Using a Nipple Shield

One of the many tools available for helping babies to breastfeed is the nipple shield.  This is a very thin silicone nipple cover.  It is used to help babies to latch to the breast if the usual methods will not work.  If your baby is not latching, it is important to first try plenty of skin-to-skin contact and laid-back breastfeeding positions Biological Nurturing while allowing your baby to self-attach.

Nipple shields also should not be used during the first week after birth, unless the milk supply has significantly increased and is transitioning from colostrum to mature milk.  Colostrum is thicker than mature milk and is available in very small amounts, so it does not transfer well with a nipple shield.  If the breast is still producing colostrum, hand expression, spoon feeding and skin-to-skin contact and patience will usually help baby to latch.

Nipple shields are also used to protect damaged nipples while they heal and to help premature babies transfer more milk.  Studies have shown that premature babies often transfer more milk when using a shield. Nipple shields also can be used to transition from bottle feeding to breastfeeding if baby refuses the breast.

If you decide to use a nipple shield, you should stay in contact with a lactation consultant or another knowledgeable breastfeeding support person.  The following instructions may be helpful in learning to use a nipple shield.

Rinse the shield with very warm water.  This makes the shield more flexible and helps it to adhere to the breast.  If you have the type with a cut out space on the brim, put that part of the nipple shield where you expect baby’s nose to rest. If it is the full brim, it doesn’t matter because it is the same all around.

Start by turning the brim inside out a bit so that the nipple part of the shield is partially turned inside out. Place the nipple over your nipple and then smooth the brim against your breast starting at the base of the nipple part of the shield. This should draw your nipple into the shield nipple. It can be helpful to put some milk into the shield through the nipple holes. A curved tip syringe is good for this or you can hand express a little while the shield is on so that there is milk in the shield to get started.

If the shield falls of easily, a small amount of lanolin spread around the underside of the brim may help the shield stay on the breast.

The following link may also be helpful, for learning to use and for weaning from the nipple shield.

© 2012 Laura Spitzfaden, IBCLC

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