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What You Need To Know About Using Nipple Shields

Nipple shields are one of those things that you don’t realise you need them until you do (hello cracked and bleeding nipples!) However, nipple shields aren’t for everyone and should always be used in consultation with your midwife or a lactation consultant. Here’s what you need to know so you’re fully clued up…

What are nipple shields?

Nipple shields (also known as nursing cups or nursing shells) are breastfeeding accessories that are sometimes used to help address specific breastfeeding challenges. There are different types of nipple shields available that can help in different situations.

What are the different types of shields?

The most common type of nipple shield are those made of thin, flexible silicone and are designed as short-term solution to be placed over the mother’s nipple and areola during breastfeeding. The shield has a small opening at the tip through which the baby can latch onto the breast.

The other popular type of nipple shield or cup are those made of silver. They are designed to be worn in between feeds to help heal nipples that are sore or cracked.

When might a silicone nipple shield be helpful?

Here are some situations in which silicone nipple shields might be used:

  • Flat or inverted nipples: Some women have nipples that are flat or inverted, making it difficult for the baby to latch onto the breast. Nipple shields can provide a firmer shape, making it easier for the baby to grasp.
  • Sore or cracked nipples: When a mother’s nipples are sore or cracked, using a nipple shield can offer temporary relief by reducing direct contact with the baby’s mouth.
  • Latch issues: In some cases, babies may have difficulty latching onto the breast, leading to feeding challenges. Nipple shields can help the baby latch more easily.
  • Premature babies: Premature babies might have underdeveloped sucking reflexes, and a nipple shield can assist them in latching and feeding effectively.

What are the downsides of using silicone nipple shields when breastfeeding?

While nipple shields can help some women, they are not suitable for everyone and should be used with caution. Here’s why:

  • Reduced milk transfer: Nipple shields may reduce the amount of milk transferred to the baby during breastfeeding, as they create a barrier between the baby’s mouth and the breast.
  • Diminished stimulation: Direct skin-to-skin contact between the baby’s mouth and the breast is essential for stimulating milk production. Nipple shields may interfere with this stimulation.
  • Latch dependency: Some babies may become dependent on the nipple shield and refuse to latch directly onto the breast without it. This can make weaning off the shield challenging.
  • Supply issues: For some mothers, using nipple shields for an extended period might impact milk supply, as they may not get the same level of stimulation as direct breastfeeding.

It’s important to remember that using shields during breastfeeding should be a short-term, temporary solution. They shouldn’t be used as a substitute for addressing any underlying issues with breastfeeding, such as a poor latch or positioning. If the underlying cause of the pain or discomfort is not addressed, using nipple shields is unlikely to be very helpful and could make the problem worse.

What are silver nipple shields?

Silver has long been considered to have healing properties and to help reduce infections. They are designed to be worn in between feeding to help heal cracked  nipples and prevent soreness. There other benefits include:

  • Healing properties: The use of silver cups can aid in the healing of sore or cracked nipples by preventing infection and promoting a clean environment for the nipple to heal. You can also express a little bit of breastmilk into the cups so it can help heal cracked nipples.
  • Antimicrobial effect: Silver is thought to have natural antimicrobial properties, which may help reduce the risk of bacterial or fungal infections on the nipple surface.
  • Reduced friction: Silver shields can create a barrier between clothing and the sensitive nipple area, potentially reducing friction and discomfort.

Silver nipple shields can be used from the last week of pregnancy, can be worn day or night and do not affect the taste or smell of breast milk.

How do nipples get cracked during breastfeeding?

Nipple cracking during breastfeeding is a common concern and can happen for several reasons. It is essential to address this issue promptly to prevent discomfort and potential complications. Some common reasons why nipples may get cracked during breastfeeding include:

  • Improper latch: A shallow latch is one of the most common causes of nipple cracking. When the baby does not latch onto the breast correctly, they may not take enough breast tissue into their mouth, leading to increased pressure on the nipple and areola. This can cause friction and trauma to the nipple, resulting in cracks.
  • Infrequent positioning adjustments: If a baby maintains the same latch position for prolonged periods during feedings, it can put excessive pressure on specific areas of the nipple, contributing to cracking.
  • Tongue tie: Some babies may have tongue tie, where a piece of tissue restricts the movement of the tongue. This can affect their ability to latch correctly and lead to nipple trauma.
  • Sucking intensity: A baby with a very strong sucking reflex may apply too much pressure on the nipple during feeding, leading to cracks.
  • Dry skin or eczema: Pre-existing dry skin or eczema on the nipple area can make the skin more vulnerable to cracking during breastfeeding.
  • Engorgement: When the breasts become overly full and engorged, the nipples may become stretched and more prone to cracking.
  • Previous damage: Nipples that have experienced previous damage, such as from previous breastfeeding experiences or improper use of breast pumps, may be more susceptible to cracking.

How can I prevent nipple cracking?

As always, prevention is always better than cure so try these tips to avoid the dreaded cracked nipple situation:

  • Ensure proper latch: Work with a lactation consultant or breastfeeding expert to ensure that your baby is latching onto the breast correctly.
  • Frequent feeding: Feed your baby frequently, which can help prevent engorgement and reduce the intensity of sucking during feedings. It can also be helpful to pump some milk if the nipples are really sore.
  • Positioning: Vary breastfeeding positions to avoid putting constant pressure on the same area of the nipple.
  • Break the suction: Gently insert a clean finger into your baby’s mouth to break the suction before unlatching to avoid pulling on the nipple.
  • Nipple care: After each feeding, apply a few drops of breast milk to the nipples and allow them to air dry. Breast milk has natural antibacterial properties that can promote healing. Avoid using soap or alcohol on the nipples, as they can dry out the skin.

Ask for help before using nipple shields

Keep in mind that any breastfeeding accessories, including nipple shields, should be used with caution and only under the guidance of a healthcare professional. Improper or prolonged use of nipple shields can lead to latch issues, reduced milk transfer, and potential supply problems. The primary goal should be to address any breastfeeding challenges directly and find solutions that support the best breastfeeding experience for both the mother and the baby.

If you experience persistent nipple cracking or have concerns about breastfeeding, consult your midwife or a lactation consultant. They can help identify the underlying issues and provide appropriate guidance and support for your breastfeeding journey.

Our recommendations

Sources

https://cks.nice.org.uk/topics/breastfeeding-problems/management/breastfeeding-problems-management/

https://abm.me.uk/breastfeeding-information/using-a-nipple-shield-with-a-breastfed-baby/

Birthbabe does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The resources on our website are provided for informational purposes only. You should always consult with a healthcare professional regarding any medical diagnoses or treatment options.

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