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Using a Nipple Shield to feed a baby who won't latch

Updated: Apr 12, 2023

Nipple Shields are commonly recommended for breastfeeding mothers. They're available in all big box store breastfeeding aisles, but rarely are mothers given much advice on when to use a nipple shield, how to use a nipple shield, the risks of using a nipple shield or how to wean off of a nipple shield.

Online IBCLC demonstrates nipple shield use text overlay says tips for using a nipple shield

Hi, I'm Jaimie Zaki, homeschooling mama of four (soon to be five!), birth doula, and international board certified lactation consultant (IBCLC). When my oldest son was born we had a whole host of breastfeeding issues. At one point we were given a nipple shield with very little advice. The nipple shield, while a useful tool, came with a lot of stress. In this post, I'd like to help you learn more about breastfeeding with a nipple shield.

Common Nipple Shield Questions:

What is a nipple Shield?

A nipple shield is a thin silicone nipple cover that can come in a variety of "nipple shapes" and sizes that breastfeeding mothers use to help with breastfeeding challenges.

When should you use a nipple shield?

Nipple shields are often given to mothers in the hospital if they complain of pain when baby latches or if baby is struggling to latch. Other reasons mothers might use a nipple shield is if they have flat or inverted nipples, or if they are trying to transition their baby from bottle to breast.

One problem, however is that mothers are rarely instructed on how to use a nipple shield properly.

Using a Nipple Shield Properly

First, make sure your nipple shield is the right size. Too small for your nipple and the shield will create friction or pinching. Too large or the wrong shape, and your baby may gag or not latch properly to the shield. Second, you still want to make sure you're getting a deep latch. Allowing a baby to feed on the tip of a nipple shield is reinforcing bad habits that will make weaning off the nipple shield harder.

Watch the video below for an example of how to use a nipple shield.

Are there risks to using a nipple shield?

Yes! There are risks to using a nipple shield without working with a lactation consultant with good follow up. Nipple Shields reduce contact between mother and baby, baby can struggle to transfer milk depending on his specific latch issues, and therefore baby could start having weight gain troubles, and mom could start having milk supply trouble. Babies using a nipple shield need to be followed closely for weight gain/loss as well. Ultimately, a nipple shield is a "bandaid" solution, and shouldn't be used to "fix" a feeding issue, but rather should be used to work through a feeding issue. If a baby can't latch without a nipple shield, there is a reason, and that reason needs to be investigated and addressed. Common reasons babies struggle to latch include structural issues, lack of reflex integration, neurological concerns, etc. Instead of using a nipple shield for the duration of your breastfeeding journey, work with a lactation consultant to identify and address the root cause of the latching issue.

How to wean from a nipple shield

Weaning from a nipple shield feels like a daunting task when it has been the one tool keeping your breastfeeding relationship afloat. After looking back on the experience, I realize that it sounds so much easier than it is, but at the same time, it seems so much harder than it is. It's one of those things that in the moment you're thinking "this will never work", but once all is said and done, you look back and say "wow, ok. That wasn't so bad!"

My approach to weaning from the nipple shield was to remove one shield feed a day. But that took some time. I started by nursing to the point of letdown with the shield on. Then I'd unlatch baby, and relatch him as I experienced letdown. This made him more willing to latch, because he got an instant reward and didn't have to work so hard for it. After some practice like this, we tried to start breastfeeds with no shield. It definitely took some practice and was frustrating for both of us. But when all was said and done, we were weaned off the shield within about a week and a half of beginning the process. Of course, after weaning many of our issues returned. Your lactation consultant should be able to help you create an individualized plan of when and how to wean off a nipple shield.

At the end of the day, I passionately feel that too many women being given nipple shields instead of better support and problem solving leads to women who lack confidence in their ability to breastfeed.

If you're experiencing breastfeeding issues that require a nipple shield and not working with a lactation consultant, CLICK HERE to book a Virtual Breastfeeding Consultation now!


Jaimie Zaki is an IBCLC providing online breastfeeding help for mothers who wish to feel confident about breastfeeding. Follow Jaimie Zaki on Instagram @littlebearlactation for more breastfeeding tips.

Lactation Consultant demonstrates how to use a nipple shield text overlay says online ibclc teaches moms the right way to use a nipple shield

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