How Breast Shells Help Breastfeeding Mothers

Baby smiling to mother during breastfeeding
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Breast shells are helpful breastfeeding products designed for breastfeeding women who have inverted nipples, sore nipples, or leaky breasts.

They are made up of two silicone or plastic parts that are worn over the breasts. You place the round bottom ring over your areola allowing your nipple to stick through a hole in the center. This piece puts a gentle pressure at the base of your nipple. It shouldn't be painful. A second dome-shaped piece fits over the bottom ring to protect your nipple and collect any breast milk that may leak from your breasts while you're wearing the breast shells.

When Breast Shells Are Helpful

  • Breast shells are worn to help correct flat nipples, retracted nipples, or inverted nipples. If you wear breast shells between feedings, they may help to draw out your nipples and make it easier for your baby to latch on well.
  • Breast shells can protect sore, cracked nipples from rubbing up against your nursing bra or breastfeeding clothes. Since they help to prevent further pain and irritation, your nipples may heal more quickly.
  • Wearing breast shells can relieve mild breast engorgement. They put slight, constant pressure on the nipple and that lets some of the breast milk drain slowly out of your breasts and into the outer shell. 
  • Since breast shells can collect breast milk, they can prevent embarrassing leaks and protect your clothing from stains.
  • Breast shells can be worn to collect the dripping breast milk from one breast while you breastfeed or pump on the other breast.

Breast shells are a helpful product for breastfeeding women who need to correct inverted nipples, protect sore nipples, or manage leaky breasts.

Can You Use Breast Shells While You're Pregnant?

If you're pregnant, it's important to talk to your doctor before you use breast shells. Some women with flat or inverted nipples begin wearing breast shells before the birth of their baby.

However, you should not wear breast shells if you are at risk for premature labor. They can cause uterine contractions since they stimulate the nipples.

The Difference Between Breast Shells and Nipple Shields

Breast shells are not the same as nipple shields. Nipple shields are devices that your doctor or lactation professional may recommend if your baby is not latching on well.

You wear a nipple shield while you're breastfeeding. Breast shells, on the other hand, should always be removed before you nurse your child.

Leaking and an Overabundant Breast Milk Supply

Even though you can wear breast shells to help with leaks, it is possible that they can make the leaking worse.

An increase in leaking is more likely to occur during the first few weeks after the birth of your baby. Breast shells can also contribute to an overabundant supply of breast milk.

Can You Give Your Baby the Breast Milk Collected?

Bacteria and fungus can grow in warm, dark, moist areas. Breast milk that leaks into breast shells can become contaminated with these organisms.

Therefore, you should not store or feed your baby any of the breast milk that you collect in your breast shells between feedings.

Breast Shell Care and Cleaning

Breast shells with ventilation holes allow air to circulate around your breasts and nipples. The circulation of air around your breast tissue is necessary to keep moisture from building up inside of the shells.

Moisture from breast milk that stays inside the breast shells can cause irritation to your breasts. So, you need to keep your breasts and your breast shells clean and dry to prevent some of the common problems of breastfeeding such as skin breakdown, rashes, sore nipples, thrush, and mastitis.

Breast shells are easy to clean. Wash them with warm soapy water every day, and allow them to dry thoroughly.

Where to Buy Breast Shells

Breast shells may be available at the hospital where you deliver your baby. You can also buy breast shells online or in a store that sells baby supplies, or breastfeeding and breast pump accessories.

If you have any questions about the use of breast shells or where to get them, talk to your doctor, a lactation consultant, or a local breastfeeding group.

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Article Sources
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  • American Academy of Pediatrics. New Mother’s Guide To Breastfeeding. Bantam Books. New York. 2011.

  • Lawrence, Ruth A., MD, Lawrence, Robert M., MD. Breastfeeding A Guide For The Medical Profession, Eighth Edition. Elsevier Health Sciences. 2015.

  • Riordan, J., and Wambach, K. Breastfeeding and Human Lactation, Fourth Edition. Jones and Bartlett Learning. 2014.