Nipple Shields: Yay or Nay?
Melissa Portunato MPH, IBCLC, RLC
Are your nipples sore from nursing your newborn? Are you thinking of purchasing a nipple shield to prepare for your breastfeeding journey? Wait! Don’t grab that nipple shield just yet! Temporary use of a nipple shield combined with proper guidance can salvage a breastfeeding relationship at times, but nipples shields can be widely misused too! Read on to find the answers to everything you need to know about nipple shields.
Do I really need a nipple shield?
Far too often, nipple shields are used to mask breastfeeding issues without getting to the root cause.Truth is, most moms do not need them at all. Nipple shields essentially create a barrier between you and your baby. They are infamous for low weight gain, clogged ducts, low milk supply and a ton of other breastfeeding issues, even Mastitis. Some newer research tells us temporary use of nipple shields could possibly salvage a breastfeeding relationship if it’s combined with skilled lactation support early on.
What are some instances a nursing mom might benefit from the temporary use of a nipple shield?
It’s surprising for most to learn flat or inverted nipples begin to naturally draw out with breastfeeding. Even with inverted nipples that don’t protrude with stimulation, nursing or pumping will draw them out and a nipple shield is not even needed. There may be instances, where the nipple does not protrude and a nipple shield can be beneficial.
Other special circumstances include premature babies (born earlier than 36 weeks) and transitioning from bottle to breast. The supervised use of a nipple shield has been linked to temporarily improving or prolonging the breastfeeding relationship in some studies.
How do I use a nipple shield?
If you decide to use a nipple shield, make sure it’s the right size and made of thin silicone material. The shield should fit securely over the nipple and areola. When a baby is latched and actively nursing at the breast there should be visible movement on and around the breast. Also, there should be breastmilk on the tip of the shield. These are all indicators the nipple shield placement is correct. Working closely with a local International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, IBCLC is critical to ensure your baby is nutritively sucking at the breast and transferring adequate milk to grow and thrive.
Weaning off the shield
Nipple shields are intended for temporary use which means the goal should always be to wean off them. Switch and bait can be an effective technique when weaning a baby off a nipple shield. Start nursing with the shield, slip it off and then quickly re- latch baby directly at the breast. This approach can take patience and practice. Start feeding sessions skin to skin and offer the breast at early feeding cues. Crying is a late sign of hunger and a “hangry” baby will be much harder to latch.
Protect your milk supply if your baby is not latching by dual pumping using a Spectra Baby USA hospital strength pump. In addition, introducing a supplemental nursing system can aid at keeping baby nursing at the breast while trying to wean off a nipple shield.
Getting skilled lactation support early can prevent the use of nipple shields all together! Nipple shields are not intended for long-term use and should be approached with caution. If you decide to use a nipple shield work closely with a local International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, IBCLC who has experience with using niplpe shields.
Do you have breastfeeding questions? Schedule a free Spectra Baby USA virtual consultation with one of our experts to help you on your breastfeeding journey!
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Chertok, I. Reexamination of ultra-thin nipple shield use, infant growth and maternal satisfaction. J Clin Nurs 2009;18(21):2949-2955.
Meier, P. et al. Nipple shields for preterm infants: effect on milk transfer and duration of breastfeeding. J Hum Lact 2000; 16(2):106-114.
Kronborg H, Foverskov E, Nilsson I, Maastrup R. Why do mothers use nipple shields and how does this influence duration of exclusive breastfeeding?. Matern Child Nutr. 2017;13(1):e12251. doi:10.1111/mcn.12251