Nipple shields first emerged at least 500 years ago – fashioned from various materials ranging from metals to animal skins – with the purpose of helping mothers who struggle with breastfeeding.
Over the last several decades, their design has gone through many changes and are now the small silicone shields we know today.
What Is A Nipple Shield
A nipple shield is used to protect the nipple and the areola from some of the friction and stress on the skin that comes from breastfeeding.
They are usually made from a thin layer of silicon, that flexes and molds to the surface of the nipple. The central tip has a hole that allows for the milk duct to pass through so your baby can latch on.
Not all nipple shields withhold their shape for the full 360 degrees. Some designs will allow for skin to skin contact in areas where the contact is comforting to the baby, but not damaging to the Mom. Such as the chin area.
When To Use A Nipple Shield
Breastfeeding can be a struggle for many women. It requires commitment, determination, and a level of physical strain early on as your body adjusts.
When there are issues getting your baby to latch properly the wear and tear can be far more significant.
For some of these factors, a nipple shield may be able to help.
Even with a proper latch, breastfeeding can be painful, especially during the first few weeks after birth.
A baby’s suction is very strong, and the sensitive skin around the nipple and areola can become irritated and chapped, breaking the skin and causing scabs.
A nipple shield can help you continue to breastfeed while your nipples heal.
It may still be slightly uncomfortable, but the shield will protect the skin from your baby’s saliva, which can dry your skin out more.
There are several factors that can make latching difficult when breastfeeding, and several of them can be fixed with the help of a nipple shield.
If your baby is born prematurely or has a palatal birth defect, a nipple shield can help them to latch easier since it is shaped better for little mouths.
Mothers with flat or inverted nipples can also find nipple shields to be helpful when breastfeeding their babies. The shield can give your nipple the proper shape needed to help your baby latch without frustration.
While breastfeeding a baby with teeth is possible, it is not always the most comfortable.
You can still feel their little teeth scraping your breast while they are sucking, and older babies may even bite down if they get distracted or decide that they’re done eating.
The protective silicone layer of a nipple shield between your baby’s teeth and your soft breast tissue can make breastfeeding much more comfortable for you as your baby is teething.
How To Latch With A Nipple Shield
Getting your baby to latch properly with a nipple shield can be a little tricky, especially if they are used to bare breastfeeding.
The silicone may feel strange in their mouth, and they don’t necessarily get the immediate satisfaction they would if they were feeding without the shield.
The fact that the shield doesn’t attach to your breast may also make things a bit more difficult.
You need to hold it in place while your baby latches, and once your baby has the milk flowing and your nipple begins to swell.
The shield should stay much easier on its own.
Overall, the technique for getting your baby to latch is the same as if you were bare breastfeeding. Your baby’s mouth should be open wide directly over the nipple and areola with the lower jaw tucked and upper lip flanged.
With a proper latch, you should begin to hear your baby begin to swallow fairly soon after they begin to suck.
For more information, be sure to view this short video.
Risks of Using A Nipple Shield
Any sort of device or method you use with your baby that isn’t natural comes with risks, and nipple shields are no exception.
Change In Milk Flow
With an improper latch, your baby may not be able to stimulate the correct milk flow from your breast.
This can lead to decreased milk supply which can cause hunger and frustration in your baby as well as delay weight gain and proper growth.
Changes in milk supply resulting from the use of a nipple shield often occur only when the shield is used over an extended period of time.
Any problems encountered should be limited if the use of a nipple shield is temporary, while your nipples heal.
Nipple shields come in various sizes and choosing the improper size can do more harm than good.
It can affect how much milk your baby receives and can cause even further damage to your nipples.
We will talk more about sizing shortly.
With prolonged use, your baby may become dependent on a nipple shield refusing to take the bare breast even if they were resistant to the shield at first.
This can lead to frustration and struggles when trying to wean your baby off the shield.
Regardless of how difficult it is, it is important that you do wean your baby off the shield to prevent further problems such as low milk supply or plugged ducts.
Speaking of plugged ducts, this is another possible risk associated with the use of a nipple shield. An improper latch or milk flow does not allow your baby to completely drain the breast at each feeding.
If the milk is not drained, you can end up with a plugged duct that can be uncomfortable and often painful.
Plugged ducts can also lead to infection, also known as mastitis. This condition often needs to be treated with antibiotics from your doctor and is extremely painful.
You may also experience flu-like symptoms such as fever and nausea.
Weaning My Baby Off The Nipple Shield
As mentioned previously, prolonged use of a nipple shield can cause your baby to become dependent on it creating issues when it comes time to wean.
If you find that your baby is having difficulty weaning off the nipple shield, you should try these methods.
Try Bare Nursing
This may seem like a big duh but there are certain things you can try when you start bar breastfeeding again that may help your baby take to the breast easier.
