Do I Really Need a Nipple Shield?

Lately, it seems like postpartum nurses are handing out nipple shields like candy. Many, many new mothers are told they have flat nipples and need to use a nipple shield as a bridge to facilitate a proper latch. And this may be true! But many times, the shields are distributed without enough additional information about proper fit, proper use and weaning from the shield.ameda nipple shield

The nipple shield should never be the first solution offered to a mother. Plus, until mom’s milk comes in, thick colostrum is much harder to transfer through the shield into baby! So, if you’re in the hospital with your new baby and struggling to establish a latch, try some of the following first (and try to meet with an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant for support):

  • More skin to skin contact can stimulate a new baby to root and nurse.
  • Try different hand positions to shape the breast into a delicious sandwich for baby–compressing the areola until it wrinkles will allow more “give” for baby. Try holding your fingers parallel to baby’s mouth, as if you were actually feeding him a sandwich. This site has some great pictures to help!
  • Try laid back breastfeeding to allow you to relax and put baby in a better position to latch on.
  • Ask your partner to help bring baby to breast, massage your shoulders, and offer encouragement.
  • Nipple stimulation prior to latching can help to draw out the nipple
  • Do the “pinch test” by gently squeezing the edge of your areola–if your nipple protrudes, you know that it is not flat and you can move on to other techniques to ensure good latch.
  • Try wearing breast shells between feedings to draw out nipples

Use of nipple shields can lead to baby getting less milk intake, and might mean mom’s breasts aren’t as stimulated to produce milk. It’s very important to stay in touch with your IBCLC and/or pediatrician while using this product.

There are, of course, ways that the nipple shields can be an important tool and can save a breastfeeding relationship! Research does show us that nipple shields can be used to improve milk transfer in premature babies or babies with tongue tie. Nipple shields can help to bridge a baby transitioning from bottle back to breast. When a mother truly has flat or inverted nipples, the shield can help keep baby at the breast.

As with a breast pump flange, it’s important to find the right fit for both mother and baby to make sure that the shield facilitates milk transfer and active suckling–an improper fit can be uncomfortable for mother and baby and, thus, not a helpful tool.

Mothers using a nipple shield need to learn how to tell when baby is latched properly, or they can be set up for failure (or pain at the very least) when the nipple shield is removed. An IBCLC is the best person to ask about sizing and proper use!

Interested in reading the research studies about nipple shields? Check out this one, this one, or this one.

Did your nurse suggest a nipple shield in the hospital after you delivered? Leave us a comment to share your experience. 

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