A nipple shield is a small, cloth-like pad designed to help breastfeeding mothers overcome challenges such as an infant’s inability to latch or a nipple infection. The nipple shield is worn over the nipple area and helps to stimulate the roof of the baby’s mouth so that a stronger suction can take place. It is generally used temporarily and only under the guidance of a healthcare provider or lactation consultant to facilitate breastfeeding for infants who struggle with latching and breastfeeding.
The nipple shield can also be a useful tool for mothers with flat or inverted nipples, overactive letdown, and sore nipples. It is important to choose the correct size nipple shield for your needs. A small shield (Newborn Small or Newborn Regular) will accommodate most newborns. For infants who are premature, a larger shield may be needed to accommodate a larger nipple and stimulate a strong sucking response.
It is also very important to keep the nipple shield clean and free of fecal matter, as fecal matter can cause plugged ducts and mastitis, a painful breast condition. It is recommended that you sterilize the nipple shield with hot soapy water before using it for the first time and then once daily afterward.
In a recent study, researchers found that women who use the nipple shield tend to continue to breastfeed longer than those who do not. This is because the nipple shield allows mothers to nurse for a longer period of time, even if they are struggling with a poor latch or low milk supply. This is especially true for infants who are prematurity or have a tongue tie, as these infants require extra stimulation of the breastfeeding nipple to initiate and sustain breastfeeding (8).
However, it is very important that a mother and child work with a Lactation Specialist before trying out a nipple shield to ensure the best outcome. The Lactation Specialist will help to assess the infant’s ability to latch, provide education on proper nipple placement and insertion, and make recommendations on how to improve the nipple position and latch.
Ideally, a nipple shield should be removed when the latch is good and a good milk flow has been established. This is to avoid causing the baby to become discouraged and turn away from the breast, which can result in early weaning (9).
Some infants who are struggling with breastfeeding may need only a few sessions of nipple shield use to get comfortable nursing with it and then eventually return to the natural nipple without the use of a nipple shield. It is also a great tool to try with infants who have had many bottle feedings and are reluctant to latch on to the breast due to their discomfort with the feeling of the bottle nipple. For this situation, it can be helpful to moisten the nipple shield with a little expressed milk or water and encourage the baby to attempt breastfeeding. This can be done by dripping some milk into the corner of the baby’s mouth to reward her for her attempts to latch.