Most women are faced with difficulties and frustrations during the early stages of breastfeeding. You will inevitably have tender nipples for a period of time while your breasts adjust to such frequent handling. When your nipples are so sore that you would rather walk around naked than wear a cotton nursing bra, you may opt to use nipple shields.
In essence, nipple shields are fake nipples that sit over your real nipples. A nipple shield is made of thin, flexible silicone, shaped like your nipple. When nursing, they protect your nipple and areola when they are sore or cracked. Nipple shields can also be used to help your baby latch on to flat or inverted nipples. Your baby sucks on the shield, not on your breast.
Nipple shields are only recommended in very few circumstances. If you have extremely cracked nipples, they may be recommended, but only for a short time. Most women with flat or inverted nipples will have better luck drawing their nipples out without the use of nipple shields. Nursing without accessories or using breast shells can also help draw out inverted nipples.
There are two main problems associated with nipple shields. Wearing a nipple shield prevents your breast from receiving the same kind of stimulation that it does when your baby sucks directly from your breast. This can decrease your milk supply and your baby's growth.
Wearing them frequently can also result in nipple confusion. Your baby will learn to latch on to the shield, not your breast, and may refuse your breast when you try to breastfeed without it.
If you do use nipple shields, use them sparingly and under the guidance of a lactation consultant. Use them only during the first few minutes of a feeding. Once your baby is latched on and comfortably feeding, quickly remove the nipple shield and attach your baby directly to your breast. If you use them exclusively on a regular basis, you will need to wean your baby off the shields to ensure that you maintain an ample milk supply.
Previously, nipple shields were made of latex. Women needing to wean their babies from them were told to trim a little bit off the shield, exposing more of their nipple to their baby each day. This technique can not be used today; most new nipple shields are made of silicone which leaves a dangerously sharp edge when cut.
If you are in the midst of the sore nipple phase or having latch-on difficulties, it is better to avoid using nipple shields altogether and work directly on resolving the problem.
- When it comes to breast care, Medela has been helping breastfeeding mothers since 1979 – they know what they're doing. This is why I say if you must use a nipple shield use a Medela Contact Nipple Shield. Their unique shape allows for more skin-to-skin contact between your breast and your baby's mouth. This extra skin-to-skin contact can help with stimulating letdown and when it comes time to wean your baby from using the shield. They are made of flexible silicone and fit comfortably compared to some other brands.