What is a nipple shield? 

By: Nikkie Seamons


Most nipple shields look like the picture above, there was a time where every midwife, lactation consultant, aunt and best friend would recommend a nipple shield. What issues are they meant to help?
♥ Sore and/or cracked nipples
♥ Baby is having troubles feeding possible from being premature, having trouble latching or used to a bottle
♥ A mother with flat, small or inverted nipples

Now whilst I will not deny that nipple shields do provide some relief (I used them with my second daughter when she couldn’t latch properly because of an unknown tongue tie) they bring with them a lot of negatives. Some women may not have any problems but many do, so before you run out for the shields please read ahead.

What problems can a nipple shield cause?
♥ Similar to nipple confusion caused by bottle feeding or pacifiers babies get used to feeding with the shield and have to be weaned from it which for some is a long and stressful process.
♥ The flow is slowed when using a shield which can cause a cranky baby and in turn a cranky and distressed mom who doesn’t know why baby is distressed whilst feeding
♥ If the latch is not fixed (which with a shield it makes it harder to tell as they kind of block the pain) then the milk intake is reduced
♥ Overused – they seem to be a quick fix for any breastfeeding related problem rather than fixing the actual problem
♥ Making a mother feel like she has failed to properly breastfeed
♥ Further damage to the nipples

What can you do before resorting to a shield?
Flat or inverted nipples - There is a technique called the sandwich technique (some also know it as the hamburger) to do this you imagine you’re holding a sub and you know how you squish it to fit in your mouth, do this with your breast so baby gets more of the breast tissue when latching on.
Before becoming distressed that you baby won’t be able to breastfeed because of your nipples think about the word “breastfeed” break it down “breast” and “feed” not nipplefeed! Your baby feeds from your breast not your nipple, the milk is draw from the nipple but any nipple can breastfeed, some just take a bit more work that others.
Before latching baby on try using a good quality (preferably hospital grade) breastpump to draw the nipple out.
You can also try nipple stimulation and there are even products on the market called nipple enhancers which are designed to draw the nipple out.

Sore and/or cracked nipples - In most cases this is a sign your baby is not latching properly, this could be from incorrect positioning or something like a lip or tongue tie.
Presuming like in most instances it is caused by an incorrect latch this can be easily fixed by learning to latch baby correctly.
A few simple tips to make sure your latch is correct are:
♥ Are babies lips curled around your nipple?
♥ Babies tongue plays an important role, is the tongue between your breast and baby’s bottom gum?
♥ Is baby’s chin pressed into your breast?
♥ You are NOT hearing smacking or slurping types of noises
♥ There is no pain
♥ Does baby have areola in the mouth as well as nipple?

If you answered yes to all of these then there is a good chance that your latch is good (though not always) If you answered no to some then we need to work on your latch.
We have many trained professionals to help you such as Lactation Consultants and Breastfeed Counsellors.

Premature or sick babies - Whilst a prem baby will have a weak suck and won’t even develop a suck reflex until 32 weeks there is no need to use a shield again once baby is big enough and stable enough then baby can go straight to the breast.

What if you already use a shield and want to stop?
If you’re already using a shield and wanting to stop you may have to gradually wean baby from the shield as your nipple will now feel some what unnatural as the latex or more common now silicone shield is what baby is used to.
Some are lucky and baby goes on to breastfeed without the shield without a worry in the world. If yours won’t don’t despair you can wean baby.
The most important thing in weaning your baby from the shield is patience. If baby won’t take the nipple and begins to get distressed pop the shield on and try again later.
As mentioned earlier removing the shield part way through a feed may help or expressing milk onto the nipple before latching baby. Lots of skin to skin and allowing baby to feed whenever he or she wants and using the natural instinct to find the nipple.

Remember at Breastfeeding/Mama Talk we are always here to help you, everybody’s experience is different and we are always willing and ready to assist you.
Before resorting to a shield which should be used as a last resort, even try a nipple shell first and ALWAYS speak to your lactation consultant first to try and actually fix any breastfeeding problems rather than mask them with a shield.


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