In the early stages of breastfeeding, problems with latch-on are not unusual. In fact, issues can arise at any time in the breastfeeding experience. For most mothers, breastfeeding takes a bit of practice! There is a mutual learning curve for moms and babies as they get used to each other and find the right angles and positions for comfortable, efficient breastfeeding. Some babies struggle to latch-on properly to the breast – resulting in inadequate milk intake, or painful nipples for the mother. Many latch-on problems can be resolved with the help of a Lactation Consultant or by going to a breastfeeding support group. However, for more difficult or persistent latch-on problems, breastfeeding experts suggest the temporary use of a nipple shield.
What is a Nipple Shield?
A nipple shield is a flexible piece of shaped silicone that moms can place over their nipples during breastfeeding. As described by the name “shield,” it helps to protect the nipple and makes breastfeeding more comfortable. Ideally, nipple shields are for temporary use, with the help and advice of a Lactation Consultant, and used on a short-term basis. Nipple shields will help you get past the initial difficulties of healing sore nipples, or helping your baby develop better latch-on behavior.
Why Do Moms Use Nipple Shields?
Baby Was Born Premature
Breastfeeding premature babies brings a few special feeding challenges that might be helped with the use of nipple shields. Often, premature babies are bottle-fed while in the NICU, especially if they are not able yet to suckle from the breast right away. As a result, many preemies get used to sucking from a traditional bottle instead of from a breast, and using a nipple shield can give the baby a bit of a “transition” feeling as they grow and get used to suckling directly from the mother’s breast. However, as the baby continues to grow and gain weight, the nipple shield will no longer be necessary. It is just a temporary way to bridge the gap between NICU bottle feeding and breastfeeding.
Mom Has Flat or Inverted Nipples
Some mothers have uniquely shaped nipples that make it a bit more difficult for the baby to breastfeed. For example, if the nipple tissue is inverted, it might be hard for the baby to take the nipple and areola into his mouth, leading to short, inefficient feedings. Medela’s nipple shield is designed to deliver sensation deeper into the baby’s mouth, which stimulates the baby to keep sucking, which can help overcome the challenge of inverted nipples.
Baby Has Used a Bottle and Now Refuses to Feed from the Breast
Sometimes babies get nipple confusion because of bottle-feeding, and they might need some help to get used to suckling from the breast. Nipple shields feel similar to the silicone nipple of a bottle, which makes them ideal for helping to reintroduce a baby to breastfeeding or getting a hesitant baby to take to the breast again.
To Prevent and Protect Sore Nipples
“Sore nipples” is not really an adequate description of what some mothers experience. Sometimes mothers have develop painful nipples that make it very difficult to keep breastfeeding. Nipple shields help reduce the mom’s pain and make it possible to keep breastfeeding while the nipples heals. It is a protective barrier over your nipple that lets your baby keep nursing even if your skin and tissue are painful or damaged, and gives you time to heal and recover.
Make sure to get help from a lactation consultant or breastfeeding professional in case you have severe sore nipples. There is always a reason behind the problem, which needs to be solved.
Another reason for using a nipple shield is to help with a very strong let down. A nipple shield helps the baby to not to be flooded with milk. As she grows used to the flow of milk, the baby can adjust and return to a direct latch-on again.
How to Use a Nipple Shield
Using nipple shields is quite easy, but you need to know a few simple things to make sure you have the right fit and can have a comfortable experience using the nipple shield.
Choosing the Right Size
Nipple shields are not “one size fits all.” You need to find a nipple shield that is the right size for the baby’s mouth. If a nipple shield is too small, the baby might not get enough milk; if the nipple shield is too big, the baby might not be able to nurse effectively, or might even gag on the silicone. This Medela guide will help you find the right fit for your nipple shields.
Making the Transition to Breastfeeding
Remember that nipple shields are not meant to be used forever; they are just a short-term tool that can help you solve a particular problem with your baby’s latch, or with sore/painful nipples. If you find yourself wanting to use a nipple shield longer than this, you might need some experienced breastfeeding assistance from a lactation consultant to help you “wean” yourself from the nipple shield!
The ultimate goal is to get to the point where you can breastfeed normally without a nipple shield – but this tool can be a valuable help in getting through some difficult breastfeeding challenges.
Even if you are having pain or frustration with breastfeeding, remember that you are not alone! Please contact a Lactation Consultant for guidance or check out the services in Canada that you can use for breastfeeding support. Do not be afraid to ask for help. Reach out to your community of moms for emotional support or get professional breastfeeding advice if needed.
Have you ever used nipple shields? What did you like about them? Join the discussion at the Medela Canada Facebook page!