Nursing your little one as a new mom does not always come naturally and may be difficult, which makes many moms seek techniques or devices that may help ease the process. A nipple shield is one of those devices that helps in breastfeeding. As good as it sounds, nipple shields are not meant to be used by every mom. Just like medications, the nipple shield is prescribed by your doctor if your baby is having difficulties with breastfeeding.
As a pediatrician, a challenge I have seen new moms face is how to wean newborn off nipple shield. The key to weaning your baby off a nipple shield is by learning and using the best breastfeeding techniques that would make it easier for your baby to latch and breastfeed.
In this article we will discuss:
- What is a nipple shield?
- Pros and cons of using a nipple shield?
- 8 Ways how to wean your newborn off a nipple shield?
- When to call the doctor?
Table of Contents
What is a Nipple Shield?
A nipple shield is a silicone device shaped like a nipple. It is placed securely on the skin over your nipple and is used to help your baby latch onto your breast and get as much milk as possible. A nipple shield is used for moms who are having difficulties initiating breastfeeding with their newborns, or for babies who are unable to latch properly to the breast, thus helping the baby to feed adequately. Mothers may use a nipple shield to breastfeed for days to weeks depending on the reason it was prescribed
How Can I Put on a Nipple Shield?
Putting on a nipple shield can be tricky, and if not well placed can prevent enough milk from getting to your baby. Here are steps I recommend you should take to correctly put on a nipple shield:
- Using warm water or nipple cream, moisten the edges of the nipple shield to help it stick better to your skin.
- Gently turn the nipple shield inside out to help draw your nipple into the narrow part of the nipple shield.
- Place your nipple into the nipple shield while stretching the base of the shield over the skin of your breast.
- If done correctly, your nipple should feel snuggly fit into the nipple shield with your nipple extending to the tip of the shield.
- You can gently express a little milk to the tip of the nipple shield to encourage your baby to latch on and start feeding.
- Make sure to monitor your baby while feeding to ensure they are getting enough milk.
What are the Pros and Cons of Using a Nipple Shield?
Using a nipple shield has its fair share of benefits and downsides.
Some benefits of using a nipple shield includes:
- Helps babies that are unable to naturally latch to breastfeed.
- Helps new moms who are unable to breastfeed correctly to feed their little ones.
- Give time for moms who have damaged or injured nipples to heal while feeding their baby.
- Helps moms with inverted or short nipples to reach the roof of their baby’s mouth to stimulate the sucking reflex.
Some disadvantages associated with using a nipple shield includes:
- It gets difficult to wean your baby off the nipple shield. That is, your baby may not be able breastfeed without the shield.
- Your baby may not get enough milk if the shield is worn incorrectly.
- You stand a risk of having too much milk stored in your breast if your baby is not getting enough milk as a result of incorrect application of the shield. This leads to a medical condition called plugged ducts and mastitis.
- It makes it trickier to breastfeed in public. This is because you have to put on the nipple shield first which is difficult to do in public.
- Your baby puts in extra effort to suck on your nipples and get milk out of the nipple shield.
- There is reduced skin-to-skin contact between you and our baby.
- You may feel pain in your nipples during breastfeeding if the nipple shield is not properly installed.
8 Tips to Wean Your Baby Off a Nipple Shield
Using a nipple shield for your baby can cause your little one to be overly dependent on the shield. This makes babies unable to breastfeed without the help of a nipple shield. This is a problem because nipple shields were designed to be used temporarily. The following are steps to help wean your baby off a nipple shield:
- Make sure to properly position your baby during breastfeeding. A comfortable position for you and your baby is important in easing the breastfeeding process. You should hold your baby in a position where her body is facing you completely, so your baby can easily access your nipple to breastfeed.
- Pump your breast before breastfeeding to stimulate milk let-down, so your baby immediately receives milk once she attempts to suck. This may act as a source of encouragement to your baby to help her continue sucking. Pumping can also help your nipples become erect and elongated.
- Bring your baby close to your breast and ensure skin-to-skin contact to give your baby the chance to latch on her own.
- Take out the nipple shield in the middle of breastfeeding or when alternating breasts to train your baby to latch on her own.
- Try out different nursing positions to see the one your baby is most comfortable in. This may improve the weaning process.
- Breastfeed your baby more frequently, and don’t wait till she cries for food. It is easier to wean your baby when she’s calm and quiet than when she is fussy and crying.
- You may apply ice to your nipple to harden it and make it more erect and elongated for your baby to help her latch and breastfeed.
- Offer your breast without the shield first, and keep trying till your baby becomes comfortable with it. Don’t give up or let your baby get frustrated with breastfeeding without the shield. With time, your baby will get used to it and begin to breastfeed without the shield.
In my practice, I have had moms tell me that they cut the tip of the nipple shield to help their baby wean. This is not only wrong, but can be dangerous to your baby. Due to the nature of the nipple shield, cutting the tip will only leave sharp edges that may inflict injuries to your baby while trying to breastfeed. I strongly recommend that you try one of the steps listed above to safely help your baby wean from the nipple shield, and avoid curing the nipple shield.
When to Call the Doctor
When using the shield, it is important that you monitor your little one for signs that show she’s not getting enough milk and know when to call the doctor.
You should call the doctor if you notice the following:
- Your baby losing weight
- Your baby not urinating or defecating enough (having a dry diaper for over 6 hours)
- Having sore or cracked nipples even with the nipple shield
- When your baby is still unable to latch after trying everything
A nipple shield is a great device that has helped moms that are unable to establish breastfeeding naturally to feed their little ones adequately. However, it is important to know that your baby will still need to learn to latch on to the nipple on their own, so it is important to know how to wean your baby off it. Weaning your baby is a difficult task, but it’s worth it in the end.
Nancy M.D. is a health practitioner, pediatrician and medical writer, who is dedicated to fostering awareness, and lending a helping hand to humanity at large.