How to Use Nipple Shield for Breastfeeding Baby

A mother breastfeeding her baby

Beastfeeding is very important for a baby’s growth and most mothers have no trouble starting with the process as the baby latches on to their breast quite naturally. But some mothers may find that the baby isn’t keen on latching on to the breast due to the size of the mother’s nipple or because she’s been used to a bottle for certain unavoidable reasons. At this point, lactation consultants usually recommend nipple shields as a short-term solution to the problem.

What is a Nipple Shield?

A nipple shield is a thin silicone cover that is worn over the nipple and the areola during breastfeeding. A breast shield is especially recommended for mothers who have a nipple size that makes it difficult for their babies to latch on and feed. It is also helpful in case the baby refuses to latch onto the nipple and is used to bottles. While most nipple shields are made of silicone, they can be made of rubber and latex as well.

When should you Use a Nipple Shield?

A mother breastfeeding her baby

A nipple shield is generally suggested if you face problems breastfeeding due to various reasons like

  • Flat or inverted nipples that make it difficult for the baby to latch on
  • High palate in a baby
  • Sore or cracked nipples which can make breastfeeding painful
  • Dependency on bottle feeds. Babies who were bottle fed may not latch on to the nipples effectively. In case you are teaching your baby to breastfeed, using a nipple shield can make the task easier.
  • An overactive let down in a mother causing an excess flow of milk. This can choke the baby and cause her to pull out. A nipple shield can slow the flow of milk.
  • Premature babies or babies weak due to illness or other reasons may find feeding easier in the nipple shield. This is because the everted position of the nipple can make suction easier and the tip of the nipple also collects milk, allowing the baby access to milk immediately when he begins feeding again.

Which Size and Type of Nipple Shield should you Use?

Nipple shields come in a variety of sizes and your lactation consultant will be able to give you a clear idea about the right size for you, based on your nipple and areola, keeping in mind the needs of your baby.

A clear, thin silicone nipple shield is ideal for most mothers. You could also try to get the ones that are designed to provide better skin to skin contact between the mother and the baby. It is never recommended to use a baby bottle nipple as a nipple shield, as it is obviously not designed for the purpose.

How to Use a Nipple Shield?

In case you have been advised to use a breast shield, your doctor or health advisor will give you a set of guidelines that you need to follow during the process. Here are some guidelines that should be kept in mind while using a nipple shield.

  • Wash your hands before using the nipple shield.
  • Massage your breasts and hand express some breast milk on to the tip of the shield.
  • Lace the inner rim of the shield with some breast milk to help it set on the breast.

Weaning Off a Breastfeeding Nipple Shield

It is best to reach out to a lactation consultant if you plan on weaning your baby off the nipple shield. Here are a few tips to wean your baby off gently and gradually.

  • Ensure there is as much skin to skin contact as possible throughout the process.
  • Slowly remove the nipple shield mid ways during breastfeeding.
  • Pump your breasts a few times to improve let down and make it easier for your baby to get milk. This will also pull out your nipples and elongate them, making it easier to latch on.
  • Try breastfeeding as soon as your baby wakes up from sleep.
  • Hand express some breast milk on your nipple before you breastfeed and allow your baby to find your breasts on instinct.
  • Try breastfeeding in different positions and while in motion like walking, bouncing or swaying, etc.
  • Try to get your baby to latch on to your breasts without the shield. If she gets upset, wait till she calms down before you try again. Don’t force it on her if she doesn’t take to it. Have patience and keep trying the next time.

Tips to Clean and Take Care of a Nipple Shield

Always check the nipple shield for signs of wear and tear and replace it every month. Cracks in the shield can cause bacteria build up inside and will be harmful to the baby. Here are a few tips to clean the nipple shield.

  • After each use, wash it with cold water.
  • Then, wash it in hot soapy water and rinse it with more hot water
  • Dry it using paper towels thoroughly, before storing it in a clean and dry place.

How to know if the Nipple Shield Fits you Properly?

If the part of the nipple shield covering the areola and the nipple fit right into your baby’s mouth, the size of the shield is right. If it is too big, your baby will have trouble staying latched on to it and may also gag on it. If your nipple touches the end of the raised tip on the shield, the shield is too small.

If your nipples feel sore or are cracked after a breastfeed you will need to replace it. It is also advised to check the diameter of the base of the nipple before you pick a nipple shield.

Putting on Nipple Shield for Breastfeeding

Once you have a breastfeeding shield that is of the correct size, you can follow these steps to put it on.

Before

  • Turn the nipple shield half way inside out.
  • Place the back of the shield on your areola so that your nipple is inside the tip of the shield.
  • You can moisten the inside of the shield with some breast milk to help it stay in position.
  • You may need to hand express some breast milk into the shield to help your baby begin feeding. You can also hand express some milk to the tip of the shield.
  • Gently touch the tip of the nipple shield to your baby’s lips to allow her to latch on to the entire brim of the nipple shield.

After

  • With one hand supporting your baby’s neck and head and the other hand holding your breast, encourage your baby to open her mouth wide enough to latch on.
  • Carefully touch the tip of the nipple shield to the roof of your baby’s mouth. This will help her suck better and take breaks to breathe if required.
  • If the nipple shield is designed with sections for a skin to skin contact ensure that your baby’s face is touching them, without disturbing her feeding.
  • Ensure that your baby is feeding by noticing the movement of her mouth. Also, make sure that she is getting enough breast milk.

Benefits of Using a Nipple Shield

Some of the benefits of using a nipple shield are

  • It provides relief to mothers suffering from sore or cracked nipples.
  • If the baby is used to bottle feeds, this will help her transition to breastfeeding.
  • It helps mothers whose breast and nipple size makes it harder for the baby to latch on.

Drawbacks of Using a Nipple Shield

Using a nipple shield may have a few disadvantages

  • It can lower the milk supply if it isn’t positioned the right way, leaving the baby hungry.
  • Nipple shields of the wrong size can cause discomfort to the mother and cause sore nipples.
  • In the event the shield does not allow efficient milk transfer, the mother may be at a risk of mastitis or her milk ducts may get plugged.
  • Weaning the baby off the nipple shield may be a challenge.

Precautions Associated with Using a Nipple Shield

You will need to take a few precautions to ensure that your baby is being fed enough using the nipple shield. Here are a few ways you could do that.

  • Track the number of wet diapers your baby has. Five or six wet diapers usually mean that your baby is feeding well.
  • Regular, loose stools, thrice a day will indicate that your baby is feeding properly when she is around four to six weeks. The number of stool will go down as she gets older, but she should still have loose stools.
  • Check your baby’s weight regularly to track her growth. If her weight isn’t normal then she may not be feeding properly.

While there is no worry with respect to the use of a nipple shield and milk supply, it is true that your baby may not be able to latch on properly, which can lower the amount of milk your baby consumes. Try to shift to direct breastfeeding as soon as possible to retain physical contact with the baby. Nipple shields are a short-term solution and shouldn’t be used for too long unless it is absolutely necessary.