We’re often approached by expectant and new mothers with the question:
“What is a nipple shield, and do I need them?”
So we asked our in-house expert Midwife & Health Visitor Katie Hilton to tell us all about what exactly nipple shields are and why you might need to use them.
What Are Nipple Shields?
A nipple shield is basically a breastfeeding support device that helps new mums to breastfeed. The most common reason is enabling mums to continue to breastfeed when experience sore, cracked nipples. This issue most commonly occurs in the first few weeks after having a baby and is most often associated with incorrect positioning and attachment. It can take some time to resolve, but it’s important to continue to breastfeed as abruptly stopping can lead to engorgement and ultimately mastitis. If you do experience sore nipples, it’s important to speak to your health visitor to ascertain and overcome whatever may be causing the soreness.
When Can Nipple Shields Help?
1. Sore Nipples
The number one reason women stop breastfeeding in the first few weeks after birth is sore, cracked nipples. Using a nipple shield during this time can help to provide some comfort and enable the continuation of breastfeeding whilst resolving the underlying issue.
If your baby was born premature, unwell or small a nipple shield can help make feeding easier for a small or weak baby because suction inside the nipple shield holds the nipple in an everted position, which makes it easier for the baby to latch on.
3. Flat or Inverted Nipples
Some new mothers have nipple tissue that is not very stretchable, which can result in flat or inverted nipples. If it is difficult for the baby to draw out their mother’s flattened nipple, the baby may pull away, cry, or simply fall asleep. Nipple Shields provides a sensation in the baby’s mouth, just like when the nipple touches the roof of their mouth and encourages the baby to keep sucking. This continual sucking encourages the nipple to elongate and eventually a nipple shield should not be needed for these issues.
4. Tongue Tie
A small percentage of babies are born with tongue/lip ties. In these cases, connective tissue prevents a baby from fully extending their tongue. This makes it difficult for baby to latch properly at the breast. A nipple shield allows baby to continue feeding at the breast using a shallower latch until the tongue/lip tie has been divided.
5. Overactive let-down
Some mothers have a particularly forceful let-down reflex. This can cause baby to choke, sputter, or pull off the breast when feeding. Using a nipple shield can help slow the flow of milk. Once baby has become more experienced at breast feeding, they will be able to regulate the flow of milk themselves and a nipple shield should eventually not be needed for these issues.