What You Need to Know Before Using Nipple Shields

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Let’s make one thing clear: In the right circumstances, a nipple shield can be an excellent tool for breastfeeding mothers. I used one myself to deal with mild engorgement and a flat nipple that made it hard for my new baby to latch. While nipple shields used correctly can aid a breastfeeding relationship, nipple shield breastfeeding disadvantages are very real, too. Knowing the pitfalls to avoid, and how to “take off the training wheels” and nurse on your own, can help you get the most benefit out of this tool.

Nipple Shield Breastfeeding Disadvantages

There are a few good reasons why lactation consultants and nurses don’t hand nipple shields out freely to all new parents. If you don’t need one, starting to use a nipple shield can actually introduce some problems. Even using a nipple shield under a lactation consultant’s guidance comes with certain disadvantages:

  1. In most cases, nursing with a nipple shield is less effective at extracting milk than nursing directly from the breast. It may take more time and effort for your baby to get the milk he or she needs.
  2. If your baby is not emptying your breast of milk due to the nipple shield, this sets you up for problems like engorged breasts, clogged ducts, or even increased risk of the breast infection, mastitis.
  3. Selecting a nipple shield yourself can lead you to choose the wrong size, or to learn incorrect techniques for applying the nipple shield. Ask a lactation consultant for help finding the right fit.
  4. It’s easy for parents and babies to feel dependent on the nipple shield to nurse. It’s important to use the nipple shield only when you need to, and to develop a plan for how to stop. After all, the end goal is for you and your baby to be able to breastfeed comfortably without assistance.

How Do I Stop Using a Nipple Shield?

Weaning off the reliance on a nipple shield is important to minimize these risks. Learning to nurse without the nipple shield also makes it easier to breastfeed wherever you happen to be, saves you the trouble of cleaning the shield, and may make the overall breastfeeding experience feel more “natural” and rewarding. But it can feel a little scary to leave behind the security of using a tool that’s worked before.

At first, my lactation consultant suggested I latch my baby on with the nipple shield, wait a few minutes, and pull off a swift maneuver where I would break the latch, whip off the shield, and relatch her before she noticed the shield was gone. If this sounds good to you, try it out! To be honest, I told my lactation consultant this sounded like some Houdini-level skill, and I wanted an easier alternative. Here are strategies that worked for me:

  1. Nurse on the “good” side first. Since I only needed the shield for one side, I took the edge off my baby’s hunger on the other side first. She wasn’t as ravenous and impatient when it came time to try the other breast shield-free.
  2. Try without the shield every other nursing session. Quitting the shield gradually kept me more relaxed.
  3. Hold your breast like a cheeseburger. Squeezing the top and bottom like you’re getting ready to chomp into a big sandwich makes your nipple and surrounding area feel firmer, which can make it easier for baby to latch.
  4. Pump for a few minutes first. Babies can get impatient waiting for milk letdown to happen. If your letdown is slow, “warming up” for a few minutes by hand expressing or using a breast pump can help your baby get a more immediate reward. A pump should also help elongate your nipple, making latching easier.
Jessica Sillers
Jessica Sillers is a parenting and finance writer whose work has been featured in Pregnancy & Newborn, Headspace, and more. As a new mom herself, she’s passionate about helping other parents find the community and support they need. When she’s not writing, she loves spending time with her family, reading, and hiking.

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