Many women are excited to begin breastfeeding upon the birth of their babies and don’t know if they need a nipple shield for breastfeeding or not. Some hope to be able to exclusively breastfeed.
Then they learn that their little one is having trouble latching to their nipple. Some women’s areola is large, but the nipple is flat. Other women have very prominent nipples.
This difference in nipple size and shape is one reason that many women will opt to use a nipple shield.
Let’s take a look at what nipple shields are and why women may choose to use one.
What Is A Nipple Shield?
A nipple shield, or a nipple guard, is usually made of silicone and covers the nipple and areola. The nipple portion protrudes more than many women’s nipples usually do.
This protrusion has holes in the tip so that the baby can latch using the shield, and the milk is delivered through the holes.
Why Should I Use A Nipple Shield?
Nursing nipple guards are recommended for a variety of reasons. Before choosing a nipple shield, you should consult a lactation consultant to make sure that this is the best course of action.
Here are some reasons a lactation specialist may recommend a nipple shield.
Premature babies often have small mouths and difficulty sucking. The nipple shield extends the length of the nipple in order to create a more comfortable latch for babies.
Because the shield allows a little milk to pool in the tip, if a baby takes a break, he or she immediately receives more milk upon resuming feeding.
This gives babies an immediate reward, and they will often continue sucking.
Nipple Size or Shape
If nipples are flat or inverted, babies often have trouble achieving an effective latch. They may struggle to manipulate the breast and get the milk they need.
If this is the problem, a shield may help the baby, and sometimes a shell is recommended between feedings.
A nipple shell goes over the nipple to hold it in place. It will help “train” the nipple to poke out rather than flatten. Using both, in the beginning, can help a baby more efficiently breastfeed.
Tongue or Lip Ties
Baby lip and tongue ties can often make latching difficult. These ties are often resolved by clipping the tissue, but this is not done at birth.
A nursing nipple guard will often help babies achieve a good latch while waiting for the tie to be repaired.
Cracked or overly painful nipples can benefit from a nipple shield, though this is not often used for this purpose.
Women with extreme pain or cracking find that the extra layer between the nipple and baby’s mouth is sometimes more comfortable. This is even more helpful with the proper lanolin nipple cream.
Some mothers have a forceful letdown that can make feeding difficult. Babies can often have trouble keeping up. A shield or guard will create a buffer and slow the flow somewhat.
There may be other reasons that women use nipple shields or nipple protectors, but they are less common.
As noted before, consult a lactation specialist before opting for the nipple shield or nipple protector.
These consultants will not only be able to determine if a shield is needed but also what size and style might best benefit your baby.
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How Do I Use a Nipple Shield?
A lactation consultant can help you learn to use the shield properly, but here are a few tips for use if you have forgotten or want a preview before your baby arrives.
- Slightly Invert Shield
- Stabilize Shield
- Allow Baby to Feed
- Carefully Remove
Slightly Invert Shield
When placing the shield on your breast, you can slightly invert it to pull your nipple inside. Place the flat outer edge on your areola.
Hold the outer edge stable as you bring the baby to your nipple. Once baby latches, you can often let go of this area.
Allow Baby to Feed
Allow the baby to feed and rest between sucks as needed.
Carefully remove the shield from your breast after feeding. There may be a little milk left in the shield. Empty and clean the shield.
Like bottles and nipples, it is advised to clean and sanitize the shield often.
How Long Do I Use A Shield?
The length of use of the nipple guard depends on the baby. There are a few things to consider when deciding to wean your baby from the shield.
Below are some tips for when to stop using them.
When the tie has been corrected, ask your doctor or lactation consultant how much longer the baby should use the shield. Often, this can be stopped as soon as the tie is fixed, barring any other anatomical concerns.
Try once or twice each day to get your baby to latch without a shield. You may be able to stop using the shield suddenly one day, and some babies might gradually pick up the latching ability.
Some moms notice a baby can latch for short periods and then get fatigued or have difficulties. Using a shield for part of a feed might help your baby build stamina.
Flat or Inverted Nipples
If your nipples were flat or inverted, you might notice that they begin to protrude more on their own. In this case, you can try feeding without the shield.
Using ice or pumping a few minutes before a feed can also help.
Reminders For Using Nipple Shields
Nipple shields can be fantastic companions to feeding your baby. The use of a nipple shield should be temporary in most cases, though. You should not be permanently using nipple shield for feeding your baby.
While feeding your baby is a beautiful bonding experience, it can also be frustrating when one of the above is happening.
Nipple shields can help with frustration to some extent, but a knowledgeable professional should help you decide what size and style shield is best for your baby.
Even if you use a shield with one baby, you may not need one with another. You may also need different shield sizes with each baby.
If you have any concerns about using breast shields, shells, or your baby’s feeding, ask a trusted professional.
Your hospital and doctor will have information on how to contact these professionals. The way that you feed your baby should be comfortable and as stress-free as possible. And breastfeeding nipple shields may be the answer for some families.
If you’re trying to use a nipple shield and are having discomfort, it may be time to use a different breastfeeding position.
Why Is Using A Nipple Shield Bad?
Using a shield isn’t necessarily bad, but, it should be noted that by using a nipple guard, you are taking direct nipple stimulation away and this could decrease your milk supply.
If you find your milk supply decreasing, consider decreasing the use of the nursing shield and finding other ways to increase your milk supply.
Nipple Shield Pros and Cons
Pro’s of Breastfeeding with a Nipple Guard
- Helps with many breastfeeding problems like ties, prematurity, nipple size and shape discrepancy, etc.
- Nipple shields help baby latch better during feedings
- Helps with painful nipples
- Easy way to train baby to latch better
Nipple Shield Disadvantages
- Only a temporary fix or help
- Can increase risk of developing mastitis or breast milk blockage
- Can negatively impact your milk supply
Best Nipple Shields:
Medela Nipple Shield
Other Breastfeeding Resources:
For more breastfeeding tips, check out this breastfeeding course from Milkology.
For help learning to work and continue your breastfeeding journey, check this out.
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