Breastfeeding Nipple Shield | Complete Guide

If you’re new to baby care or parenthood in general, you may have heard about breastfeeding nipple shields and wondered quite a few times, what are nipple shields? How do nipple shields work? 

In a gist, nipple shields are often recommended by doctors to cater to several nursing problems. Most commonly, they are popularly prescribed to mothers who feel they have difficulty in latching. Therefore, unnecessary usage of breastfeeding nipple shields may also give birth to uncalled breastfeeding issues. 

What is a Breastfeeding Nipple Shield?

what is a nipple shield

To elaborate, a nipple shield for breastfeeding is a breastfeeding device that is only recommended in specific situations. They are considerably thin and soft pieces of rubber or silicone that help cover the areola and nipple. 

The product has a small opening at the tip area to allow the breast milk to flow to the infant’s mouth from the breast. Thus, using nipple shields help to establish a proper way of breastfeeding for the babies who seem to find it challenging to achieve or maintaining the attachment to the breast. However, it is essential to remember that a nipple shield is merely a temporary solution, not a permanent fix to an underlying problem. 

While breastfeeding may come across as uncomfortable to some mothers, using a nipple shield can ease the feeling temporarily. However, in case of an underlying latching problem, adding a shield on top may pose serious threats such as blocked ducts and mastitis, supply reduction, or the baby not receiving enough milk. 

Thus, it is suggested to get a qualified doctor’s recommendation before using a nipple shield for breastfeeding to understand better how it may or may not affect the baby’s breastfeeding sessions.

Pros & Cons of Nipple Shield

PROS —

  1. Eases the painful swollen nipples without having to introduce a bottle too early to the baby.
  2. Premature babies with latching issues and who tire out quickly find it more convenient to cling to their mother’s breasts. 
  3. It also addresses underlying challenges while breastfeeding the baby and doesn’t tire out the mother at the same time. 

CONS —

  1. Babies may not effectively receive milk from the breast using a nipple shield and, therefore, may not get the sufficient amount of milk required for their overall development. 
  2. Mother’s milk supply may reduce if not appropriately stimulated. 
  3. Babies may become largely dependent on nipple shields only.

When are Nipple Shields Used? 

Latching Issues: It is often used to address latching issues, i.e., to help the babies who have difficulty in latching on the breast to reach out for breast milk easily. 

Premature Babies: Nipple shields help premature babies to learn how to latch on the breast and receive milk without struggling with their little mouths. Thus, they also help premature babies to invest less energy in breastfeeding in general.

Sore Nipples: These products can help protect and prevent sore breasts/nipples from constant breastfeeding since they are very comfortable to use.

Tongue-Tied Babies: Babies born with ankyloglossia, commonly known as tongue-tie, usually develop latching issues soon. Thus, a nipple shield helps prevent the baby from getting insufficient quantities of milk, protecting them from unnecessary weight loss and malnutrition.  

From Bottle to Breastfeeding: A nipple shield is considered a tool to help an infant or an adopted child get accustomed to breastfeeding, which has grown to be comfortable with feeding on a bottle. 

Flat, Retracted, or Inverted Nipples: Additionally, nipple shields may also help draw out flat, inverted, or retracted nipples while making the process of breastfeeding much easier for both the baby and the mother. 

Also read: Baby Refusing Bottle? Tips to Bottle Feed a Breastfed Baby

How to Use Nipple Shields for Breastfeeding?

Before dwelling on that, it is wise to keep the baby in skin-to-skin contact with the mother to make it familiar with the touch before starting to breastfeed. 

There are many ways to use nipple shields for breastfeeding, but first, you must ensure latching the baby without the nipple shield to make the baby familiar with the process. In case the baby fails to hold on to it for long, here’s how you should proceed with a nipple shield: 

  1. You have to run the nipple shield under lukewarm water before using it, as it helps the nipple shield to stick better to the breast.
  2. Next, start rolling back the warm and wet nipple shield halfway down the shank of the shield.
  3. Apply a little water or breast milk around the edge of it for better application and support.
  4. Finally, roll the shield back onto the breast, so the nipple is drawn into the teat of the shield.

Attachment Technique:

  1. This is still considered an essential technique while handling a shield. First, you have to ensure that the baby is held close to the mother, and its chin should be in contact with the mother’s breast with its mouth wide open. Therefore after it’s attached to the breast, you should be able to notice the little chin movements of the baby, deeply focused to display active swallowing of the breast milk. 
  2. At the end of each breastfeeding session, breast compression while the baby still suckles helps to increase the milk and fat transfer to the baby. 
  3. The nipple shield is designed to mimic the shape of a nipple to make the baby familiar with breastfeeding and overcome latching issues eventually. 
  4. It’s a good idea to check on your baby’s bowel movements and urine outputs while using a nipple shield because these can be excellent indicators of the baby’s milk intake. 

Weaning from a Shield:

  1. Firstly, don’t obsess a lot over weaning off the shield to prevent being unhappy with breastfeeding in general. As long as the baby is healthy and gaining sufficient weight required for overall development, there is no need to rush into weaning them from the nipple shield. 
  2. Additionally, you may use only one nipple shield at one breast at a time or keep switching it between the two, as per your convenience. While some babies may need only one or two sessions with the nipple shields, many usually require a lot more than that. 
  3. While some babies may be more receptive to feeding without the shield when they are less hungry or sleepy, others may continue to use a shield for the duration of their breastfeeding experience.

Tips for using Nipple Shields

  1. Nipple shields are usually preferred as the last resort. It is only ever required if the need be, under the care and supervision of a physician, lactation consultant, or a doctor in general. Remember, the improper use of nipple shields may cause reduced breast milk supply, weight loss in the baby, and other breast issues. 
  2. They are available in many sizes; therefore, it is important to opt for the one that fits you well.
  3. You must ensure that the baby receives enough breast milk while using a nipple shield. 
  4. The baby may grow up to become more comfortable to breastfeeding with a nipple shield, therefore causing a lot of trouble for nursing without using one. Thus, may the need of using a nipple shield arrive, one might have to wean their child from it.
  5. Breastfeeding with a breast shield could prevent the full emptying of your breasts. Thus, it’s important to drain your breasts of breast milk to monitor the milk supply and simultaneously avoid issues such as plugged ducts, mastitis, breast engorgement, etc. 

Our Advice

Thus, babies can often become obsessed with nipple shields and may refuse to be breastfed without them. If a mother decides to use the nipple shield as a temporary solution, she should avoid using it frequently and for long durations. 

The rule of the thumb is to let the baby get used to latching with the nipple shield initially while breastfeeding and then, later, ‘baiting and switching’ them to breastfeeding without using nipple shields.

Laura is a trained primary teacher who takes a profound liking in interacting with and bringing out the best in children. She is also an ISSA certified pediatrician with an extensive practice of over 12 years. Laura comprehends the needs of infants and now compresses her expertise into writing thorough parenting guides to aid new parents.

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