If you’ve never heard of nipple shields, you might picture something a superhero might wear! To me, it sounds like a very serious piece of armor.
Nipple shields are also sort of controversial. You can find information that says they are harmful and should never be used. You can also find sources that say they are great and everyone should give them a try! Our team of lactation consultants take a more moderate approach to the use of nipple shields. Sometimes they can be a very useful tool, but they can also be an obstacle to good breastfeeding if they’re not used correctly.
What is a Nipple Shield?
The shield itself is made of clear silicone. It sort of looks like a big suction cup with a cone sticking out of the middle. It’s designed to cover the nipple and some of the surrounding breast with the nipple fitting into the center cone of the shield. The cone has holes in it for the milk to flow out of. The shield is very thin and moldable so it sort of shapes and clings to the breast. When worn correctly, it looks like you have a very shapely and shiny breast!
What is It For?
A nipple shield is used for a number of reasons. If your baby is having a hard time holding onto the breast, a nipple shield can sometimes make it easier. Since it’s more rigid than a breast, some babies can get a grip on it more easily. Some babies have trouble getting a good latch because they are a little premature or weak and their sucking ability is just not strong. Or they might not understand how to get the breast in the mouth correctly. A nipple shield makes the nipple more obvious and provides the kind of stimulation that will trigger the baby to suck more strongly.
Sometimes a nipple shield is helpful if a baby is used to a bottle nipple and is having trouble taking milk from the breast. It can be a bridge to direct breastfeeding.
A nipple shield can also be helpful if you have flat or inverted nipples. If the baby has a hard time understanding how to latch on without the obvious nipple, a nipple shield can provide that. When a baby starts sucking while using the nipple shield, it can sometimes even draw the actual nipple out more and then the baby can continue to breastfeed directly.
And finally, some people use a nipple shield to help with discomfort while their nipples are healing. There are a lot of different reasons why you might have nipple pain. It’s important to figure out the cause of the pain so you can make it stop. Make an appointment with a lactation consultant to help you figure this out. It’s best to do it as soon as you know you’re having a problem. If the cause continues, you can actually create nipple damage that takes time to heal. If you have nipple pain or damage that you are trying to resolve, a nipple shield can help you continue breastfeeding until the problem is solved.
How to Use a Nipple Shield
The most important thing to remember is that nipple shields are most often intended to be a temporary solution.
It’s best to do everything you can to AVOID using a nipple shield, but sometimes they can be really helpful and necessary so you can continue breastfeeding. When used properly, the goal for a nipple shield is just to get past a problem so that you can continue to breastfeed directly. Only use the nipple shield as long as it is absolutely necessary.
If a baby gets too comfortable with the shield, it can be a lot harder to transition. Most people don’t prefer using them. It’s another thing to keep track of and clean. When it’s going well, direct breastfeeding is much easier than using a nipple shield.
It’s best to use a nipple shield with the guidance of a lactation consultant (IBCLC). They can make sure you have the right size, and that you’re using it correctly. A lactation consultant will also help you find the solution to the problem that is making the shield necessary and help your baby wean off the nipple shield once the problem is solved.
Breastfeeding Success has this great how-to guide for using a nipple shield. It is very important to get the right size and get it correctly secured to the breast.
Watch this video to see how it’s done!
How to stop using a nipple shield:
- First, be patient. It can take a while to be able to stop using the shield altogether. Babies might develop a preference for it, or your breasts might be very sensitive without it. Whatever the reason for the difficulty, you can most likely get past it.
Get LOTS of skin-to-skin time. Babies are more likely to want to nurse when they are close to your body, and sometimes they will just take your nipple that way without too much fuss.
- Sleepy babies might be more likely to take your nipple. Try letting them latch when they are just starting to wake up because of hunger. Make sure you are feeding your baby often. Babies can get HANGRY too. When babies get TOO hungry or upset for any reason, they might get extra frustrated taking your nipple if they aren’t good at it yet. It’s important that you keep it positive while you’re making the transition. You don’t want your baby to make negative associations with your breast. Only try when your baby is happy.
- Try spreading a few drops of milk around your nipple before you offer it to your baby. They might get a taste of the good stuff and give it a try!
- Try to make your nipple as large and firm as possible. This might mean putting some ice on it, rolling the nipple between your fingertips, or even doing some light pumping before you try to feed your baby. You want to make sure you give your baby something significant to work with.
- You might also try shaping the breast with your hand to help your baby latch on correctly. A lactation consultant can definitely help you figure out the best way for your baby. Usually it means getting your baby to have a wide open mouth, and tipping the nipple up toward the top of the baby’s mouth. That’s a good way to get plenty of breast tissue in, and when the baby feels the nipple on the roof of the mouth, they are more likely to start sucking.
- If your baby won’t even try, it might be helpful to let the baby start out using the nipple shield and then take it off a few minutes into the feeding and see what happens. Sometimes the baby is so focused on getting some milk that they don’t care how they get it!!