Prepare your nipples for feeding by everting them (if needed). You can do this by pumping a little to draw them out or simply by shaping them with your hand before placing your baby’s mouth over them.
You can also try to get your milk flowing before you try to latch your baby. By hand expressing a little bit of milk, your baby will taste it immediately and likely be more susceptible to bare breastfeeding.
Other than these things, just bring your baby to the breast and wait for them to open their mouth wide just as you would when feeding with a breast shield.
You may find that your baby has no problem taking to the breast again, but if you have struggles, don’t give up. Be patient, relax, and try again.
Sometimes your baby may just be too hungry to be patient enough to try the bare breast. In these cases, you can start feeding with the nipple shield and then remove it once the milk is flowing and your baby’s hunger isn’t as demanding.
When you do remove the shield, you want to bring the baby back to the breast as soon as possible.
You don’t want to make a mess with your milk and you also don’t want your baby to become frustrated while waiting for their food.
A fussy baby is harder to latch.
Skin To Skin Time
If your baby is still struggling with taking to the breast, they may feel too much pressure to latch. By practicing skin-to-skin time, your baby can get used to being against your bare skin and breast without feeling that pressure.
Ideally, you don’t want your baby to be too hungry when you decide to do skin-to-skin time. You don’t want them getting frustrated since the idea is to relax.
However, if your baby does decide to latch, a fairly full breast and praise will be a nice reward.
Wait Until Baby Is Sleepy
Nighttime feedings can be a good time to try feeding without a nipple shield as well, especially if your baby is already drowsy.
A sleepy baby is less aware of what’s going on and may not notice the difference in feel and taste between a nipple shield and bare breast.
Just try to start feeding when they are drowsy or in a light sleep.
Sometimes a simple change of position can help break the expectation that your baby will receive a nipple shield.
This is especially helpful when you use the same breastfeeding position on a regular basis.
If you are unsure about using a nipple shield with your baby but you are struggling with breastfeeding due to sore or inverted nipples, there are a few alternative methods you can try.
With flat or inverted nipples, you need to try to draw them out to help your baby latch.
- Breast pump: a few seconds with a pump pulls the nipple out uniformly from the center.
- Nipple stimulation: roll the nipple between your fingers or use some ice to help it stiffen and protrude.
- Hoffman Technique: this can help if you have particularly tight skin around your nipple that prevents it from protruding. Place both thumbs on either side of the nipple and slowly move them away from each other, stretching and loosening the skin around the nipple. Do this several times a day working your way around the nipple.
If you are simply struggling with sore or cracked nipples, you just need to be patient while they heal.
Try allowing your nipples to dry completely before covering them with a breast pad or bra to avoid further chapping.
You can also try a lanolin cream to help them heal quicker.
Nipple Shield FAQs
How Do I Clean My Nipple Shield?
Nipple shields should always be sterile just like a bottle nipple or pacifier since it goes in your baby’s mouth.
You can boil them for about 20 minutes to make sure they are sterile and ready to use.
Make sure the shield is completely cool and dry before using to prevent injury.
Can I Use My Nipple Shield While Pumping?
There is nothing that specifically prohibits you from using a nipple shield while pumping, but you may run into a couple of issues if you try.
Your pump’s breast flanges may not fit well over the nipple shield and you may not be able to effectively drain the breast with the shield on. It’s better to pump without it.
How Do I Put On A Nipple Shield?
Nipple shields do not actually attach to the breast. They work in a similar fashion to breast pump flanges. You hold it centered over the nipple while your baby latches on.
Once your baby starts to suck and your nipple begins to swell, there will be some suction that will help to keep the shield on so you don’t need to continue holding it.
If your baby unlatches though you will need to hold onto it again while you help them back on.
When Should I Replace My Nipple Shield?
Because the silicone is so thin, it can be easy for nipple shields to crack or tear. If you notice any part of your nipple shield is damaged, you should discard it immediately.
Nipple shields should also be cleaned and sterilized regularly. If you leave any milk on the shield and notice any sort of mold or mildew growth, throw it away.
How Long Should I Use A Nipple Shield?
Even though they can be used for an extended period of time, nipple shields are intended for short-term use. Prolonged use can cause your baby to become too dependent and refuse to take the bare breast.
Your nipples can also get used to the protective barrier, causing them to become easily irritated and injured when breastfeeding without it.
If you struggle with inverted or flat nipples or need a short reprieve for your sore, cracked nipples, a nipple shield can help you continue to breastfeed.
They can help create a protective barrier between your baby’s lips or teeth and your sensitive breast tissue, keeping in mind that they should only be used on a short-term basis so your baby doesn’t become dependent.
Have you tried using a nipple shield? What did you think?
Share your thoughts with us and help other mothers who may be struggling with breastfeeding.