Nipple Shields: Why Breastfeeding Moms Use Them & How

The first time you hear about nipple shields, your first thought may be "nipple what?" but don't knock it until you try it. The small silicone cups can be a godsend for many a breastfeeding mom.

Made to fit over the nipple and areola with tiny holes for the milk to pass through, the nifty device "helps to keep the nipple extended so that the baby won't 'lose' it during a pause in sucking," says Brittany Welding at at MainLineDoulas.com.

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That's crucial for babies who are struggling with a proper latch during nursing. Babies who are born premature are particularly prone to this, since they often can't produce a strong suction -- which is vital because it enables the baby to draw your nipple into its mouth and "stay attached" while breastfeeding.

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Moms who have inverted, flat, or dimpled nipples that no baby can easily latch onto, or whose babies have grown accustomed to feeding from bottles -- due to a long stay in the NICU or otherwise -- can also benefit from a set of nipple shields. Since the device can provide a similar sensation in the baby's mouth, it can be a way to help moms transition from bottle to breast, explains Leigh Anne O'Connor, lactation consultant at LeighAnneOConnor.com.

Always had a good latch? You may still find yourself reaching for a nipple shield at some point. After all, "nipple shields can also be helpful for other uses, such as protecting cracked, bleeding nipples during feeding, allowing them to heal," says Lauren de la Rosa, a baby feeding and nutrition expert at NurturMe.com.

So now that you're sold on the device, here's the skinny on what nipple shields to buy and how to use them:

There are two different kinds of nipple shields: "regular" and "contact." "The difference is that the contact shield has a cut-out that allows for more skin to skin interaction," says Welding.

The shields also come in different sizes to fit your nipple and/or your baby's mouth, so make sure to not just grab the first one you spot. A lactation consultant can help you not only find one that suits you, but also help get the shield on the breast and get baby latched.

When putting the shield on, "it can be helpful to wet the edges of the shield with water or saliva so that it will stick to your skin," says Welding. "Flipping the edges up and then pulling the shield down over your nipple can help to draw the nipple into the shield. Place baby to the breast and tickle the side of his mouth with the pointy part of the shield to encourage him to take it into his mouth. Then nurse as usual."

Nursing with the shield may feel awkward at first, but don't worry; you likely won't be using it forever. "The goal is to use the shield as a temporary aid and eventually wean from it," Welding says. Ideally, that means just a few weeks with the shield.

A final piece of advice for moms from the experts:

"Speaking from personal experience, the biggest mistake I made was feeling like a failure at breastfeeding because of using a shield," says Welding, who used one with her first son until he was 3 months old, and is currently using one with her almost-5-month-old son.

"At first, I felt like I was doing something wrong because I needed this extra piece of equipment to get my baby to latch," she admits. "But I came to view it as an invaluable tool that enables my babies and me to enjoy our nursing relationship. Before we began using the shield, each feeding ended in tears, from myself and my little ones. With the shield, feedings are much smoother and my baby is thriving. It's okay to need a little help! I also liked to add in some humor, too -- I like to refer to my shield as my nipple sombrero." 

Did you use a nipple shield? What for?

 

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