Baby’s proper latch is essential to successful breastfeeding—yet sometimes it can be the trickiest to achieve. If your baby has trouble latching on, your nurse or lactation consultant might suggest trying breastfeeding with the aid of a nipple shield.
Nipple shields are made of thin, flexible silicone and shaped like—surprise!—human nipples, covering the areola and nipple, with holes at the tip for breastmilk to pass through. They’re washable and reusable.
Why might I try a nipple shield?
Establishing breastfeeding during baby’s first days of life is important to starting and sustaining nursing. Sometimes nipple shields can help promote your baby’s nursing if you have flat or inverted nipples. A federal review of the research found that nipple shields can help also babies nurse even if they’re not quite ready to do so or if they fall asleep quickly at the breast, particularly premature infants.
Your nurse or lactation specialist can teach you how to correctly place a nipple shield on your breast, and how to position baby for a deep latch. They’ll likely also watch and evaluate baby’s latch once baby is feeding at your breast.
Most experts recommend talking with your nurse or lactation consultant before trying a nipple shield on your own as using a nipple shield inappropriately can create more problems than it was meant to solve! First, work with your nurse or lactation consultant to help baby get a deep, effective latch. Sometimes, all you need is a little time and patience to learn a technique that helps baby latch and nurse effectively.
How long should I use a shield?
While a nipple shield might improve milk transfer from the breast to the baby at first, it’s typically a temporary fix. Long-term continued use of a nipple shield can decrease your milk supply, create nipple discomfort or damage, and make it hard to transition baby to nursing directly at the breast without the shield.
Once babies have experienced breastfeeding with a nipple shield, it can be tough to stop—even when the original reason for using it no longer exists! In these situations, you may need a lactation specialist to wean baby from the shield.
Nipple Shields through the Ages
The first nipple shields date back more than 500 years ago. They were made from a variety of materials including silver, wood, lead, pewter and animal skins—can you imagine? By the second half of 20th century, rubber nipple shields were in use, followed by latex, and finally the silicone shields we use today.
If you find this useful you might also want to take a look at our Breastfeeding Success Strategies.