When Do I Need to use a Nipple Shield?

You may have seen them in the shops and thought “what is that?!” I must admit I think nipple shields look a bit like a silicone sombrero hat!

Nipple shields can be a brilliant tool for some mums and babies, while other mums never need to even think about using one.

Nipple shields were used as far back as in the 1500’s! They were often made of lead, wood, pewter, bone, or even glass! Since then we have come a very long way. Nipple shields are now made with soft, flexible silicone which allows the baby to be as close as possible to mum during breastfeeds.

Nipple shields sit closely on top of the nipple and areola and help create a larger, firmer ‘target’ for latching. They can also reduce pain as the baby is feeding on the breast with the shield in between.  So, they can be very helpful for any mums who have ‘flat’ or ‘inverted’ nipples and for some mums who have sore and damaged nipples.

Nipple shields generally come in 3 sizes to ensure a mum has the right fit. All of us women have different sized nipples, it’s important that the nipple shield fits over the nipple comfortably. Don’t try squeezing a larger sized nipple into the smallest size of nipple shield! Ouch!

When Do I Need to use a Nipple Shield?

There are several other reasons that your midwife or maternal child health nurse (MCHN) may advise you use a nipple shield:

  • A baby who may have had a difficult birth and is finding attaching to the breast difficult once your milk has come in
  • A baby who has a tongue tie
  • For some mothers who have very fast milk flow which causes the baby to become upset whilst breastfeeding – the nipple shield can calm the flow of milk and keep baby feeding whilst the mum down-regulates her supply
  • Preterm infants may need a shield to help them stay at the breast during feeds in the beginning
  • A baby who has been bottle fed and is now learning to feed back on the breast

It is good to think of a nipple shield as a tool to help with breastfeeding. As with all tools they should be used alongside good advice and support from your midwife, MCHN or lactation consultant so you get the best help possible to improve and feel confident with breastfeeding.

For example if you have sore nipples from your baby not yet attaching to the breast correctly, using the nipple shield can help take away some of the pain and keep you breastfeeding. But, if you have never sought advice on how to make improvements to your positioning and attachment at the breast, then once you stop using the nipple shield you could end up with sore nipples all over again as you have never solved the original problem!

Many mums find a nipple shield helps them to get their breastfeeding on track in conjunction with extra breastfeeding support.

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