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Nipple shields are a breastfeeding accessory meant to help a mother and her baby during their first period of breastfeeding. It can be quite challenging at first to learn this new skill. If you include struggling with flat nipples or caring for a preterm baby, the difficulties increase exponentially.
Not all mother’s need to use a nipple shield when starting to breastfeed, but they can be very helpful for specific situations. If you think a nipple shield can help you, make sure to reach out to a lactation consultant. In the meanwhile here is an easy guide to breastfeeding with a nipple shield, so you know what to expect.
What does a Nipple Shield do?
Nipple shields are placed over the mother’s nipple while breastfeeding to help babies latch on easier. It acts as an extension of the mother’s nipple and is often made of silicone, latex or rubber. At the tip there’s a small opening for milk to flow through. The added surface area created by the shield aids baby in properly latching, which is one of the most common reasons mother’s choose to stop breastfeeding.
3 Reasons for using Nipple Shields:
- Premature babies who are not strong enough to latch on
- Tongue and lip ties.
- Mother has flat or inverted nipples.
I suggest that you have a lactation consultant aid you in the use of your nipple shield. If used incorrectly, your baby might not get enough milk and not gain weight properly. Also, when baby doesn’t empty their mother’s breast completely, clogged ducts and mastitis can develop which is really painful.
For this reason, buy a hospital-grade double electric breast pump while breastfeeding with a nipple shield. The breast pump will help you increase your milk supply as well as properly empty your breasts after breastfeeding.
Tips for using a Nipple Shield
Most things are difficult before you learn how to do them, so don’t be discouraged if using a nipple shield turns out to be challenging at first. It is also important to consult a lactation consultant before applying a shield, because if used incorrectly it can adversely affect your breastfeeding relationship.
Let’s take a look at a summary of all things you need to know about nipple shields. I have listed them below in these 7 tips. Sure, it is not actually everything you need to know, but it will get you up and running with well rounded knowledge on the subject.
7 Tips for Using a Nipple Shield
- Loosen it up: Immerse the nipple shield into warm water to soften up the silicone.
- Make it stick: Apply some breast milk to the edges of the shield to help suction onto your skin.
- Apply with ease: Stretch the shield and turn it almost inside out, then start from the bottom of the breast and stretch the shield over the areola and nipple. The nipple should be within the tip of the shield for milk to flow properly.
- Get the right size: Measure the diameter of the nipple at the base in mm. Choose a shield size 4mm larger.
- Help baby get started: Express some milk into the shield beforehand as this can encourage baby to start breastfeeding.
- Stimulate milk flow: This can be done by performing breast compressions: once baby stops actively swallowing, place your hand under the latched on breast and press firmly. Keep it squeezed while baby nurses again and let go once they stop swallowing. Wait a few minutes and repeat.
- Weaning can be hard: When you and your baby are feeling confident about breastfeeding together, it is time to wean. The transition is gradual but with some consistency you two will be off and running shield-less!
Pros / Cons of Nipple Shields
Let’s take a look at a summary of positives and negatives when it comes to nipple shields. Although they are easily purchased online and in stores, it is a product that is recommended to be used under the guidance of a lactation specialist. Nipple shields are a transitional aid to help overcome certain breastfeeding hurdles and is not an accessory that stays around like nursing necklaces and nipple cream.
- Premature babies have shown to take in more milk when breastfeeding with a nipple shield.
- It can help mother and baby establish a proper latch which will result in a more peaceful breastfeeding relationship.
- Can help transition babies from bottle to breast.
- You can develop clogged milk ducts while using the shield.
- Your baby might not be getting enough milk if not applied properly.
- It can be difficult to wean from a nipple shield.
Buy the Right Nipple Shield
Before picking out a shield you think will be a good fit for you, make sure you know your size. See, if you purchase a shield of the wrong size, it will not help well with your milk flow. (This goes for the flanges on your breast pump too).
The shields come in a variety of sizes. To know your size, measure the diameter (in mm) of the base of your nipple and add 4 mm to the total count.
When purchasing nipple shields on Amazon, it can be a bit confusing. Reason being, many appear advertised as a one size fits all and this is not the case. Most brands offer 3 sizes: 16mm (small), 20mm (medium) and 24mm (large). To help a mama out I have listed before 3 nipple shield options for each of these sizes.
16 mm Nipple Shields
20 mm Nipple Shields
24 mm Nipple Shields
It’s a work in progress
Remember, you and your baby are learning how to breastfeed together, so don’t get too frustrated if it takes a while for a rhythm to sink in. it is a work in progress. Although nipple shields are meant to be used as a temporary aid, there is no exact timeline for how long each mother should use them.
Breastfeeding will not be the same with every child as they all have their own temperament and physiology. Many mother’s may struggle to breastfeed one child, while having it all go smoothly with another. If you are struggling to get your baby to latch on, there are very knowledgeable lactation consultants out there.
As a starter, check out this Breastfeed with Confidence Course (In-Person) which is now also offered virtually.
Are you currently thinking about using a nipple shield?