Hey! My name is Jaimie and I am so excited that Kristeen invited me to post as a guest on Making Most!
I am a stay at home mom of two boys, ex-nurse, aspiring photographer, and Certified Breastfeeding Specialist, working toward becoming an IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant). It is my passion to ensure that families who want to breastfeed have the education and support to reach their goals. Motherhood can be very lonely, at times, especially when we struggle in the early postpartum period. But no mother should have to struggle alone or in silence! We’ve all been there and we should all lift each other up! My mission is to encourage, support, and love you.
I wanted to take this opportunity to share some information regarding a unique tool that many breastfeeding mothers stumble across in their breastfeeding journey.
Have you heard of a nipple shield?
If you’re a breastfeeding mom, odds are you have. But if you’re preparing to breastfeed, you may not have ever heard of this little contraption. Nipple shields are a thin silicone shield that a mom applies to her breast (over the nipple/areola) to aid with latching issues. These tools are available at many big box stores, and are often provided in the hospital. Many moms find themselves using a nipple shield, but admit they had little guidance or advice on proper usage and weaning. This is a major concern, but we can save that conversation for another day and another time. I personally used a nipple shield for around a month when battling my bigger little bear’s (undiagnosed at the time) tongue and lip tie issues. Pain, nipple damage, issues latching, weight loss, and so on. It was a long road and the shield was mildly useful for us. I know some mothers who have used them an entire year to reach their breastfeeding goals, and others, yet, who have had their nursing relationship sabotaged by the nipple shield trap. Wait, what? Trap?! A tool that is supposed to HELP can HURT? Unfortunately, Nipple shields are not void of risk and there are some important things you must know before using a nipple shield.
- Incorrect Use of a Nipple Shield Can Sabotage Breastfeeding
Breast milk production is a supply and demand mechanism. It requires milk to be effectively removed from the breast, to produce more milk. Using a nipple shield reduces contact with the nipple/breast and makes stimulation more difficult. Additionally, some babies who have latch issues, could have trouble transferring milk, even with a shield. In both scenarios, milk is not leaving the breast efficiently, and therefore the body is signaled to slow production.
- You Still Need Work on Proper Latching
If your child requires a nipple shield for latching, odds are you will want to wean off eventually. It is important to remember that babies breastfeed. They don’t nipple feed. Although the nipple is more pronounced, and therefore more easily latchable, it is imperative to ensure they are still getting a deep latch to the breast. Not ensuring this can lead to the supply issues we already talked about. Furthermore, it can make it harder to transition off of the shield as they will have to learn a new way to latch. This is similar to the nipple confusion phenomenon.
- Use the Correct Size
Just like when you are pumping, and need to ensure a proper flange size, it is important to ensure you use a nipple shield that is the proper size for you and your baby. There are a variety of brands with different size nipples to accommodate different baby’s needs. If your nipple shield doesn’t fit your nipple properly, it increases the risk of issues. Too small and you can incur nipple damage, to large and you may not get enough stimulation to supply the milk.
- Weaning Off the Shield
Weaning IS possible but it takes a lot of time and patience. A solid approach to weaning would be to start feeds with the shield and end without it, working your way up to a full feed without the shield. Unfortunately this process is not one size fits all and I encourage you to go with the flow and find a method that works for you.
- Avoid Yeast Growth
This goes without saying, but you need to keep the nipple shield in good condition! Keeping it clean and dry prevents growth of bacteria AND reduces the risk of thrush. Unfortunately, if shields are not carefully cared for and stored, they can be a breeding ground for yeast, and no one likes to have a yeast infection on their nipples. But that’s a whole separate conversation in itself.
- Work With a Lactation Consultant
The biggest take away and most important piece of advice I can give is to ensure you are working with a lactation consultant until you have weaned off the shield. Too often, postpartum nurses give moms nipple shields with good intentions, little instruction, and no follow up. Baby must be monitored for healthy weight gain and mom’s supply must be monitored to ensure healthy establishment. Working with a Lactation Consultant can help any dyad figure out THEIR specific approaches and plan of care. The lactation consultant can help with all of the issues mentioned above. Furthermore, if your baby requires a nipple shield, there is a chance there could be an underlying issue and the shield fixes the symptom, not the problem. A lactation consultant can help determine and manage any latch or oral structure challenges.
Sometimes mothers do not have access to a lactation consultant. If this is your situation, please look into other local nursing support. It’s there! Organizations like La Leche League International, Breastfeeding USA, and many more are free to mothers and offer a wealth of information and support. Some hospitals will even have breastfeeding support groups.
Did you use a nipple shield during your breastfeeding journey at all? Did you feel you were properly educated with it, or did you feel unprepared and confused? What about your experience weaning from the shield? Share your story!