A nipple shield is made of thin, flexible silicone and is used to cover a mother’s nipple and areola while the baby is nursing. The baby sucks on the nipple shield rather than directly on the breast.
A nipple shield can be used to protect a sore nipple during feedings. A nipple shield may also be used when a baby is having difficulty latching on to a flat or inverted nipple.
There are two problems associated with nipple shields.
- With a shield in place the breast does not receive the same kind of stimulation that it does when a baby sucks directly on the breast. This leads to a reduction in milk supply.
- Baby learns to latch on to the nipple shield, rather than to the breast. Weaning from the shield can be difficult.
If you’re dealing with sore nipples or latch-on difficulties, it’s better to avoid nipple shields and work directly on resolving the problem. Nipple shields should not be the first line of defense for dealing with sore nipples.
Some lactation experts find nipple shields useful in some very specific situations, such as when the baby is unable to latch onto the breast without the shield; for example, a mother with very large nipples and a baby with an unusually small mouth and jaw structure.
If you do use a nipple shield, try to use it only in the first few minutes of a feeding. Once the baby is latched on and his sucking has pulled out the flat nipple, quickly remove the shield and get the baby to attach directly to the breast. Eventually, you will need to wean baby off the shield to insure that you maintain an ample milk supply.
Back in the days when nipple shields were made of latex, mothers were told to trim a little bit off the nipple shield each day in order to wean the baby onto the breast. This is not possible with the newer silicone shields, since cutting them leaves a dangerously sharp edge.
Nipples shields are available from companies that sell breastfeeding products, as well as from many lactation consultants. If you are considering using a nipple shield, get help from a lactation consultant, so that you can work on resolving the problem that has made it necessary to nurse with a nipple shield.