Can nipple shields help with breastfeeding problems?

Many women turn to nipple shields when they're having breastfeeding problems, but it actually can cause more issues. Here's what you need to know before using one.

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Nipple shields are protective silicone covers worn over the nipple during nursing. They’re generally considered an interim solution to breastfeeding problems, which can be caused by flat or inverted nipples, or difficulty latching. They should be used with follow-up from a healthcare professional, says Pam Davey, a certified doula and registered lactation consultant in Edmonton.

Some women try nipple shields in the hopes they will relieve breastfeeding pain, but that isn’t the best idea. “Nipple shields often don’t help mothers with sore nipples and may even cause more damage and pain because the baby just ends up sucking at the tip of the shield,” says Frances Jones, a lactation specialist and coordinator of the milk bank at BC Women’s Hospital in Vancouver. She stresses the importance of seeking help to correct latch issues.

If you’re using nipple shields because you’ve been advised to by a healthcare professional, look for some made of thin, clear silicone, which you can find at most mom-and-baby supply shops. Some even have a cutout to allow more skin-to-skin contact A woman breastfeeding her baby7 foods to increase breast milk production

Make sure your baby is still latching deeply to the breast—his mouth should be open wide and his lips and cheeks should be touching the breast, not sliding back and forth on the shield. And be sure that he’s getting enough milk with the shield on. Davey says your baby should have at least six really wet diapers in every 24-hour period. If the shield isn’t worn correctly and there isn’t enough milk getting to your baby, he may become hungry and fussy. It also puts you at greater risk for lowered milk supply, plugged ducts and mastitis. 

How to put on a nipple shield 
To put on a nipple shield, turn the rim inside out. Place the tip (which is not inside out) over your nipple, then pull down the rim. “As you pull the edges of the shield over your breast, it will draw your nipple fully into the nipple of the shield,” explains Davey.

Read more:
How to use a breast pump
How to treat and prevent milk blisters

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