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Breast shells are used both to protect sore nipples and to correct flat or inverted nipples. They are worn inside a mother's bra between or before feedings.
Breast shells are made of plastic. They have two parts: a back with a hole through which the nipple can protrude and a rounded dome that fits inside your bra. Shells come with two types of backs; the one with the larger hole is meant for treatment of sore nipples. The back with the small hole, which fits close to the nipple base, is meant for treating inverted nipples. Pressure on the shell from your bra against the areola gradually stretches out adhesions and allows the nipple to protrude. Be sure to use the shell rings according to the manufacturer's instructions.
Breast shells can be helpful when nipples are so tender that it hurts when even soft bra fabric touches them. (But, remember, nipples won't heal until you fix the problem behind the sore nipples.) However, breast shells are falling out of favor as a solution to flat or inverted nipples. Most lactation experts feel that teaching baby to latch on well is the best solution to nipples that don't protrude. You may find that it is helpful to wear breast shells for thirty minutes before feeding, to urge the nipple outward, but it is not necessary to wear them all the time or to use them before baby is born.
Breast shells press against the breast tissue while you wear them, so they may encourage leaking and even overstimulate a milk supply. If you have a reason to use them, don't use them all the time, and don't use them for days on end. Be sure to wash these shells with soap and hot water between feedings. Discard any milk that collects in them while you wear them in your bra, since bacteria may multiply in milk kept next to your warm body.
Breast shells are available from lactation consultants and from La Leche League International as well as stores that sell breastfeeding products.