If you’re a new or expectant mother who’s looking to breastfeed, you’ve probably heard that breastfeeding takes practice. This may seem odd. Shouldn’t breastfeeding come naturally? Unfortunately, you and your little one need to learn how to latch.
If you have cracked or sore nipples or your little one has trouble nursing and nothing else is working, your lactation consultant may recommend using a nipple shield. Although it is a short-term solution, nipple shields can be extremely helpful while you and your little one learn how to breastfeed.
A nipple shield can encourage your little one to nurse and latch well, but it needs to be put on correctly so your breast milk will flow properly.
What Is a Nipple Shield?
A nipple shield is basically a silicone nipple that you place over your own nipple. As long as it’s correctly used, it can prevent sore and chapped nipples. These products typically have three holes in the top so your little one can still access your breast milk.
The base of a nipple shield is big enough to cover the areola, although some brands will have bases with a small area cut out to allow more skin-to-skin contact, which is an important part of bonding. In the middle of the base, there’s a cone with three holes in the top to fit your nipple.
These protectors are flexible and see-through. Nipple shields also come in different sizes, based on the size of your little one’s mouth. If you aren’t sure what size would be best, you can ask your lactation consultant.
How Do Nipple Shields Help?
Nipple shields can offer some protection while babies and mothers learn how to breastfeed. They are usually longer and more firm, which can aid babies who have difficulty latching. They also stimulate the top of your little one’s mouth and trigger their sucking reflex.
Think of nipple shields as secondary nipples. Once your little one’s latch is stronger, you can wean them off of the nipple shields. It’s a temporary solution to a temporary problem.
Why Would I Need a Nipple Shield?
There are many reasons why you may need a nipple shield. Its main purpose is to help you and your little one while you’re learning to breastfeed, but there are many reasons why you might need one.
The primary reason that your lactation consultant may recommend a nipple shield is to help with trouble latching. A bad latch is when your baby only gets the nipple in their mouth, which makes it harder for your little one to get enough milk. It also leads to sore and chapped nipples.
A bad latch could be caused by a number of things, including inexperience.
Some common issues are:
- Tongue tie, retracted tongue, or a tongue thrust.
- Flat, inverted, or short nipples.
- A lot of letdown, which is the technical term for the initial milk flow. If there is a lot of milk at first, it can be difficult for your baby to eat properly.
- Soft breasts, which can make it difficult to get a firm hold.
- Your little one needs some encouragement to nurse. Sometimes, they need something to stimulate the roof of their mouth to trigger their suck reflex.
- Switching from bottle to breast.
Before you purchase nipple shields, you’ll want to talk to a lactation consultant or your family doctor. There are many methods to help you and your little one learn the best way to breastfeed, and nipple shields are generally recommended as a last resort.
Usually, you’ll only need a nipple shield for about four or five weeks. Many of these issues can be corrected with practice and some training. Some, like an overactive letdown, can get better over time, or you can use other things to reduce the amount of letdown, like pumping some of the milk before letting your little one nurse.
Are There Any Disadvantages To Using One?
Although nipple shields can be a helpful tool, they aren’t for everyone. With any product, there are some cons if they aren’t used as recommended, which is why it’s important to follow instructions.
Nipple shields can help with a lot of things, but they can’t correct every nursing problem. They won’t be able to help if you have low milk production or if you have damaged nipples.
Another downside of nipple shields is that they can limit skin-to-skin contact between you and your little one while nursing. However, there are many other ways to encourage bonding moments between you and your little one, like cuddling with them as they nurse.
Nipple shields can also lead to some pain since they can compress the nipple once your little one is latched. It can also be difficult for babies to completely empty the breast with nipple shields.
Once you’ve used the nipple shield for a little bit, it can be difficult to wean your baby off of them when they’re strong enough to nurse without one. It may take a little patience to get through the weaning process. One way is to switch over one feeding at a time. You could also try taking the shield off once your baby is sleepy.
How Do I Use a Nipple Shield?
Since putting on the nipple shield incorrectly can make it difficult for your baby to get all of the milk out of your breast, it’s important to learn how to put the nipple shield on the right way. It can help your little one get what they need while protecting you from further chafing.
After you buy the nipple shield, you should clean and sanitize it first. It keeps your baby and your body safe from germs and other bacteria that might be harmful.
How To Clean It
Most nipple shields will have a set of instructions for how to clean them, but generally, the first thing you should do is sanitize them. The best way to do this is to bring water to a boil and, after taking it off the heat, set the nipple shields in it for five minutes to kill germs.
Next, you’ll want to wash them in soap and warm or hot water. The warm water will help to keep it flexible so that it’s easier to put on. You’ll need to wash the faux nipples before and after you use them each time since milk residue can be left on them.
You may want to sanitize them again after a few uses or if they accidentally fall on the floor.
How To Put It On
Putting on the shield may seem simple. You’re likely going to need some practice. You should be able to find instructions with the nipple shields that you buy, but, just in case, here’s what you should do.
- Make sure the nipple shield is flexible by using the warm water trick we mentioned.
- It can be helpful to rub some of your breast milk onto the shield since it can reduce chafing and can encourage your little one to latch.
- The next step is to flip the shield about halfway inside out, which leaves a small dimple at the end where the holes for the milk to come out are located. It will help to draw your nipple in as far as possible.
- Next, you want to place your nipple into the dimple.
- After step four, you need to stretch the base over your breast as much as possible. You want it to be snug and comfortable. Your nipple should be as far as possible into the shield without scraping the sides.
If you’re having trouble with the shield sticking, you can use water or nipple cream to help it stay in place.
How To Feed With It
Essentially, feeding with a shield should be the same as feeding without it. Your lactation consultant should be able to help you learn the best ways to help your little one learn how to latch correctly.
If you have a shield that has cutout spaces for your little one’s nose and chin, you’ll want to make sure the shield is positioned correctly for your baby. That way, you’ll have some skin-to-skin contact while your little one eats.
Protecting Yourself While Helping Your Baby Learn
Breastfeeding isn’t always a walk in the park, but while you and your baby are learning how to do it, you can use a nipple shield to prevent sore and chapped nipples.
To help your little one get the most milk out of the shield, you need to learn how to place it properly. Although it’s only a temporary solution, it’s important to ensure that you can put the nipple shield on.
As a new mother, there are a lot of things that you might need to learn about. If you’re looking for some more educational materials, please check out our blog.
Skin-to-Skin Contact for You & Baby | Cleveland Clinic
Bonding With Your Baby (for Parents) | Nemours KidsHealth