Breast shells are typically used to protect sore and cracked nipples during those early weeks of breastfeeding. Your nipples are not used to being suckled every 2 hours and will become quite tender and sore. Breast shells are worn inside your nursing bra between feedings to protect your nipples from rubbing against your clothes, which can be quite painful. Unlike nipple shields, breast shells are not worn while breastfeeding.
There are three types of breast shells, each with a different purpose: to relieve and protect sore nipples, to bring out flat or inverted nipples, and to catch leaking breast milk.
Breast shells have two parts: a back with an opening for your nipple and a round dome that fits inside your nursing bra. The opening in the back may be larger or smaller, depending on whether you need it to relieve sore nipples or bring out inverted nipples. Shells used to relieve sore nipples have a large opening, while those used to bring out flat or inverted nipples have a small hole, which fits close to the base of your nipple.
If you have inverted or flat nipples, wearing breast shells during the day in the last trimester of pregnancy may help. The pressure of your bra on the shell presses against your areola, gradually stretching any adhesions outwards and allowing your nipple to protrude.
Wearing breast shells for thirty minutes before breastfeeding to urge your nipple outward is helpful, but it is not a good idea to wear them all the time. They can stimulate your milk supply, leading to engorgement or mastitis. Properly positioning your baby on an inverted nipple can draw the nipple out naturally. It is breastfeeding, not nipple feeding, after all, and all the lanolin cream in the world won't keep your nipples in good repair until you fix the problem behind the sore nipples.
Breast shells are made of plastic. They should have air holes or vents to allow for good air flow around your nipples. Your nipples and breasts need air to help keep them healthy, dry, and crack-free.
When your nipples are so sore that it hurts when the fabric of your bra touches them, breast shells can be miracle healers. Breast shells meant to catch leaking breast milk can be quite handy in keeping your clothes dry, especially if you keep soaking through the thickest breast pad.
Breast shells press against your breast tissue while you wear them, so they may encourage leaking. Discard any breast milk that collects in them because bacteria may grow in breast milk kept next to your warm body. You should sterilize them once a day by boiling them for about 10 minutes or running them through the top rack of a dishwasher. Always be sure to use breast shells according to the manufacturer's instructions.
- When I was having pain issues because of sore, cracked, and bleeding nipples, I walked around topless for a few days or stuffed cabbage in my bra when we had visitors. Other women use the lactation cosultant-recommended Medela TheraShells Breast Shells to help them out. This set includes large-holed backs to help with sore nipples and small-holed backs to help with inverted nipples. The vented front provides constant air flow to reduce additional irritation caused by moisture. Many women find they offer much needed relief for short periods of time, others find them uncomfortable. They are a little more discreet than walking around topless, but to each her own.