Many new mothers experience some difficulties in breastfeeding during the first few weeks. Usually, the baby fails to latch properly at the beginning and the mother suffers from breast pain or sore nipples. Sometimes, a nipple shield while breastfeeding can help temporarily in such difficult times.
A nipple shield is a thin silicone or rubber device with small holes in the tip that’s worn over your nipple while you breastfeed. Here is all you need to know about nipple shields.
Things to consider when choosing a nipple shield
- Size: There are two things to consider when choosing the size of the nipple shield; the size of your nipple and the size of your baby’s mouth. Shields come in different sizes ranging from small to large. You have to try them on to find the size that fits. However, small shields are always recommended for premature babies. It’s very common to have two differently-sized breasts and you might use different sizes of nipple shields.
- Shape: There are different shapes of nipple shields. No single shape works for all babies or mothers. You have to try and find the shape you’re comfortable with. Shapes come as round, triangular, or orthodontic
How to use nipple shields?
- Moisten the edges of the nipple shield with lukewarm water to help prevent it from moving.
- Gently turn the nipple shield inside out.
- Smooth it onto your breast, so the tip of your nipple fits into the nipple of the shield. It should be tight against your breast with your nipple extending into the tip.
- Express some milk into the tip, or drip expressed milk onto the outside of the nipple shield to encourage your baby to latch on.
- Occasionally, during the nursing session, hand express milk into your baby’s mouth to keep him nursing whenever your milk flow slows down.
- Make sure to wash and sterilize the shields after each use.
Signs you are using the nipple shield correctly
- Your baby is attached deeply onto the breast.
- You don’t feel pain when your baby sucks.
- The shield isn’t puckered when your baby latches.
- You hear your baby swallowing in a regular pattern.
- When your baby comes off the breast, you see milk in the shield.
Pros of nipple shields:
- Help with firm flat, short, or inverted nipples
- Help premature babies latch
- Protect sore nipples
Firm flat, short, or inverted nipples
When nipples are flat, inverted, or short, this might hinder latching for newborns. A baby needs a firm nipple to trigger the suckling reflex especially when sleepy.
A nipple shield can help hold the nipples in a proper position for the baby to latch on properly. Because the nipple shield is shaped like an extended nipple, it gives your baby a larger area to latch onto. They also allow your baby to pause and breathe without having to reposition.
Help premature babies latch
Premature babies usually have some difficulties at the beginning in latching because they don’t have the needed strength. A nipple shield holds the nipple in an extended state which eases latching.
Protect sore nipples
It’s normal that breastfeeding will be painful in the beginning and will result in sore cracked nipples. A well-fitted nipple shield can act as a protective cover for the nipples and relieve part of the pain until your nipples heal.
However, remember that a nipple shield is a temporary solution. You need to fix the main cause of sore nipples such as the wrong breastfeeding position. You can visit a lactation consultant to help you with this new process.
- Reduce the milk supply
- Increase the risk of blocked ducts
- Your baby might get adapted to the shield feeling
Reduce the milk supply
Some nipple shields, especially thick ones, might cause less breast milk to reach your baby. They work as barriers between your nipples and the baby’s mouth. This also might affect the mother’s supply which is critical during the first few weeks. You have to make sure that the shields are big enough to give your baby a sufficient supply. It’s also important to check that your baby is not latching on the tip of the shield only.
Increase the risk of blocked ducts
As discussed above, the usage of nipple shields might reduce milk transfer. This leads to plugged ducts or mastitis because your breasts are full of milk.
Never stop breastfeeding even with blocked ducts to preserve the flow of milk. Even if your baby still uses the nipple shields or skips nursing times, you can pump or perform hand expressions. Make sure to release breast milk every three hours. This is the best way to get rid of the thickening feeling in your breasts.
Your baby might get adapted to the shield feeling
Some babies might get used to the texture of the nipple shield and get confused when transitioning back to the softness of the actual nipple. It might take you weeks to wean your baby from the nipple shield and there are some tips that can help you:
- During feeding times, offer the baby your index finger to suckle on for a few minutes. This suckle training will get them ready for nursing directly from the nipple.
- If possible, apply ice to your nipple before breastfeeding your baby to harden it so it gives them a similar feeling to the shield.
- During breastfeeding, compress your breast and hold it firmly making sure the base of the areola is just past your baby’s lips. Once you feel he/she is sucking well, slowly release the grip.
- Include skin-to-skin contact between nursing times.
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