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Nipple Shields: A Complete Guide for Breastfeeding Moms

Nipple Shields: A Complete Guide for Breastfeeding Moms

Apria Editorial |

Are you a breastfeeding mom who is struggling with sore nipples, latch issues, or low milk supply? If so, you might have heard of nipple shields as a possible solution. But what are nipple shields, and how do they work? Are they safe and effective, or do they cause more problems than they solve? In this article, we will answer all these questions and more.

What are nipple shields?


Nipple shields are thin, flexible silicone covers that fit over the nipple and areola during breastfeeding. They have holes at the tip to allow milk to flow through to the baby. They are designed to protect the nipple from damage, pain, or irritation caused by various breastfeeding challenges. Some of the reasons why moms might use nipple shields are:

· Flat or inverted nipples: Some moms have nipples that do not protrude enough for the baby to latch on easily. Nipple shields can help by creating a larger target for the baby to suck on and stimulating the nipple to draw out.

· Premature or small babies: Some babies are born too early or too small to breastfeed effectively. They may have difficulty latching on, staying awake, or sucking strongly enough to get enough milk. Nipple shields can help by providing a firmer surface for the baby to latch on and reducing the effort required to suck.

· Tongue-tie or lip-tie: Some babies have a tight frenulum (the tissue that connects the tongue or lip to the mouth) that restricts their movement and affects their ability to latch on and suck properly. Nipple shields can help by creating more space in the mouth for the tongue or lip to move and reducing the friction on the nipple.

· Overactive let-down or oversupply: Some moms have a very fast or forceful milk flow that can overwhelm the baby and cause them to choke, cough, or pull away from the breast. Nipple shields can help by slowing down the milk flow and giving the baby more control over the pace of feeding.

· Nipple pain or damage: Some moms experience sore, cracked, or bleeding nipples due to various factors such as poor latch, thrush, mastitis, or biting. Nipple shields can help by creating a barrier between the nipple and the baby's mouth and allowing the nipple to heal.

How to choose the right size and type of nipple shield?


Nipple shields come in different sizes and shapes to suit different moms and babies. The size of the nipple shield refers to the diameter of the base that covers the areola. The shape of the nipple shield refers to the design of the tip that goes into the baby's mouth. The most common shapes are standard (round), contact (cut-out), and butterfly (winged).

The size and shape of the nipple shield you choose depends on your personal preference, your nipple size, your baby's mouth size, and your breastfeeding goals. Here are some general guidelines to help you choose:

The base of the nipple shield should cover most of your areola but not extend beyond it. If it is too small, it may not provide enough protection or stimulation for your nipple. If it is too large, it may interfere with your milk flow or cause pressure on your breast tissue.

The tip of the nipple shield should fit comfortably in your baby's mouth without causing gagging or discomfort. If it is too short, it may not reach far enough into your baby's mouth to trigger a good suck. If it is too long, it may touch the back of your baby's throat and cause choking or vomiting.

The shape of the nipple shield should match your natural nipple shape as much as possible. If your nipples are round, you may prefer a standard shape. If your nipples are flat or inverted, you may prefer a contact or butterfly shape that helps draw them out.

The thickness of the nipple shield should be as thin as possible while still providing enough protection for your nipple. Thinner nipple shields allow more skin-to-skin contact between you and your baby and more sensation for both of you.

The best way to find out which size and shape of nipple shield works best for you is to try different options until you find one that feels comfortable for both you and your baby. You can also consult a lactation consultant or a breastfeeding counselor for advice and guidance.

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What are the pros and cons of using nipple shields?

Nipple shields can be a helpful tool for some moms and babies who face breastfeeding challenges. However, they also have some potential drawbacks that you should be aware of before using them. Here are some of the pros and cons of using nipple shields:

Pros

  • They can protect your nipples from pain, damage, or infection and allow them to heal.
  • They can help your baby latch on and suck more effectively if they have difficulty due to prematurity, tongue-tie, lip-tie, or other issues.
  • They can reduce the stress and frustration of breastfeeding for both you and your baby and improve your bonding experience.
  • They can help you transition your baby from bottle feeding to breastfeeding or from formula feeding to breast milk feeding.
  • They can help you continue breastfeeding for longer and avoid early weaning.

Cons

  • They can reduce the amount of milk your baby gets if they are not fitted properly or if they interfere with your milk flow or letdown.
  • They can reduce the stimulation of your nipples and affect your milk supply if they are used for too long or too often.
  • They can cause nipple confusion or preference in your baby if they get used to the artificial feel of the nipple shield and reject the natural feel of your nipple.
  • They can increase the risk of thrush, mastitis, or blocked ducts if they are not cleaned properly or if they trap moisture or bacteria on your nipple or breast.

