I have flat, sometimes inverted nipples. I was told that when I got pregnant, they would "self-correct" as if there were something wrong with them. I was told that when I gave birth, they would "self-correct" as if pushing a human out of my vagina would also cause my nipples to pop out (I don't know, maybe the pressure?). I was told that as soon as we started to breastfeed, they would "self-correct" as if me pulling on those suckers day and night since puberty in attempt to stretch them into "normalcy" was going to be bested by one day with a newborn. None of this was true, of course. My nipples are what my nipples are. They pop out when I'm cold, when I sneeze (I have no idea why, but it's true every time), and when I orgasm. Otherwise, they're either flat or innies.
I used to be incredibly self-conscious about my nipples. I would see other girls with "normal" nipples like the ones I'd see in movies. I would make sure never to be topless in front of other girls. Clearly, I was a freak. This even made it difficult to be intimate with men once I got to that point. I was sure they would abhor my hideous nipples. I couldn't have been more wrong.
One thing I wasn't wrong about was that the state of my nipples made breastfeeding difficult. This had been a concern of mine that everyone dismissed since long before I ever got pregnant. This was my first lesson in listening to my parenting gut.
When my son was born, we immediately tried breastfeeding and immediately struggled. He did the breast crawl (coolest thing ever), he tried and tried, but it wasn't happening. The post-partum nurse kept telling me I had to supplement. I kept refusing. This went on for hours and hours. I began to get very concerned. My son wasn't eating. I summoned the hospital's lactation consultant. She was terrible. She shoved his face into my boob while he screamed and struggled over and over until I, on the verge of tears, finally made her stop. She then turned around and walked out. That was it. We were, once again, on our own. That night, we called the IBCLC at our midwife's office and made an appointment for her to come help us the next day. Until then, we were still alone and our son was still not eating. Out of sheer desperation and terror, we supplemented. He ate like crazy. It was bittersweet. I knew the complications I was creating, but I had no other option as far as I could tell and certainly no support. The next day, the IBCLC came and helped us with a nipple shield. Suddenly, the clouds parted. Hallelujah. Success.
Let me say it again, my son has been breastfeeding successfully for nearly three years thanks to the use of a nipple shield. It's not ideal. I'm not recommending it for everyone who struggles. (I am, however, recommending a good IBCLC for anyone who struggles and as soon as those struggles crop up.) If it comes down to breastfeeding with a nipple shield or not breastfeeding at all, I'll go with the shield every time.
For more information on nipple shield pros and cons see Kelly Mom's article on it by clicking here.