Curious about a nipple shield? Here’s how it works for breastfeeding

A nipple shield is helpful for new mothers who have flat, inverted, or cracked nipples, so that their babies can breastfeed more easily.

nipple shield
Nipple shields have their pros and cons. Image courtesy: Shutterstock
Dipti Shah Published on: 19 February 2022, 18:47 pm IST
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Breastfeeding is an important process for a mother. It can also be challenging, and any source of help can be a boon. Nipple shield is a breastfeeding aid that is positioned over the nipple and areola prior to nursing.

A nipple shield is usually recommended to mothers with flat nipples or in cases in which there is a failure of the baby to effectively latch onto the breast. The physical design of the shield has drastically changed over time. A nipple shield has progressed from being made of lead, wax, silver, wood, pewter, and animal skins, to rubber, thin latex, and today’s silicone models

In order to use a nipple shield effectively, it should correctly fit the mother’s breast, and the infant should be latched onto the maximum areola, not just the shield’s tip. The shield needs to be positioned over the centre of the nipple.

When do you need to use a nipple shield?

* While breastfeeding a premature baby

A nipple shield can help a preemie create suction and position the nipple a certain way. The shield holds the nipple in an extended position, ideal for breastfeeding, and allows your baby to pause and breathe without having to reposition afterward. This makes it easy for your baby to return to your breast and feed effectively. Once your baby gains strength and skill, you can usually wean off the nipple shield.

* For moms with a nipple issue (very short/ flat/ inverted/ sore/ cracked nipples):

If moms have flat or inverted nipples, the baby may struggle to latch on. The nipple shield is shaped like an extended nipple and gives the baby a larger area to latch onto. Feeding through the shield helps draw the nipple out, to make it easier for the baby to latch onto the breast.

Also Read: Yes, you can get dry nipples even when you’re not breastfeeding

breastfeeding with nipple shield
A nipple shield can be helpful for some, and tough for others. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

* For babies who have tongue issues

A tongue thrust or tongue-tie — a condition in which a tight band of tissue connects part of your baby’s tongue to the floor of their mouth — can make it difficult for your little one to latch on to breastfeed. The shield may help in some cases and prevent cracks.

* How to use a nipple shield properly

Nipple shields come in several different sizes depending on the diameter of your nipples. (If you aren’t sure what size you should order, ask your lactation consultant).

Here’s how to apply one correctly:

* 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 the baby to latch on.

How can you sterilize the nipple shield?

Rinse it in cold water after use, wash it with hot soapy water, and rinse it under hot running water. Drain, dry (for example, with a paper towel), and store it in a clean container that has been cleaned the same way.

Also Read: Make a note of these 10 products that every breastfeeding mother must have

nipple problems
Keep a check on your nipples. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

What are some concerns when it comes to nipple shields?

* Decreased milk production:

Your milk supply could go down, if your baby isn’t sucking hard enough to stimulate it.

Also Read: Having trouble with breastfeeding? Practice these yoga asanas to increase breast milk supply

* Less milk for the baby:

It’s harder for babies to transfer milk using a nipple shield, so they may need some extra help. The baby may lose weight if not latched properly onto the breast. For better results, you can gently compress different areas of your breast during nursing sessions. If your breasts still feel full after nursing, drain them by pumping. This will help reduce the chances of plugged ducts or even mastitis, a painful inflammation of the breast that sometimes involves infection.

* It may be harder to breastfeed in public:

If you’re already a little uncomfortable about nursing outside the comfort of your own home, a nipple shield can make doing so more challenging. That’s because you’ll have to fumble with it, before you settle down to get your baby to latch on.

* Babies can become dependent on the nipple shield:

After a week or 10 days, try to feed without a shield. In case your baby is finding it difficult to latch on to the breast, meet a lactation consultant to help you.

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About the Author
Dipti Shah Dipti Shah

Dipti Shah, Lactation consultant, Cloudnine Group of Hospitals, Mumbai (Malad)

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