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Breastfeeding isn’t always as easy as it looks. Many mothers experience struggles along the way. Whether it is latching issues, sore nipples, or your baby refusing the breast, a nipple shield could be the answer you have been looking for. Here is all you need to know about using nipple shields.
What is a nipple shield?
A nipple shield is pretty much what it sounds like. A plastic shield that goes….where?!
Yep, you guessed it, your nipple.
Now, even though it is called a nipple “shield” it is not meant to shield your nipple from your baby.
It is simply designed to cover your nipple and offer a definitive nipple shape that is easy for your baby to latch right onto.
Nipple shields are thin, flexible, and usually made of a silicone material.
They easily fit over your areola and nipple. It has has small holes in the tip of it to allow breast milk to flow through the shield and to your baby.
How do I know if I need a nipple shield?
There are many different reasons nipple shields can be beneficial and a helpful tool for mothers.
Here are some reasons why you might consider using one.
- Trouble latching
- Inverted or flat nipples
- Refusing the breast
- Sore, cracked or bleeding nipples
- Premature baby
- Tongue/lip tie
- Transitioning between bottle and breast
When a baby has trouble latching, a more defined, firmer area such as a nipple shield can make the latching process a little easier for baby.
Flat or inverted nipples
According to health.com 10-20% of women have inverted nipples.
Nipples that are flat or inverted can make breastfeeding tricky. With a correct latch, most babies should still be able to latch on a nipple that isn’t erect.
With that being said, a nipple shield pretty much acts as an extended nipple, giving the baby a larger area to latch onto.
As the baby feeds through the shield, this can also help draw out a flat or inverted nipple and make latching directly onto the breast easier.
Refusing the breast
Babies may refuse the breast because they are struggling with the latching on process.
Wearing a nipple shield may help bridge the issue, making latching on seem easier for the baby.
Sore, cracked or bleeding nipples
Breastfeeding can often lead to sore cracked or even bleeding nipples.
Nipple shields can offer protection and relief while you allow your nipples to heal.
Obviously, you need to figure out the cause of sore nipples as usually there are external factors that could be related. So the real root of the problem needs to be addressed.
Having said that, a nipple shield can most certainly offer a barrier and make breastfeeding bearable while your nipples get feeling less like a dog chew toy.
When a baby is breastfeeding, it does take effort and energy on their part.
Premature babies might find it easier to latch onto a nipple shield as they may be less coordinated and not be strong enough to latch easily like a full-term baby.
As they continue to eat, grow, and thrive, preemies usually can be transitioned directly onto the breast pretty easily.
Tongue tie/lip tie
Tongue ties and or lip ties are quite common in many babies and often overlooked and missed. Every 10 out of 100 babies experience some degree of a tongue tie (Source).
Check out this post to learn more about tongue ties.
Tongue ties and lip ties cause a lot of restriction to movement in the mouth which makes it hard for a baby to get a good latch that is deep and correct.
Even though getting a tongue/lip tie revised is probably the best protocol, a nipple shield could be a good temporary fix in the meantime.
And also, make post-recovery easier for your baby to latch.
Transitioning between bottle and breast
Some babies who have been previously bottle fed (maybe because of adoption, being premature or other reasons) could favor the bottle over the breast.
A nipple shield may help with the baby latching onto the breast as it appears more like a bottle nipple.
You can then remove it and often times have better success with latching straight onto the breast after nursing while wearing the shield.
How to use a nipple shield
It is important to make sure your nipple shield is the right size for you.
Just like breast pumps, poor sizing can lead to other problems, such as soreness, redness, and ineffective nursing.
There is a trick to applying a nipple shield, that I TOTALLY wish I knew when I was using one with my newborn.
Partially invert (turn inside out) the shield, about halfway, and stretch it out a little bit.
Then place it over the nipple and simply roll it on. This technique creates some suction so that it stays on better and doesn’t easily fall off if the baby doesn’t latch right away.
This video is a great visual to help show what I just explained.
Are there different sizes and types of nipple shields?
The answer is YES!
Since women are all different shapes and sizes, breast, areola, and nipple size differ too.
Nipple shields do come in different sizes to allow the best experience and comfort for you while breastfeeding.
If the shield is too big or too small, your baby may not get adequate breastmilk flow, or have trouble nursing effectively.
The wrong size can also cause nipple irritation and soreness.
You also ideally want some space between the end of your nipple and the tip of the nipple shield.
This is so when your nipple swells a little during feeding, it doesn’t get smooshed to the tip of the shield causing quite a lot of discomfort.
If you are able to consult with a lactation specialist, they will be able to give the best advice as to which size fits you the best.
There are also two different kinds of nipple shields.
Both types offer the same purpose, but the contact type has a small cutout on one side allowing the baby to have some contact with the breast.
The full shield is all-around plastic, so the baby doesn’t get any contact directly to the breast.
Although the full shields do tend to stay on easier than the contact ones.
How do I clean my nipple shield?
It is important to keep your nipple shield clean in between feedings.
It is pretty easy to just rinse it out right after feeding and wash with hot soapy water.
I liked having at least 2 shields so that I could rotate through them while one of them was drying.
Is a nipple shield my magic solution?
Unfortunately, nipple shields aren’t necessarily a magic solution. Most lactation specialists will recommend them as a short term solution while you figure out other issues and problems.
All of the reasons why you might consider using a nipple shield won’t necessarily disappear after using one.
A lot of those problems have root causes that a shield might not necessarily correct.
For instance, if your child has a tongue/lip tie, it is probably best to get your baby evaluated by a pediatric dentist that specializes in ties.
It may provide an easier latch for your baby, but by no means, will it correct their ties.
Sore or cracked nipples are usually caused by poor positioning and or latching that can be helped by consulting with a lactation specialist.
A nipple shield can be very beneficial with certain struggles when breastfeeding, but ideally, it shouldn’t necessarily be used as a long term solution.
The best outcome would be to eventually wean your child off of the nipple shield and back directly onto the breast.
How do I wean my baby off of the nipple shield?
Weaning from the nipple shield can prove to be a little difficult.
Just like anything, your baby gets used to, weaning them off of it may take a little effort.
Weaning is going to be more of a gradual process, and that is ok.
Here are some tips for the best success to help wean off the nipple shield.
- Allow baby to feed with the shield to begin with and try removing it after 10 minutes or so.
- Try latching your baby every day, every few days or once a week to just see if they will latch without the shield. You never know when they will just suddenly figure out how to latch without it.
- Try latching without the shield when your baby is really hungry and willing to work a little more for dinner.
- Pumping or expressing before nursing will encourage a letdown and give your baby an instant reward when attempting to latch without the shield.
- Experiment with different breastfeeding positions to see if certain positions help your baby latch easier.
- Apply some ice to your nipple to help harden it for an easier latch.
If your baby is getting fussy and upset, calm them down, and try again a different day.
It is not worth them getting angry and frustrated at the expense of not being able to latch and feed.
Remember the most important thing is to make sure your baby is fed, so if that means breastfeeding with a nipple shield, then so be it!
Some mothers feel guilty if they have to use a nipple shield to successfully breastfeed.
Even though I mentioned a nipple shield is usually a short term solution if you have tried everything else, with still no luck.
Then just stick with it.
It is ok, and no you are not unsuccessful at breastfeeding.
We all just do our best and want what is best for our babies, right?!
What are the pros and cons of using a nipple shield?
As with anything, there are always pros and cons to most things. Here is a brief overview of the pros vs cons to using a nipple shield while breastfeeding.
- It allow for an easier latch for baby. If the nipple shield is the only way that your baby can breastfeed than that is better than not breastfeeding at all.
- It can help heal sore, cracked, and painful nipples while still allowing baby to nurse.
- It can be a great option for premature babies.
- They can encourage baby to open their mouths wider, learn how to latch properly, and also achieve a deeper latch.
- Babies can become very dependent on the nipple shield making it hard to wean them off of it.
- Mothers milk supply could suffer if the breast isn’t stimulated properly and there is a poor milk transfer.
- Could cause soreness or pain while using if the nipple shield isn’t fitted correctly.
- If not used properly, baby might not get enough milk during each feed.
- Mother may be at more risk at getting clogged milk ducts or mastitis due to ineffective milk removal.
- Can be inconvenient to have to carry around a nipple shield with you if you aren’t home.
Whether you are currently using one or are looking to try one out, a nipple shield could be a great short term solution for you.
If you have the option to work alongside a lactation specialist while using a nipple shield that would be even better.
If it turns into more of a long term solution and you have tried everything else, that is ok.
Some mothers would prefer to go the route of breastfeeding with a shield rather than not breastfeeding at all.
Just make sure you figure out the root of latching problems, sore nipples, breast refusal, and check for a tongue/lip tie to make sure you are correcting the root causes before just using the nipple shield as a bandaid to fix any breastfeeding problems.
Are you currently using a nipple shield? Has it been helpful in your breastfeeding journey?