Reasons for using a nipple shield

Why should I use a nipple shield?

Nipple shields can help babies who have trouble latching onto the breast. If the nipple shield works, it eliminates the need for the mother to express milk and supplement the baby. Nipple shields are especially useful for premature babies, who commonly have trouble breastfeeding. They may also reduce nipple pain, although some mothers say the pain is just as bad with a nipple shield. Nipple shields may also help mothers with a very large milk supply control the rate of the milk flow to the baby. Mothers who have suffered abuse and who feel uncomfortable with the feel of the baby’s mouth on their breast may find a nipple shield provides them with a tolerable amount of separation.

A) Reasons for using a nipple shield

There are many reasons for using a nipple shield. They are more helpful for some problems than for others. Nipple shields should only be used if they are effective.

B) Helping babies latch

We have found that many babies who have difficulty latching or staying latched can breastfeed effectively using a nipple shield.

1) Less work and cost for the mother

A nipple shield can eliminate the time-consuming, and sometimes ineffective act of expressing milk and supplementing the baby with the expressed milk. 

Nipple shields are less costly than breast pumps and bottles.

2) Better breastfeeding outcomes

Babies who take in their milk by breastfeeding with a nipple shield, compared to those who receive expressed breast milk by bottle, receive breast milk longer (Chertok 2009; Chow 2015). 

When compared to bottle-feeding, the process of feeding using a nipple shield is much more like breastfeeding. Babies who feed through a nipple shield become used to:

  • The warmth and smells of the breast.
  • The milk flow rates.
  • Feeding in a breastfeeding position.

For these babies, the adjustment to breastfeeding without a nipple shield is more likely than it is for babies who switch from bottle-feeding to breastfeeding.

C) Helping premature babies breastfeed

Premature babies can have major breastfeeding difficulties. Nipple shields can help them latch, suck better, and increase the amount of milk they take in at the breast. The time spend suckling at the mother's breast can provide numerous benefits to help them deal with their unique health challenges.

D) Controlling nipple pain

A nipple shield may reduce the discomfort of breastfeeding (Coentro 2021). However, some of the mothers in our clinic have said breastfeeding hurts just as much or more with a nipple shield. Also, using a nipple shield to reduce pain can create more problems, such as the baby being underfed or being unable to breastfeed without one. 

For these reasons, nipple shields are not our first choice to treat pain. Rather we try to find cause of the pain and treat it. 

E) Slowing the flow of milk

On rare occasions, babies really struggle to feed when their mothers have a very large milk supply. 

Using a nipple shields can reduce the rate of milk flow by allowing some leak out from under the rim. 

F) Emotional discomfort with breastfeeding

Some mothers with a history of abuse are uncomfortable with the baby’s mouth touching their breast or with the closeness of breastfeeding. In this situation, a nipple shield can act as a barrier to make the mother emotionally comfortable.

References

Chertok IR. Reexamination of ultra-thin nipple shield use, infant growth and maternal satisfaction. J Clin Nurs. 2009 Nov;18(21):2949-55

Chow S, Chow R, Popovic M, et al. The Use of Nipple Shields: A Review. Front Public Health. 2015 Oct 16;3:236

Coentro VS, Perrella SL, Lai CT, et al. Nipple shield use does not impact sucking dynamics in breastfeeding infants of mothers with nipple pain. Eur J Pediatr. 2021 Jan 14