Here at Back to Mom, we LOVE nipple shields and know they can save a breastfeeding journey that may have ended early. If you are considering using a nipple shield, it will help you be more successful if you know some of the negative effects they may have on your ability to breastfeed. So we've put together this list of some of the most common problems women experience while using a nipple shield as well as some tips on how to overcome those problems.
Nipple shields can often make it harder for your baby to transfer milk. Because the milk is not allowed to flow as freely as it can straight from the nipple, babies have to work a little harder. Also, without direct contact, a mother’s letdown can take a little longer to trigger. Because of this, feeding with nipple shields can take much longer. Sitting and snuggling your baby while you feed is great but let’s face it, sometimes you just don’t have to time to sit for 30+ minutes to feed your baby. To help your milk flow more freely and quickly, you can try breast compressions, warm compresses or even lactation massagers.
Low milk supply
This goes hand in hand with the previous item on the list. Because feedings can take slower and the baby has to work harder, often times the breast is not fully emptied. Because of this, the body is not signaled to make as much milk so slowly over time it can cause your supply to dip. You can overcome this by allowing your baby extra time to feed to make sure your breast is fully emptied. Again, you can also use breast compressions to encourage the milk to flow easily. We offer additional information about Keeping Your Milk Supply Up While Using a Nipple Shield here.
Loss of direct contact
Loss of direct contact is behind many of the common problems with nipple shields. Direct nipple stimulation helps trigger your body to make more breastmilk. There is also important signaling that happens between your baby’s mouth and your nipple. Each time your baby feeds, a small amount of their saliva enters your nipple. Your amazing body samples that saliva and recognizes if there are signs that your baby has a virus or infection. Your body takes that info and adjusts your breastmilk composition to provide your baby with antibodies and other help to fight off their illness. Incredible right! Nipple shields can block that important contact but you can try our open-ended nipple shield to allow your nipple some protection while allowing direct contact.
Sometimes it’s hard to get nipples shields to stick and stay still while you are feeding. It’s hard to keep your baby happy if every time they latch the shield is sliding all over. There are things you can do to help your nipple shield stick and we share a few of them in this article about keeping your nipple shield from moving around.
Exactly that, nipple shields are annoying. Not only do they sometimes slip around but they are also an extra thing to wash, sanitize and keep track of. It is absolutely no fun when you have a screaming baby and you can’t find your nipple shield or you go out to run some errands and your baby wants to eat but you forgot the shield at home. We have a great tips in our Nipple Shield Hacks blog post that can help with some of these annoying problems.
Blisters on end
Some women with more elastic nipples experience their nipple being pulled all the way to the end of the shield where parts of their nipples is sucked through the holes. This can cause painful little bumps or blisters on the end of their nipple every time they feed. It can cause your milk flow to slow and make it even harder for baby to transfer milk. The Back to Mom open-ended nipple shields can be perfect to solve this problem so your nipple has space to extend through the end of the shield while giving your baby something solid to latch to and providing coverage for the majority of your nipple.
Clogged ducts are mainly caused by the breast not being fully emptied. Because using a nipple shield can make it harder for babies to transfer milk, often times the breast is not fully emptied. This causes milk to settle in the ducts and the fat can build up and harden causing a clog. Clogged ducts can be painful and can lead to mastitis if not alleviated quickly.
This goes again with some babies having a hard time emptying the breast when using a nipple shield. Not fully emptying the breast can cause a backup and clogged duct. To avoid experiencing clogged ducts it’s important to allow baby to feed long enough to empty your breast. You can also do breast compressions and massage while feeding and even use a lactation massager.
Babies becoming dependent on nipple shields is probably the most common problem with nipple shields. Babies are habitual and experience so much of life through their mouths in their first days, weeks and months. This causes them to really latch on (pun intended) to one way of feeding. With nipple shields, it gives a very solid protruding smooth surface to latch to vs a natural nipple which may be a bit flatter, less solid and more textured then they’re used to. Luckily, there is hope for getting baby off nipple shields with our Nipple Shield Weaning Kit. There's some great info on how the kit works and how to use the nipple shield weaning kit here.
Hide underlying issues
Often times, women begin using nipple shields because of pain they are experiencing in the first days and weeks of feeding. While it’s great to be able to continue to breastfeed pain free, the shield can also mask an underlying issue. If the pain in the beginning was caused because of a lip or tongue tie, when you go to wean your baby off nipple shields, you will likely begin experiencing that same pain. It’s important to consult a lactation specialist when using a nipple shield so they can diagnose any underlying issues and get them fixed early on.
Cause additional latch issues like shallow latch
Because nipple shields give a solid protruding nipple to latch to, a baby doesn’t need as deep of a latch. Over time, baby can get used to this shallow latch so when you take away the shield, baby continues to have a shallow latch. This can cause you pain as well as making it hard for baby to stay latched and to transfer milk from your natural nipple. You can work to deepen the latch but it definitely requires extra effort and can be a frustrating process for you and baby. Working with a lactation consultant will help you overcome this issue and deepen baby's latch.
In conclusion, nipple shields definitely have their downside but each point can be overcome with proper use and knowledge. When it's between continuing to breastfeed or stopping, they are a great tool that should be used.
Check out our additional articles about breastfeeding with nipple shields: