latch today? Should we try a different position? Is something wrong with my nipples? What if she never latches?" I’ve come to learn that a LOT of preemies need a nipple guard to latch on, and once they get the hang of those oral motor skills, you can drop it.

Another thing about them- just to make you aware because I feel like no one talks about this- they ARE an extra piece of gear that needs some tending and finagling. First, you have to wash and dry it after every use. And if you are going somewhere, you’ll need a cup with a lid to transport it. My lactation consultant gave me a brand new specimen cup (hahaha!), but in stores, they are sold with a storage case. Or a clean resealable plastic container will do too!

Also, I was never able to discreetly slip the guard on, then have her latch. Nope. I had to flop the whole boob out, get the guard on, then bring baby to booby. And when she was finished, milk was pooled in it (about a teaspoon or so). Which meant that unless I wanted to walk around with a wet t-shirt, I needed a little burp cloth or towel to clean up after I fed her. It was really no big deal, and I am so grateful I had one. But it wasn't the sweet, simple process I envisioned as I turned the corner into my 3rd trimester.

Currently, that kiddo is healthy and happy and we've been breastfeeding successfully with no signs of slowing, which is awesome and such an amazing gift (to both of us!). But I wanted to write this in case someone out there is expecting a baby and has no idea what nipple guards are. So now you know! Nipple guards exist and don't be afraid to ask for one if you and your baby are struggling with the latch.

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