What is a Nipple shield? A thin clear piece of silicon worn over the mother's nipple when breastfeeding.
When my first baby was born she ended up in the NICU and we had a rough start to breastfeeding. She would not latch easily at all. I met with a lactation consultant and she hooked me up with a few options to make sure I was able to breastfeed. In addition to pumping after every feeding she had me use a nipple shield for breastfeeding my daughter.
My daughter really would not latch well. I'm not sure if it's because we didn't breastfeed as soon as we should have after birth, or if it was my nipples, all I know is that it was not happening easily. Once I tried the nipple shield it was a little better. I still had a lot of trouble latching her but she would latch here or there for short periods. Once we got out of the NICU and went home it started to work better. I'll be honest it's all kind of a fog now, but I will try to rehash what we did and how I weaned her off of the shield here.
So when would you want to use a nipple shield?
It is highly recommended that you meet with a lactation consultant (find one here) before you attempt to use a shield. Often a shield is a last resort to help get a baby to latch. In fact, they seem to be overused and not recommended except in certain circumstances. They are given out and used frequently when they are not actually needed. I am not sure if that was the case for me but it's possible. I definitely did not know better when I was breastfeeding my first baby. After doing a little research I wonder if it was even needed.
If there is a physical issue such as prematurity, or a neurological problem with your baby; a nipple shield may help. Nipple shields are also used when the mother's nipples are flat or inverted.
One reason given for nipple shield use that may not be necessary, is to protect sensitive nipples. While this may seem like a good reason it should not be needed if you have a correct latch.
Downside to nipple shields
From my research it definitely seems that there are more negatives to nipple shield use than positives.
These include issues with milk supply. When baby uses a shield they may not be able to draw as much milk out. This can also lead to issues with plugged ducts and mastitis. It's a bad cycle that we use something to help us breastfeed but then it can cause issues with milk supply which in turn make breastfeeding harder.
Make sure that your baby's weight gain is monitored closely. Since the shield can cause issues with milk supply you will want to make sure your baby is gaining.
Another negative is dependence on an artificial nipple and trouble switching back to the breast. Weaning off the of the shield can become difficult if baby is too reliant on it.
Nipple shields should only be used as a temporary measure.
In my case
As I said it's a bit of a fog now, that first week after childbirth! I know I was given a nipple shield to help with her latch and it did seem to help a bit. My daughter was in the NICU and I was breastfeeding with a shield, then pumping for 10-15 minutes after every feed to make sure my milk did come in. When she would latch onto the shield she would seem to nurse briefly.
Once we got home breastfeeding started to work a bit better. I tried to breastfeed without the shield as much as possible but would use it if she absolutely would not latch. She was also given a pacifier and formula in the NICU so we definitely had a rough start.
I weaned her from the shield by continuing to offer the breast without the shield, pumping, feeding from a syringe if needed, and cutting out all formula and bottle use as soon as we were home. I think we had eliminated the shield by about two weeks postpartum. From my understanding most women will wean from its use by about four weeks postpartum.
Read on for additional tips on nipple shield weaning..
Weaning from the nipple shield
Breastfeed frequently, put your baby to the breast as much as you can. Do not limit feedings or try to follow a schedule. Work on your positioning and latch if needed. Meet with a lactation consultant if you need help.
It can be helpful to pump briefly before a feeding to pull out nipples and stimulate letdown.
Try putting breast milk on your nipple to entice your baby to latch on.
I would say just keep trying, if you must use the shield then try going without it every other feeding. Try removing it halfway through a feeding by gently unlatching, slipping it off and then latching right back on. Just keep trying.. and do not feel discouraged if you do need to continue to use it. If you are breastfeeding and your baby is gaining weight you are on the right track.
I love to write about my personal experiences with breastfeeding with the hope it will help other moms going through something similar. Since I did use a nipple shield I decided to write about it and research it a little further. Upon researching I found that nipple shields are actually overused and given out more frequently than they should be. This surprised me and makes me wonder if I truly needed one myself. I know at the time I thought it helped us and we did successfully breastfeed after an extremely rocky start. My belief is that if it helps you breastfeed this is a positive thing, but always consult with a lactation consultant before self diagnosing breastfeeding issues. Getting help immediately is always going to be the best way to keep breastfeeding successfully.
Please let me know if you used a nipple shield how did it go? Thanks and as always feel free to comment or email me firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions!