As a CLC, one of the most common questions I get regarding nipple shields is, "When can I wean my baby off the nipple shields?"
Most of the time, the answer is as soon as possible. The longer you use nipple shields with your baby, the harder it is, and the longer it takes to wean them off. Of course, it depends on why you started using a nipple shield in the first place.
With that, there are a few reasons to hold off on weaning your baby off the nipple shield:
- Suppose your baby is a preemie and is still too small to latch properly without the shield. In that case, continuing to use the shield is necessary.
- The same goes if your baby has a diagnosed tongue tie or some other condition causing a poor latch. It's best to work with a lactation specialist and your pediatrician to resolve that issue before subjecting your nipples to improper latch, which can cause long-term damage.
- Another exception would be if you have severely inverted nipples. Nipple shields allow moms with inverted nipples to provide something for the baby to latch to. A bonus is that usually, over time, the act of the baby pulling your nipple into the shield will help correct them and elongate them. It's important to ensure your nipples have elongated enough so the baby has a proper nipple to latch on to. IMPORTANT NOTE: Breastfeeding IS possible with inverted nipples, but it's essential to work with a lactation specialist and make sure the baby is closely monitored by a pediatrician to ensure proper weight gain.
If none of the above exceptions apply to you, then you can begin weaning your baby off the nipple shield. The earlier you start the process, the better, as the process will likely be more straightforward.
Here are some tips that will help you prepare to get started with the weaning process:
- Don't plan to start weaning if there is going to be something that disrupts your usual schedule i.e. going on vacation or visiting family etc.
- Spend a few days doing skin-to-skin leading up to starting the weaning process.
- Mentally prepare yourself, as the weaning process can be frustrating and lengthy, but remember not to be hard on yourself about it. Sometimes, it feels like you'll take 2 steps forward and 1 step back, but give yourself and your baby grace through the process.
- Follow the Back to Mom method as it's the best and fastest way to wean the baby off nipple shields. Use the Back to Mom kit.