…Contemplating the Core Elements of a Modern Breastfeeding Lifestyle
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Nipple Monologues: Part 1: What Sucks is Really Nipplefeeding

There are two things that you absolutely need in order to breastfeed…a baby and breasts. The way in which human milk is dispensed to the baby is through a fine spray that flows through its mother’s nipples. The nipples and areola are visually attractive to babies and, in combination with the scent of milk, they help them to find their way onto their mother’s breasts for feeding.

Therein lies the problem.

1. Nipples come in many shapes and sizes and are not standardized like the rubber and silicone models that can be purchased at your local drug store.

2. Nipples have nerve endings which carry messages from the baby to the mother’s brain causing the release of prolactin and oxytocin which are the hormones that guide milk production and release of milk.

3. Nipples can feel pleasure and pain sensations depending upon what is being done to them.

4. Unfortunately everyone seems to think it’s all about the nipples.

The real truth of the matter is that the nipples are only a means to an end. They are meant to serve as a guide for the mother to draw her baby onto the breast during latch-on and are the exit through which the milk flows. If too much focus is put on the nipples by the baby’s tongue and gums they will become sore and may crack and bleed. Sore nipples are one of the top reasons a mother will stop breastfeeding.

New mothers will often be subjected to an ongoing commentary about their anatomy when they begin breastfeeding; much will be said about the shape or size of their nipples. They never seem to be just right. Many health care workers make faulty assumptions, or have been taught, that the baby will not be able to latch without a prominent nipple. This is absolutely not true.

Can anything be done?

Breast Shells worn during the pregnancy will help soften the tight bands of tissue that cause inverted nipples. They also can be worn in the early days after giving birth if swelling of the breast changes the shape of the breast and makes the nipple appear to be flat or less defined.

Pumping can reshape the nipple and breast tissue temporarily so that the mother can draw the baby on past the nipple. However, this can cause some discomfort as the pump primarily pulls on the nipple.

Proper hand postitions using preferably a C-Hold, or alternately a U-Hold to shape the breast will help the mother to steady the breast during latch-on. She should actively put the baby on the breast rather than the nipple.

Nipples are the guides, not the destination. They should be used as a stationary navigational tool that will help the mother with her visual line up for a great latch. The mother’s nipple should be opposite the baby’s nose rather than in front of its mouth during latch-on. *More on this point in Part 2*

A piece of candy has the juice extracted from it by rubbing it between the tongue and palate. This is one image that comes to mind when we use the verb sucking. Given that definition, the breastfeeding baby would seem to be focusing its attention solely on the nipples. Milk, however, can actually be expressed without any direct manipulation of the nipples; compressing deeply with the hands where the jaws would be situated will produce milk flow.

Babies are really not sucking but using their jaws to compress the breast with a “chewing” action and swallowing as needed. The tongue should be under the breast covering the bottom gum and not manipulating the nipple at all as this will cause injury and pain.

It is all about the depth and angles. Ultimately the baby needs to be guided past the edges of the nipple to a place deep on the breast. It is here that they will access a great flow without hurting their mother. You want them to be oblivious to the fact that a nipple exists. You want them to be breast-centric rather than nipple-centric.

They call it Breastfeeding and not Nipplefeeding for a reason!

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