You’ve probably heard about nipple shields… but did you know there are different sizes? What about the best ways to wean from nipple shields? Here is everything you need to know about nipple shields for breastfeeding so you can make the best decisions for you and your baby!
What Are Nipple Shields?
Let’s start with the basics: A Nipple shield is a small, thin silicone tool that can make nursing easier for moms and babies. But, that doesn’t mean every struggling mom should use one!
It’s best to speak with a lactation consultant or counselor to determine if a nipple shield is actually necessary. However, you might benefit from using nipple shields if:
- Your baby has a tongue or lip tie
- You have flat or inverted nipples
- Your baby was born prematurely
- You struggle with consistent nipple pain that you can’t solve
- You’re trying to move a bottle-fed baby to the breast
The whole purpose of a nipple shield is to provide a small barrier between the baby’s mouth and your nipple. But rather than block off your supply like you would assume a barrier does, it actually can make suction easier, especially if you are struggling with any of the above-mentioned issues.
How To Choose Nipple Shields for Breastfeeding
There are many different brands for nipple shields, but I’ll share my top three favorites.
First is the Lansinoh. These are my personal favorite for latching issues! They have a slight cut-out shape so the shield only covers what it needs to, which they say helps promote better skin-to-skin contact.
Another favorite is the Medela. These also have a cut-out shape and come in three sizes (we will talk about this later!).
And lastly, I would also recommend the Avent. Although these three nipple shields all seem similar in design, you will find that you like some more than others. If you want to try nipple shields, get a few different brands to test out what you like!
Getting the Right Size
Just like a pumping flange or breast shield, nipple shields come in different sizes (for example, 16mm, 20mm, 24mm, etc)… So it’s important that you get the right one!
Many brands have a sizing guide you can use and multiple sizing options, however, there are a few considerations you should keep in mind:
- The size of your nipple
- The size your nipple expands to when nursing
- The size of your baby
- Whether your baby has a tongue or lip tie
Speaking with a lactation counselor can help you determine which nipple shield size is best for you.
Introducing Bottles if You Use Nipple Shields for Breastfeeding
Some moms who started with bottle feeding and want to transition to nursing at the breast will use nipple shields to make the transition smoother. This is because a nipple shield has a closer resemblance to a bottle nipple!
So if you are ready to introduce bottles, you are in luck! Some moms say it is actually easier to transition from nursing to bottle feeding if they used nipple shields.
If you are utilizing nipple shields for nursing regularly, you can simply try switching them out for a bottle. Holding your baby when bottle feeding is also a good way to keep that close contact you have created while nursing!
Just remember that any change in your baby’s routine may have some pushback. When you are ready to transition to bottles, try feeding your baby when they aren’t really hungry or nurse on one breast and then switch to a bottle. If possible, take your time with the transition to make it easier on both you and your baby!
Weaning From Nipple Shields
The goal with nipple shields for breastfeeding is to eventually wean your baby from them and move fully into nursing (unless you are moving to bottle feeding). Nipple shields are meant to be a temporary fix while you figure out the deeper issue, make a transition from bottle to breast, or until your baby is old enough to have a greater sucking ability.
While there isn’t a specific age you should stop using nipple shields, it is a choice and best (at some point) to aim for an overall short period of time. Once your baby or toddler is stronger, has better coordination, and is gaining weight, you can consider weaning them from the nipple shields.
However, weaning from nipple shields can be a difficult task for moms. Because they are a unique, harder texture and some babies will not easily switch to nursing without them! Here are three tips for weaning from nipple shields for breastfeeding:
1. Start each session without a shield
You can simply try to remove the shield at the beginning of each session and see if you can get them to latch without it. Still use the shield if they are getting too fussy or are unable to latch.
2. Remove the shield halfway through the feed
One way to wean from nipple shields is to remove the shield either halfway through a feed or when you switch breasts. This can encourage your baby to latch without the shield because your milk is already flowing so they aren’t having to work as hard when they latch again.
3. Use skin-to-skin
Skin-to-skin has so many great benefits, and one of them is to encourage nursing. By introducing more skin-to-skin, your baby may be more willing to latch without the nipple shield.
Remember, not all of these solutions will work for every mom. I want to encourage you to keep trying! If you are still struggling to wean from nipple shields, I offer lactation services so we can come up with a plan that will work for you!
There are also many cases where babies have success nursing with nipple shields permanently. What is most important is that you find a way to nurse if it is something you want to do!
When Nipple Shields Aren’t Recommended
Although nipple shields have proven to be extremely helpful for moms, there are also some issues surrounding their use.
For example, some people have found that using nipple shields decreases their supply. This tends to be the case if they aren’t used properly, which is why it’s important to get help if you plan to use them.
Another problem is the potential for increased plugged ducts or mastitis. If your baby isn’t able to transfer enough milk, it can lead to many problems for mom.
Lastly, using nipple shields may not be fixing the root problem. For example, there are some instances where fixing a tongue or lip tie would be the best course of action because it could solve the nursing problem altogether. If you aren’t sure why you are using nipple shields, it is best to understand what the root problem could be and see if it is fixable.
Nipples Shields For Breastfeeding Are A Great Tool
Overall, there are many benefits to using nipple shields and they help so many moms who are struggling to breastfeed! If you think nipple shields would help you on your breastfeeding journey, reach out to a lactation counselor. I can help you decide if nipple shields are right for you and troubleshoot common nipple shield issues so you can have the best experience possible!
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