How to use nipple shields successfully?


Nipple shields are meant to be a temporary solution for breastfeeding challenges, not a permanent replacement for your nipple. The goal is to use them as little as possible and as much as necessary until you and your baby overcome the underlying issue and can breastfeed without them. Here are some tips and tricks for using nipple shields successfully:

· Consult a lactation consultant or a breastfeeding counselor before using nipple shields. They can help you determine if you really need them, how to choose the right size and type, how to apply them correctly, how to monitor your baby's intake and weight gain, and how to wean your baby off them when ready.

· Use nipple shields only when necessary. Try to breastfeed without them at least once a day, preferably at the beginning of a feed when your breasts are fuller, and your nipples are more erect. If your baby refuses to latch on without them, try to offer them after a few minutes of using them, when your baby is more relaxed and satisfied. If your baby still refuses, don't force them or get upset. Just try again another time.

· Make sure the nipple shield is clean and dry before each use. Wash it with warm water and mild soap after each use and rinse it well. Store it in a clean container with a lid. Replace it every few weeks or if it gets damaged or worn out.

· Make sure the nipple shield is moist and warm before applying it. You can wet it with water or breast milk or hold it in your hand for a few seconds. This will make it more comfortable for you and more appealing for your baby.

· Make sure the nipple shield is positioned correctly on your breast. Center it over your nipple and areola and smooth out any wrinkles or air bubbles. You can use a drop of water or breast milk to help it stick better. You can also hold it in place with one hand until your baby latches on.

· Make sure your baby latches on correctly to the nipple shield. Your baby should open their mouth wide and take in as much of the base of the nipple shield as possible. You should see their lips flanged out and their tongue cupped under the nipple shield. You should hear them swallow regularly and see their ears wiggle slightly. You should feel a gentle tug on your breast but no pain or pinching.

· Make sure your baby gets enough milk from the nipple shield. You can check their diapers for wetness and stool output, their weight gain, their growth, and their behavior. You can also express some milk before or after each feed to stimulate your milk supply and offer it to your baby by cup, spoon, syringe, or supplemental nursing system (SNS). You can also switch breasts frequently during each feed to increase the milk flow.

· Make sure you take care of yourself while using nipple shields. You can massage your breasts before each feed to stimulate your milk flow and let-down. You can apply warm compresses or take a warm shower to ease any discomfort or engorgement. You can apply lanolin cream or breast milk to your nipples after each feed to prevent dryness or cracking. You can wear a soft bra that fits well and does not constrict your breasts. You can drink plenty of water and eat a balanced diet to support your health and hydration.

Nipple shields on your breastfeeding journey


For many moms, nipple shields for breastfeeding can help remove some of the challenges that come with nursing a newborn. With a range of nipple shield sizes and brands, there are plenty of options for moms who are investigating this route. Remember to consult with a breastfeeding professional if you are having difficulty nursing.

FAQs


How long should I use nipple shields?
There is no definitive answer to this question, as it depends on your individual situation and goals. Some moms may use nipple shields for a few days or weeks until their nipples heal, or their babies learn to latch on better.

What is the purpose of a nipple shield?
The purpose of a nipple shield is to aid in breastfeeding by addressing specific challenges. It is a thin, flexible silicone cover that fits over the nipple and areola, designed to protect the nipple from damage, pain, or irritation during breastfeeding. It helps in cases of flat or inverted nipples, premature or small babies having difficulty latching, tongue-tie or lip-tie issues, overactive letdown, or nipple pain and damage.

How do I know what size nipple shield to get?
To determine the correct size of a nipple shield, consider the following:

  • Base Size: The base of the nipple shield should cover most of your areola but not extend beyond it. A too-small shield may not offer adequate protection or stimulation, while a too-large shield could interfere with milk flow or cause breast tissue pressure.
  • Tip Size: The tip should fit comfortably in your baby's mouth, neither causing gagging nor discomfort. It shouldn't be so short that it doesn't reach far into the baby’s mouth, nor so long that it causes choking or vomiting.
  • Nipple Shape and Shield Shape: Choose a shield shape that matches your natural nipple shape to ensure comfort and effectiveness.
  • Thickness: Opt for the thinnest shield that still provides sufficient protection, as this allows more skin-to-skin contact and sensation during breastfeeding.

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