A nipple shield is a nipple-shaped piece of silicone that is placed over a mother's nipple. It is designed to help babies who may be having trouble learning how to breastfeed. The silicone teat provides a firm stimulus at the roof of the baby's mouth that can help them suckle more effectively. Holes in the tip of the teat allow milk to flow into the baby's mouth.
Nipple shields are meant as a short-term solution to help teach your baby to latch during breastfeeding so that you can work on latching issues in the meantime.
Where to get a nipple shield. You can get a nipple shield at retail stores, your local hospital, through your private insurance or Medicaid, or through federal programs like The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).
Never buy a previously used nipple shield. This may expose you and your baby to contaminants.
When to use a nipple shield. Nipple shields can be helpful in several situations, including:
- If your baby is having a hard time learning how to breastfeed
- You have flat or inverted nipples
- If your breasts are very soft
- If your baby thrusts its tongue or pulls back its tongue
- If your baby was born prematurely
- If your baby needs an extra prompt to start sucking
Do not use a nipple shield until your milk comes in (usually within the first two to six days of the baby's birth).
How to use a nipple shield. Read the instructions on your nipple shield. Typically, you'll follow these steps:
- To help the nipple shield become more flexible, put it in warm water.
- On the inside of the nipple shield, rub a little of your breast milk. This will help your baby latch. It will also minimize chafing (a common skin problem caused by friction that makes your skin sting or burn) because it helps tighten the seal.
- As you pull as much of the nipple shield as you can over your nipple, stretch the brim of it and press down on the edges.
- There should be a very small gap between your nipple and the tip of the nipple shield.
- Position the cut-out pieces in the right places for your baby's nose and chin.
- Direct the nipple shield toward the baby and gently place it in their mouth and ensure they latch on.
A lactation specialist can help you learn how to use nipple shields. If your nipples are flat, sore, or distorted because of breastfeeding, let your healthcare provider know.
How nipple shields can help with breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is a process and takes time and practice to master. If you're struggling with feeding your baby, there is no shame in asking for help. Whether or not breastfeeding goes the way you might have planned, the most important thing is that your baby gets fed. Nipple shields can be a great temporary solution.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Using a Nipple Shield
Nipple shields help mothers breastfeed but come with pros and cons.
Advantages of using a nipple shield include:
- Flat or inverted nipples. If you have flat or inverted nipples, your baby may have trouble latching on. Because the nipple shield is shaped like an extended nipple, it gives your baby a larger area to latch onto.
- Premature babies. Sometimes premature babies don’t have the strength or skill to breastfeed on their own. Using a nipple shield creates suction and positions the nipple in a way that helps them. It also allows your baby to pause and breathe without having to reposition. You can usually wean your baby off the nipple shield once they get stronger.
- Underlying issues. A nipple shield cannot correct underlying issues like damaged nipples or low milk production.
- Learning. Even with a nipple shield, you and your baby will still need to learn how to breastfeed. It’s ok if your baby needs time to learn.
- Pain. If your baby is latched on, it may compress the nipple causing the mother pain and possibly damage.
- Weaning off a nipple shield. Sometimes it can be difficult to wean your baby off a nipple shield.
A lactation specialist can help you troubleshoot so you can find something that works for both you and your baby.