One common tool that mothers either love or hate when breastfeeding is a nipple shield. What is a nipple shield, you may be asking. It sounds a bit torturous. It's simply a silicone shield that has a larger fake nipple to help a baby latch.
It is very common for mothers to recommend these tools to friends who are struggling. It is common for nurses in postpartum recovery to give a new mom a nipple shield, without much guidance or follow up.
And herin lies the issue with nipple shields.
A nipple shield is a great way to keep a babe who is struggling to latch, at the breast. However, it is not appropriate in all situations. Personally, I used a nipple shield with my first born for a few weeks.
My personal experience was that it was a pain in my ass, to be frank. I hated the thing. I had to lug it around and keep it clean and dry and juggle putting on a nipple shield with trying to nurse when I already felt I didn't have enough hands. It was a frustration. Luckily it worked for the short term concerns we had and we were able to wean off of it with the help of a Lactation Consultant.
Nipple Shields are not void of risk though. They 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.
So what's that mean? It means that moms should not be using nipple shields willy nilly and it means that nurses should be more discretionary when passing them out. It also means that a mom should ONLY use a nipple shield when working with a lactation consultant. Often times, the nipple shield is simply a temporary solution for an underlying problem that needs to be directly addressed. Babies should be followed closely to monitor weight gain when using a nipple shield.
How to use a nipple shield properly
It is important to make sure you are using your nipple shield properly. Your lactation consultant will be able to help you learn how to apply the shield. Make sure that your baby is STILL working to achieve a deep latch, despite using the nipple shield. As Nancy Mohrbacher says, babies don't nipple feed, they breastfeed. Make sure that even when using a nipple shield, that will entice baby to simply nipple feed, you encourage a deep, full latch that includes the breast itself.
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.
All that being said, there are some women who use a nipple shield for the majority or entirety of their nursing relationship. This is absolutely okay, as long as mom and healthcare professionals are vigilant in ensuring mom's supply stays strong, and baby's weight gain is not hindered.
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. The prevalence of this issue does go on, then, to contribute to societal misunderstandings and concerns regarding breastfeeding.
How about you? Have you used a nipple shield? What was your experience like? Have more questions? Submit them today with #LBLBreastfeedingQ and see your answers in my next Q&A Video!
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