Nipple Shields and Breastfeeding: The Pros and Cons Explained by a Registered Nurse and IBCLC

Nipple Shields and Breastfeeding: The Pros and Cons Explained by a Registered Nurse and IBCLC

Breastfeeding can be a challenging experience for new parents, especially when faced with issues like latching difficulties or sore nipples. Nipple shields are a helpful tool that can provide relief in some situations. As a Registered Nurse and International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), I'm here to provide you with everything you need to know about nipple shields and breastfeeding.

Why Use Nipple Shields? 

Nipple shields are usually used to help with latching difficulties or to protect sore or damaged nipples. However, it's important to note that they're not always necessary and should only be used when other methods have been unsuccessful or if there is a medical reason to use one, such as for premature or low birth weight infants that are having difficulty latching.

Benefits of Using Nipple Shields 

Nipple shields can provide several benefits, including:

  • Helping with latch issues: When other methods, such as adjusting positioning and using different breastfeeding techniques, haven't worked, nipple shields can provide a larger surface area for the baby to latch onto, making it easier for them to form a seal around the nipple.
  • Protecting sore or damaged nipples: Nipple shields can provide a barrier between the nipple and the baby's mouth, which can be helpful if the mother has sore or damaged nipples. This can allow the nipples time to heal without being further irritated during breastfeeding.
  • Increasing milk supply: In some cases, nipple shields may help stimulate milk production by keeping the baby actively sucking at the breast for longer.

Risks of Using Nipple Shields 

While nipple shields can offer several benefits, there are also some potential downsides to consider. These include:

  • Reducing milk transfer: Using a nipple shield may reduce the amount of milk transferred from the breast to the baby. This is because the shield may interfere with the baby's ability to effectively stimulate milk production and transfer milk from the breast. 
  • Causing baby to become dependent on the shield: Some babies may become dependent on the nipple shield and refuse to breastfeed without it. This can be challenging for mothers who wish to wean their baby off of the shield.
  • Not encouraging a wide mouth to latch. This can make it more difficult for the baby to learn how to breastfeed without the shield.
  • Being difficult to wean off of: Weaning a baby off of a nipple shield can be challenging and may require patience and persistence.

How to Use Nipple Shields

If you've decided to use a nipple shield, it's important to use it correctly. Here are some tips for proper use:

Choosing the right size and type of shield 

When choosing a nipple shield, consider the size and type. Nipple shields come in different sizes, and it's essential to choose the right size for optimal milk transfer. Additionally, some nipple shields have unique shapes, thickness, and material types, which can impact suction and comfort levels.

Proper placement and adjustment

Proper placement and adjustment of the nipple shield are crucial to ensure it works correctly. To use a nipple shield, gently invert the shield and place it over your nipple and allow it to evert to gain a better suction onto your nipple. Ensure that your baby's mouth takes in all of the shield and they do not just suck on the end. Be mindful of the shield's placement during feeding and adjust it as needed.

The primary purpose of a nipple shield is to assist with milk transfer. To ensure proper suction and milk transfer, ensure that the shield is correctly placed, and your baby is latching correctly. You may need to massage your breast or compress it to encourage milk flow.

Cleaning and Maintenance

It's essential to keep your nipple shields clean to prevent infection. You can clean your shield with mild soap and warm water. If you wish to  sterilise it you can do this by placing it in boiling water for a few minutes or by using a steam steriliser. Be sure to rinse it thoroughly to remove any soap residue before using it again. Be sure to let it air dry and do not attempt to dry it with  a dish towel as this may harbour bacteria. 

Weaning off Nipple Shields 

There are several signs that may indicate a mother is ready to stop using nipple shields. One of the main indications is an improved latch, where the baby can latch onto the breast without difficulty or pain. Additionally, improved oral function, such as a stronger suck or more efficient milk transfer, can also be a sign to start weaning off the nipple shield. If the mother is feeling annoyed or inconvenienced by using nipple shields, or simply wants to try breastfeeding without them, these can also be indications that it's time to wean off.

Weaning off nipple shields can be a gradual process that requires patience and persistence. Starting with offering the bare breast first and then using the nipple shield if needed, offering the breast when the baby is hungry, taking breaks during feeding, and seeking help from a lactation consultant can all help with a successful weaning process. Benefits of stopping the use of nipple shields include improved milk transfer, less hassle and fuss. 

Overall, knowing when and how to wean off nipple shields can help mothers successfully transition to breastfeeding without them. Trusting your instincts, paying attention to positive signs, seeking help when needed, and being patient and persistent can all contribute to a successful weaning process.

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