We're almost 24 months into our breastfeeding relationship. In some ways, it feels like we could be coming to a close, yet I know that some toddlers will nurse once a day for a year or more.
Breastfeeding my daughter has been one of the most rewarding aspects of motherhood, and one of the hardest. It started out with excruciating pain and poor latch, that, thanks to my amazing IBCLC, Kimberly Durdin, we worked to improve. We did try a nipple shield, and I'll be honest, even at almost 2 years old, this kid will not nurse without it.
I don't know why there is so much stigma against nipple shields. I get that they're handed out like candy in the hospitals, in lieu of actually helping people learn to breastfeeding correctly, but for those of us who truly need them, they can be a lifesaver. Under Kimberly's guidance, due to both my anatomy and my daughter's we used the nipple shield in the early days. I attempted to wean her off of it several times, but once I realized it enabled her to nurse well, and for me to be comfortable, I resigned to it, and then embraced it. It made nursing in public more difficult, it made nursing in bed in the dark a feat, but we figured it out. I never had issues with milk supply, and it just became part of us in a sense.
You can see the shield in the photo I've included in this post. She loves it, it is breastfeeding to her. If I offer her a bare nipple, she looks at me sideways. She says, "You wanna nurse?" and hands the shield to me. Now that she's older, sometimes I say no, and redirect her. Unless she's not feeling well, we mostly nurse once or twice a day, naptime and bedtime.
The nipple shield and all of that isn't the only challenge we've encountered (aside from plugged ducts, pre-mastitis, all night nursing, etc.) is that my daughter has food allergies. Because of this, I haven't been able to eat dairy, eggs, or nuts in a LONG TIME. I recently tried eating those foods, thinking that with the infrequency of her nursing and her age, it might not bother her anymore. Low and behold, her sweet little face filled with eczema. It breaks my mama heart to see her skin so inflamed and know that it's my fault. I dream for the day where I can eat normal foods and not hurt my child. BIG SIGH.
Our new challenge is that she's started biting me when she's done nursing on one side. The nipple shield helps a little, but OUCH! It makes me wonder if she's signaling that the end is near, that she doesn't need or want it as viscerally anymore. That the primal need for the breast is being outgrown and she's untethering herself from me a little bit more. In a way, thinking about the end of our breastfeeding feels a little bit like the beginning/end of birth. That untethering that was the severed umbilical cord. The first split between my body and her body. We're at the doorway of change again. Like with all transitions, it is welcome, and there is grief. I look forward to having my breasts back, and eating whatever I want, and I know that I will have ALL THE TEARS when I realize that the last time she nursed will really be the last time.