Feeding Your Baby

Nipple Shield: What Is It and How to Use It

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The beauty of breastfeeding can be described in a wide variety of ways. It’s beautiful and rewarding – and yet difficult, frustrating, and challenging too! That’s where sometimes, it may be helpful to take advantage of a breastfeeding tool under the guidance of your physician or lactation consultant. 

Introducing the nipple shield! As we deep dive into this tool, we’ll explain what it is, when it should be used, and how it can be used for best results. 

As we move along in the world of parenthood, more and more helpful devices are coming into play to make the journey just a little bit easier. 

Ready to discover how a simple nipple shield can be added to your daily feeding if needed?

First, Some Input from Registered Nurse and International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, Sally Johnson!

We asked Nurse Johnson to give us the scoop on the nipple shield, and here’s what she had to say!

Nipple shields are made of ultra thin, soft, clear silicone, and they are applied over a mom’s nipple during feeding. It is important they are applied correctly to the breast. There are many great videos on how to use them, especially on the sites of the manufactures of the shields. 

They come in various sizes, and nipple shields are used for a variety of reasons. 

They can be used for infants not obtaining or maintaining a latch on the breast/nipple, infants falling asleep at the breast, preemies, damaged nipple tissue, or moms with flat or inverted nipples. The nipple shield can help to draw the nipple out. The nipple shield should be a temporary solution to latching issues. If going to use a nipple shield it is recommended that moms consult with a lactation consultant to make sure it is properly used. If using for the baby’s weight gain, moms should be consulting with the baby’s pediatrician. 

Thanks, Sally! 

We’ll dive deeper into this guidance throughout the rest of the article!

Let’s Define the Nipple Shield

So, what are nipple shields? Well, they actually sound pretty similar to what they actually are. Nipple shields can be best defined as a protectant that’s shaped like an extended version of your own nipple. It gives your baby a much bigger area to latch onto when you’re breastfeeding. It also helps to draw the nipple out, making it even easier for your infant to latch onto your breast.

Nipple shields are mostly used by mothers who are experiencing latching problems. As Sally mentioned, they’re also used in an array of instances as a temporary guide for a few different feeding issues.

In a case study conducted by medical professionals, there were several women who turned to formula feeding due to complications with breastfeeding. But as the study shows, if a nipple shield is utilized, then there is the potential that these infant feeding difficulties can be avoided.

When Should Nipple Shields Be Used?

There are a few particular reasons and needs for a nipple shield. By taking a look at the following, you’ll find all of the situations where these helpful tools may come to your aid.

You Have a Premature Baby

When you have a premature baby, a nipple shield for nursing may make feeding easier for a tiny or weak infant. This is due to the fact that the suction inside of the nipple shield is able to hold the nipple in a better position. This is done under the care of your baby’s physician. 

Help Your Baby Transition from Bottle to Breastfeeding

If you want your baby to have an easier transition to breastfeeding, then using a nipple shield may be the perfect tool to ease into this new feeding process. The shield’s texture will replicate the feeling of the bottle, so your baby won’t be able to tell the difference between the bottle and nipple!

Your Nipples Are Sore and Cracked

Let’s be honest – breastfeeding has the ability to take a toll on both you and your nipples. Sometimes, they’ll end up getting sore. They might even become dry, cracked, and start to bleed as a result of breastfeeding multiple times per day. 

Prior to using a nipple shield, there are other items to try like lanolin or changing position during feeding. 

By putting a nipple shield in play, it will give your nipples the time they need to heal while you still provide your baby with the proper nutrients they need for healthy development. 

Your body goes through a lot during pregnancy and post-birth, and it just so happens that your nipples can also start to feel the adverse effects.   

You May Have Flat or Inverted Nipples

There are instances when a woman has nipple tissues that make her unable to feed the baby without a little help. If there is difficulty when an infant is trying to feed, then they might pull away, cry, or even fall asleep as a result.

When the nipple shield is involved, however, your baby will be able to feel the nipple better and continue to feed until full. As the feedings continue regularly, the nipple shield may not even be needed after a few uses.

