Breastfeeding can sometimes be complicated. Even with all the right preparation and knowledge, your baby might have trouble latching or you may struggle to find the best nursing position. Having a support system to lean on and tools—like a nipple shield—can make all the difference.
Nipple shields are one of those breastfeeding essentials that can help if you’re off to a bumpy start, particularly if your baby is experiencing latch-on difficulties. Here’s everything you ever wanted to know about nipple shields for breastfeeding.
What are Nipple Shields?
Nipple shields are silicone devices designed to resemble a nipple. You place the nipple shield directly over your own nipple, where it can serve two functions: 1) it can help draw your nipple out, making it easier for your baby to latch or 2) it can help “give” the baby something to latch on to in the event that you have flat or inverted nipples. The tip of the shield has holes that allow for milk to pass through as your baby feeds.
Who Should Use a Nipple Shield?
Not every breastfeeding mom will need a nipple shield, but they can be lifesavers during the early days of breastfeeding a newborn. These devices work best for moms facing specific breastfeeding difficulties, like:
- Inverted, flat or short nipples
- Latching problems, particularly if trying to nurse a premature baby
- An oversupply of breastmilk, which can cause a forceful letdown while baby feeds
- Sore or cracked nipples
- Trouble transitioning from bottle to breast
While there are a variety of reasons why you might use a nipple shield, the #1 rule is that you should never use one without being under the guidance of a lactation consultant.
That’s because a nipple shield is really meant to be a short-term solution and a lactation consultant can help you troubleshoot and suggest different nursing methods or techniques that could resolve some of your issues. A lactation consultant can also help you determine what type of nipple shield might be best for you and what size you might need.
Nipple shields come in many different shapes, sizes and designs and the best one for you will depend on your individual needs. To help you get a sense of your options, Truly Mama breaks down some of the best nipple shields for breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding can be painful, especially in the beginning while you and your newborn are getting the hang of it. A nipple shield can help relieve sore or cracked nipples by working as a barrier between your nipple and baby’s mouth, allowing your baby to still breastfeed while giving your nipples some time to recover and heal.
The Philips Avent Nipple Protector is ideal for helping ease the initial discomfort of breastfeeding. Plus, this style offers all the same protection and benefits of softer models, while still being sturdy enough to hold up through multiple uses and washes.
This nipple shield has a cut-out near the tip to encourage skin-to-skin contact while nursing, and its soft silicone material helps mimic the breast. This style is also particularly helpful in transitioning a bottle-feeding baby back to the breast, and although it’s soft and flexible, this shield is sturdy enough for baby to comfortably latch on to. Under the guidance of a lactation consultant, the Ameda Contact Nipple Shield can help resolve latching difficulties and help you reach your breastfeeding goals.
Because this option is a bit softer than other models, you might have trouble getting it to stick or stay in place. If so, try applying warm water underneath the shield before sticking it to your nipple, or you can put some nipple cream on the bottom to help it adhere better.
The Medela Contact Nipple Shield is one of the best nipple shields for breastfeeding and a great choice for those with short nipples. This style gives your baby a bigger area to latch on to by helping to draw out your nipple as your baby feeds. This is also a great option for moms with an overactive letdown that leaves baby sputtering.
The Medela Contact Nipple Shield can help contain the burst of milk your baby may be getting during letdown until your milk supply evens out or baby’s mouth gets bigger and better able to handle the milk flow. Made of BPA-free pure silicone, these shields are also easy to clean—just place it in boiling hot water for five minutes to sanitize. Medela Contact Nipple Shields also comes with a convenient carrying case for storage, making them easy to throw in the diaper bag and bring with you wherever you go.
Designed to gently hug your nipple with ultra-thin material, the Mama Bear Premium Nipple Shield is Truly Mama’s top pick for flat or inverted nipples. These shields stay securely in place, drawing out your nipple as your baby feeds, which can help increase the flow of breast milk.
This option also has a cutout near the tip to allow for skin-to-skin contact during nursing and comes in a set of six so if you happen to misplace one, you have plenty of backups.
The Haakaa Nipple Shield’s unique design allows baby to mimic the natural sucking rhythm of breastfeeding, making it Truly Mama’s top pick for transitioning baby between bottle and breastfeeding.
This shield’s anti-slip ridged edge design also helps keep it in place, and because it’s larger than other models, is easier to hold as baby feeds. The orthodontic shape of the nipple design also helps prevent your break milk from flowing backward as your baby drinks and helps control the flow of milk so your baby doesn’t take in too much air.
Unlike other types of nipple shields, the Haakaa Nipple Shield comes in one size and is large enough to work for nipples of different sizes. You can easily clean this nipple shield by placing it in boiling water for two to three minutes, and the Hakka Nipple Shield also comes with a carrying case for easy storage.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do I know what size nipple shield to get?
A lactation consultant can help you determine the best size for you, but most shields come in sizes ranging from 20 to 24 millimeters in diameter. A common mistake many moms make is to base the nipple shield size off of their baby’s mouth instead of the size of their nipples. A lactation consultant and properly size you for a nipple shield and help you find the best one to fit your needs.
Should I work with a lactation consultant before using a nipple shield for the first time?
Yes! Nipple shields are meant to be a short-term solution, to help you get through some initial breastfeeding challenges and should always be used under the direction and guidance of a lactation consultant or other health care professional.
How do I clean my nipple shields?
Some nipple shields are dishwasher-safe on the top rack (check the instructions for your specific type). But if not, you can sterilize nipple shields by placing them in boiling water for about five minutes. You can also hand wash them in warm, soapy water between uses or sanitize them using a microwave steam bag.
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