How To Use A Nipple Shield For Breastfeeding

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A nipple shield is a thin silicone device placed on your areola and nipple. It is primarily used as a short-term solution when a newborn baby faces trouble with latching and breastfeeding.

Nipple shields are useful tools to help ease your child into the feeding process; however, it is important to weigh the pros and cons with a health advisor or a lactation consultant before using one.

Following the baby’s birth, it’s likely you have concerns around the proper nursing position, latch difficulty, and your relationship with breastfeeding. 

This is where a healthcare provider advises that to establish breastfeeding relationships optimally, all possibilities need to be considered; in many cases, using a nipple shield helps greatly!

Step By Step Guide

Nipple shields are quite straightforward to use. Here’s an easy-to-follow guide to using nipple shields for breastfeeding:

  • Turning your shield inside out before applying it assists in drawing the nipple into the nipple cone-shaped area at an optimal position.
  • Once positioned, place your thumbs on the base of the nipple to flip it halfway inside out. This should form a small dimple at the end. Upon application, the nipple should be drawn into the nipple shield as deeply as possible.
  • After the nipple is inserted, the silicone base of the nipple shield needs to be stretched over the breast.
  • It is optimal if the areola and surroundings feel snug. Additionally, the nipple should be deep in the nipple area of the shield and fitting comfortably/without scraping the sides. Wearing a nipple shield incorrectly can cause sore or cracked nipples.
  • To avoid sore or cracked nipples, apply nipple cream or water around the edge of the nipple shield. This helps the nipple shield stick and stay in place.

Why Nipple Shields Need To Be Used

The following key considerations allow a lactation consultant to advise the usage of nipple shields:

Unable To Feed

This is common in the first few weeks as some babies struggle to latch onto the nipple.

This process can also deter milk production as the baby is not taking in enough milk, hence putting a halt on the milk flow. This can lead to your baby not getting enough milk and poor weight gain. Using a nipple shield can give your baby extra time to learn to nurse or improve their ability to suck.

Soreness

Sore and cracked nipples are very common when it comes to breastfeeding challenges. Breastfeeding counselors list this as a key reason deterring the feeding process as a whole.

Soreness can be caused by various issues, such as poor latch, milk blisters, inverted or extended nipples, and more. If not dealt with instantly, it can also lead to infections such as mastitis, creating longstanding breastfeeding problems.

Using a nipple shield has often been criticized as lactation specialists warn of side effects such as soreness. However, this normally occurs due to incorrect use.

Nipple shields tend to aid cracked, sore, and bleeding nipples. A bad latching is what mainly causes painful nipples. Getting your infant to form a proper latch is the key to relieving nipple pain. This is vital to pain-free and smooth breastfeeding experience.

Inverted Nipples

Flat nipples, commonly known as inverted nipples, are another reason you might require nipple shields. This nipple confusion occurs when milk ducts are scarred due to breastfeeding.

Extending nipples are surprisingly common, and you might naturally have inverted nipples. This appears as an extended nipple, which can sometimes cause confusion regarding how to proceed with the relevant solution.

This factor plays a significant role in the nipple shield’s type, as the nipple size and shape are integral to determining the type.

A distinguishing technique for identifying nipples accordingly is to gently pinch the areola or even the darker area surrounding the nipple. If the nipple retracts and becomes concave, it is an inverted one.

Premature Babies

If your bay is premature, it’s likely you’ll be recommended to use a nipple shield. This will be suggested during the final part of the hospital stay and the first few weeks of your baby being at home.

A nipple shield is considered during this stage of premature birth as breathing rates, and oxygen levels of premature newborns have proven to be healthier and stronger during breastfeeding compared to bottle-feeding.

Premature babies tend to take less milk from the breast than from a bottle. Sometimes your baby might fall asleep after latching or pauses between sucks and slips off your nipple. In this case, a nipple shield might be recommended.

These patterns amongst premature babies correlate to the infant having a lower level of suction pressure than a full-term baby. They cannot efficiently draw the nipple into the mouth and latch on without ample suction.

Nipple shields are proven to make up for lower suction levels in premature newborns, as the shields create the suction that the babies struggle to produce.

How Nipple Shields Work

A nipple shield acts like a second nipple. It covers the breast and nipple and has miniature holes at the tip, where milk transfers between the nipple and baby’s mouth.

It aids infants that struggle with latching onto the breast by playing the part of a longer and firmer nipple. This allows the infant to adopt a latching method and learn how to suck. Once the baby is strong enough to nurse from the nipple directly, the use of a shield is not needed anymore.

Duration Period

Up to date advice from a lactation specialist regarding how long these shields should be used would be approximately 4-5 weeks.

The longer one uses a shield, the more difficult it becomes to rid the baby of its habit.

Using the shield can also disrupt the stimulation of milk supplies, which can, in turn, affect your baby gaining weight. A lactation specialist can assist with the weaning process to ease off the nipple shield.

Yes & No’s

Before using a nipple shield, weighing the advantages and disadvantages is crucial. It is important to identify whether your baby is facing trouble latching onto the nipple; in the case of very soft breasts, this can prove difficult too.

Other factors such as the tongue thrust, swallowing effectiveness and lastly, prematurity, play a big role in determining the pros and cons.

Pros

Using a nipple shield is usually considered a final option for lactation consultants, mainly because the drawbacks tend to overpower the plus side. A nipple shield proves positive when the following cases occur:

  • Baby’s mouth or tongue thrust affects their latches, especially in the case of prematurity or tongue-tie.
  • If your nipple is flat and inverted, i.e., with the nipple extending; thus, the roof of your baby’s mouth is out of reach. The roof is where the baby’s sucking reflex is, and so nipple shields aid in accessing this.
  • If your nipple is damaged or sore and needs to be healed before recommencing skin-to-skin contact, the nipple shield excellently aids the build-up towards strengthening the baby’s latch.

Cons

Lactation specialists tend to recommend nipple shields as a last resort, primarily because of the following cons:

  • The nipple shield is a barrier between you and your baby. This eliminates natural skin-to-skin contact and can affect the milk supply because there is less stimulation between the baby and your breast. The more skin-to-skin contact there is, the better.
  • If your child gets used to a nipple shield, a chance of becoming heavily dependent makes it difficult to rid the habit.
  • Due to a slightly lesser quantity of milk transfer, ducts can be clogged with excess milk, possibly forcing you to practice expressed milk, i.e., pumping access milk. As the baby isn’t fully emptying each breast when feeding, the chance of mastitis is also a risk.

To optimize human lactation to maintain breastfeeding, nipple shields are great to get the ball rolling. If concerns on how to use a nipple shield are why you fear using them, a lactation consultant can clear all fears and myths that might put you off nipple shields.

Conclusion

Nipple shields are a great way to help you if you’re struggling with breastfeeding. If you feel like you need more assistance with latching your baby on, or if your nipples are sore and damaged, using a nipple shield could be the answer for you. However, it is important to weigh the pros and cons before making a decision, as using a shield can sometimes create more problems than it solves. 

With the help of a lactation consultant, you can figure out whether or not using a nipple shield is right for you and your baby.

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