Your Baby Has a Tongue Tie or Lip Tie 

There are a few instances where a baby may be born with tongue or lip ties. If this is the case, then a baby will have a much more difficult time feeding. This is due to the fact that their tongue or lip is unable to fully extend. 

The nipple shield will be beneficial in allowing your baby to have a much easier time feeding from the breast. Your baby will most likely need this extra aid until their condition can be resolved by their doctor.   

You’re Experiencing Overactive Let-Down

Mothers might experience an overreactive let-down. It can happen to anyone!

However, if this does occur, then it could cause your baby to choke and ultimately pull away from the breast during feeding. To combat this, the use of a nipple shield will be able to help create a small dam, and in conjunction with changing positioning, this will make it much easier for your baby to eat and regulate the flow.    

There Are Different Types of Shields

Is one nipple shield not feeling as comfortable as you first hoped? Not to worry! There are actually a few different materials that these shields are produced. Nipple shields are commonly made from rubber, latex, or silicone. 

They also come in a range of sizes to help fit your nipple in the best way, though sometimes a physician or lactation consultant may help you alter them a little more for better fit to you specifically. 

How Should You Wean Your Baby Off the Nipple Shield?

When your baby starts to develop and grow older, the need for this tool will diminish. However, your baby will be used to using the nipple shield, so they’ll need to be weaned off of it. Take a look at the following methods to see what might work best. 

  • Sometimes, pumping for 2-3 minutes before attempting to breastfeed or feeding in a laid back position allows your milk to go through the “let down” cycle before your baby begins feeding.
  • Breastfeed more often, so your little one doesn’t get overly hungry and recognize the nipple shield is missing. If this happens, they may not accept feeding as easily.
  • Utilize different nursing positions to see which one works best.

If none of these methods work, try partnering with a medical professional to better understand how you can wean off of using the nipple shield. Not every method will work for every woman.

There is a Time Where a Nipple Shield Might Not Be the Best Method

There are times when your baby might not be getting enough nutrients from using the nipple shield. The best way to tell is actually from the appearance of used diapers. If there aren’t at least 6-10 wet diapers per day and there isn’t noticeable weight gain, then you may need to discontinue use. 

Be sure to partner with a medical professional to make sure this is definitely the cause. There is the possibility for there to be another underlying reason besides the nipple shield.

Are There Possible Disadvantages?

While there are several great reasons for new mothers to use nipple shields, they also aren’t for everyone. Take a look at the following to see why you may not opt for a nipple shield. 

  • Milk supply may actually decrease as a result of your nipple not being directly simulated
  • There’s the potential for an increased risk of blocked milk ducts to occur and mastitis because of decreased milk transfer
  • It might not be easy to wean your baby off of using nipple shields

How to Care for This Helpful Tool

Nipple shields are easily used multiple times per day. They also come into direct contact with a mother’s nipple and a baby’s mouth quite frequently. Since this is the case, it’s vital to thoroughly clean it after each feeding and sanitize it regularly. 

The best way to do this is by simply using soap and hot water to clean your nipple shield and utilize the air-drying method. 

Want to sanitize your nipple shield? Simply drop your nipple shield in boiling water for approximately two to five minutes to maintain a safe, clean, and sanitized tool. This way, you’ll prevent the possibility of getting a breast infection.

The Final Verdict

Should a nipple shield be used while breastfeeding? Since it’s an helpful tool made to aid you in feeding your child, we don’t see the harm in giving it a whirl to see if it’s a good fit for you and your little one. 

Clearly, breastfeeding isn’t always easy, and sometimes some of us could use a little extra help, so anything that makes this process easier is an A+ in our book!  

However, we understand that this particular tool is not a “one size fits all” solution. Everyone has their own methods, and that’s perfectly okay! Always do what’s best (and most comfortable) for you and your baby!







The content on this site is for informational purposes only and not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Discuss any health or feeding concerns with your infant's pediatrician. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay it based on the content on this page.

The content on this site is for informational purposes only and not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Discuss any health or feeding concerns with your infant’s pediatrician. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay it based on the content on this page.