Did you know that nipple shields are not one size fits all, or even one size fits most? The truth is that nipples shields are varying in length, shape, and width. Nipple shields can be a useful tool in many different cases, but are typically not recommended for long term use.
Nipple shields can be a great tool to use for a few reasons. One reason someone may use a nipple shield is because they have flat or inverted nipples and the baby may not be able to latch on to the breast. In this case, the nipple shield may help to draw the nipple out while the baby is getting latched, and might be able to be removed once the nipple is drawn out and the baby is able to latch.
Often times premature babies may benefit from the use of a nipple shield, as their suck patterns may not be mature yet.
Nipple shields are also often used when a baby has a cleft palate or some other physical difference that makes it harder for them to latch and suck well.
If there was a reason why a baby was unable to breastfeed/chestfeed from birth, whether due to the health of the feeding parent or the baby, a nipple shield can help ease the transition from the bottle to the breast. The long term goal would be removing the nipple shield at some point, and feeding without the shield.
If a nursing parent is having pain, or there is damage to the nipples, a nipple shield can be used as a temporary stopgap. It is important not to ignore the fact that there is something happening that is causing the pain, and this should be investigated. The nipple shield becomes a useful tool when it allows the parent to continue feeding their baby at the breast while addressing the feeding difficulties. In this case, the dyad needs to be evaluated by an IBCLC who has experience with infant oral anatomy.
We no longer believe that nipples need to “toughen up” and deal with the pain. Typically, in this case, there may be an oral abnormality in the infant, or retained tension in the infant’s body that could be improved with massage, suck exercises, treatment by an infant certified chiropractor, or infant certified craniosacral therapist, or even a frenectomy (treatment for a tongue tie).
The problem with nipple shields is that we are seeing far too many parents using them without the proper support. Sometimes they are given unnecessarily in the hospital, or included in a baby shower gift from a well meaning friend or family member, or even picked up at the store. It’s great that nipple shields are available but they are not a one size fits all item. If you think you could benefit from the use of a nipple shield, reach out to an IBCLC to discuss your options and figure out if there is a better way to address your concerns.
Nipple shields can also be quite burdensome as you have to keep them clean and available. You have to not lose them, drop them on the floor in a public place, and have one handy when it is time to feed. You also need to place it securely on the breast before feeding, which can be one more thing to handle when you’re already a little frazzled.
For the ugly side of nipple shields and the controversy surrounding them…. It has been thought that nipple shields can decrease milk supply. The study that noted this information is currently outdated. This study was performed when nipple shields were made of a different material than they are today. The silicone that nipple shields are made of today is thinner and more pliable, so it is believed that there is no concern for a mother to lose her milk supply while due to the use of a nipple shield. The concern really goes back to whatever reason necessitated the use of a nipple shield to begin with. If the shield use is due to an issue with the way the baby is sucking and latching, it can cause issues with milk supply.
There are some concerns that nipple shields have lead to early weaning and discontinued breastfeeding. Some breastfeeding parents may feel a disconnection with the use of the shield, the shields can also be burdensome, and in some mothers there have been a drop in prolactin levels which is the milk production hormone.
If you are using a nipple shield, make sure to check out our video on the proper application.
If you have any questions, comments, or concerns we would love to help you!