How to Breastfeed With a Nipple Shield

Woman opening plastic case holding nipple shield

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A nipple shield is a breastfeeding product that's used in special situations. It's a very thin, soft piece of rubber or silicone that covers the areola and nipple. A small opening at the tip of the nipple area allows breast milk to flow from your breast, through the shield, and to your baby.

What Is a Nipple Shield?

A nipple shield is a helpful breastfeeding device, but only in certain circumstances. If you use a nipple shield when you don't need it, it could lead to breastfeeding problems. Here are some of the situations when breastfeeding with a nipple shield may be helpful.

Latch on Difficulties: A nipple shield is sometimes used to help newborns who have a tough time latching on. It may be easier for a baby to latch onto the shield than the breast. 

Premature Babies: Some preemies do well with a small-sized nipple shield when they are learning to latch on. It can help their little mouths latch on to the nipple which may be a bit big for them. It also takes much less of a preemie's precious energy to keep a nipple shield in their mouth. Then, as they grow, they can be weaned from the shield and begin breastfeeding directly on the bare breast.

Tongue-Tied Infants: Babies born with ankyloglossia, or tongue-tie, may have trouble latching on to the breast. If a baby cannot latch on correctly, he may not be able to get enough breast milk and gain weight well. A poor latch from a tongue-tie can also cause painful, sore nipples. A nipple shield may be helpful in this situation.

Flat, Retracted, or Inverted Nipples: Nipple shields may help to draw out flat, retracted, or inverted nipples making it easier for a baby to latch on to the breast.

Sore Nipples: A breast shield can protect sore nipples. If it's too painful to breastfeed because you have sore, cracked nipples, a nipple shield can help to make breastfeeding feel comfortable.

Going From the Bottle to the Breast: A nipple shield may help an adopted child or an infant who is used to taking a bottle switch over and take to breastfeeding more easily.

7 Tips

  1. Nipple shields are usually used as a last resort. You should only wear this device to breastfeed if you are under the care and supervision of a physician, lactation consultant, or another person who has experience with it. If it's not worn correctly, a nipple shield could negatively affect breastfeeding. The improper use of a nipple shield could lead to a low breast milk supply, weight loss in your baby, and breast issues.
  2. Nipple shields are not one size fits all. It is important to wear one that is the right size for you. A nipple shield that does not fit properly may block the flow of milk from your breasts.
  3. While using a nipple shield, you need to make sure that your baby is getting enough breast milk. Keep track of your baby's wet diapers and take your baby to the pediatrician to monitor his or her weight.
  4. Your child can become accustomed to breastfeeding with a nipple shield and may be unwilling or unable to nurse without it. If you need to use a nipple shield very often, you may have to wean your child from the shield.
  5. Nipple shields should not be worn for the entire feeding unless your healthcare provider has instructed you to do so. Once your baby begins nursing with the shield, let the baby nurse on it for a minute or two. Then, remove it and try to get your child to latch on to your breast without it.
  6. Breastfeeding with a breast shield could prevent the full emptying of your breasts. It's important to drain your breasts of breast milk to build or maintain your milk supply and avoid some of the common problems of breastfeeding such as breast engorgement, plugged ducts, and mastitis. So, after using a nipple shield, you can use a breast pump to remove the remaining milk.
  7. Nipple shields are not the same as breast shells. A nipple shield covers the areola and the nipple, but a breast shell covers the areola and allows the nipple to protrude through. You wear a nipple shield while you're breastfeeding, but you should never wear breast shells while you're nursing.

Where to Buy

You can get a nipple shield from a breastfeeding professional such as a lactation consultant or a breastfeeding educator. The hospital where you have your baby may be able to provide you with a nipple shield if it's needed. You can also purchase nipple shields online or in person at stores that carry baby and breastfeeding products and supplies.

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