Breastfeeding gadgets are great ” sometimes. Bearing in mind that most breastfeeding problems stem from an incorrect latch, for babies who have problems latching onto the breast, the nipple shield can be a gift. It preserves the breastfeeding relationship until mother and baby learn how to breastfeed. On the other hand, a nipple shield is often given to a mother without adequate instruction on its use, and without telling her how to eventually stop using it. This is when that innocent seeming piece of plastic becomes a hindrance to enjoying breastfeeding your baby.
Two of the biggest concerns with using a nipple shield are whether or not it will impact a mother's milk supply and whether or not baby is getting enough despite the shield in the way. As for milk supply, the theory is that with a barrier between mother and baby (the silicone nipple shield itself), the breast isn't getting the same amount or quality of stimulation it would if the baby was latched on without the shield. The research on this is inconclusive ” older research showed a decrease in supply over time, but older nipple shield were designed differently. More modern shields are thin, and often have a ‘cut-out' to improve skin-to-skin contact between mother and baby. But there's no strong research to show these improvements help mothers to maintain a good milk supply. So, we don't really know if milk supply will be negatively impacted by long-term nipple shield use. For most women, though, milk supply seems to remain stable.
Most babies can transfer milk well with the shield. How can we be sure? By counting wet and dirty nappies (diapers), and keeping track of weight gain. If all of these are normal, baby is getting enough. Another worry – if milk transfer is inadequate, blocked ducts and mastitis are theoretically more likely. Again, there's not a whole lot of evidence for or against this idea when specifically looking at mothers who use a nipple shield.
So if the nipple shield is working for you (it's helping you keep feeding your baby at the breast), your milk supply isn't dwindling, and your baby is having plenty of nappies to indicate that he's getting what he needs, why would you want to quit using it?
Ask any mother who has used a nipple shield and she will tell you that it's not the most convenient breastfeeding aid. Most women find it difficult to breastfeed in public with the nipple shield. You've got to hold it in place and hope the baby doesn't knock it off when latching, while at the same time holding baby and your breast. It's a juggling act. In fact, even when breastfeeding at home, many women find the nipple shield is a nuisance.
If you have decided this is the case for you, consider these 6 tips to make the transition from nipple shield to freedom:
Nipple Shield Quit Tip #1: Offer The Breast First
Babies learn to breastfeed by breastfeeding: every time your baby is hungry, offer the bare breast first. This gives your baby the chance to learn through repetition and association. It also allows him to feel, smell, and taste the breast without a piece of silicone in the way, which will likely awaken his natural inclinations to latch. Try shaping the breast so that it's a little flatter – with your fingers well away from the areola so they don't get in baby's way – to give your baby something firm to grasp. If he starts to fuss and refuses to latch, use the nipple shield for that feeding and try again at the next feeding.
Nipple Shield Quit Tip #2: Be A Trickster
Some babies do better if they're able to satisfy their initial hunger with the nipple shield in place. Then, when the baby pauses for the first time, slide the shield off the nipple and out of baby's mouth as quickly as you can, and offer the breast. Some babies gladly latch right on, not even realizing what you've done.
Nipple Shield Quit Tip #3: Skin To Skin
Believe in the power of skin-to-skin: Spend time skin-to-skin with your baby between feedings. The pressure to get your baby latched and fed is off, and you can enjoy each other without the struggle of getting the baby to the breast. Strip baby down to his diaper, leave your bra on if you need to or take it off if you can, place baby upright between your breasts, wrap a shirt or blanket around the two of you, and relax together. Researchers believe newborns have inborn breastfeeding reflexes that are awakened when baby is placed prone and skin-to-skin with mom. So take advantage of what baby's body is programmed to do. As soon as baby starts rooting, slide him down so that his head is level with your breast, and allow him to self-latch.
Nipple Shield Quit Tip #4: Boost Your Letdown
So that your baby gets an immediate reward for latching, pump or hand express milk to your first let-down before letting baby try to latch. When the milk starts flowing, bring your baby to the breast. Sometimes this is just enough enticement to get baby to open wide and latch. Consider using breast compression if your baby begins to suckle so that he gets a burst of milk, encouraging him to keep going.
Nipple Shield Quit Tip #5: Change Positions
Bounce, sway, change positions! Try nursing in motion ” walk around the room, sit in a rocking chair, bounce on a birthing ball. This may distract and lull your baby into a more productive nursing session. Moms who have problems getting baby to latch also seem to try all sorts of positions. If you've always nursed in a cradle hold, try the football hold or lying down instead. Lay on your back and let your baby lay on top of you. Recline on the couch with baby diagonal across your body, head at breast level. Who knows ” maybe baby is uncomfortable in the position you were using, and that hurt made him not want to feed.
Nipple Shield Quit Tip #6: Get Some Help
Bring in a helper. Work with an IBCLC (international board certified lactation consultant) to be sure your baby is positioned well. The lactation consultant will be able to observe your baby and help you get the best latch possible. A lactation consultant can also help with the original problem that led to the nipple shield in the first place ” or even help you sort out why it was provided if you don't know. Don’t forget, you can always call the Australian Breastfeeding Association’s helpline, for free breastfeeding support over the phone. If you’re from the US, the equivalent is La Leche League. If you don’t have any great breastfeeding books yet, now is the time to invest in one. HERE are the books BellyBelly highly recommends.
What If It Doesn't Work?
Just use the shield for that feeding and try again next time. While you're working on getting rid of the shield keep track of wet and dirty nappies to make sure your baby is still getting enough. As your baby feeds, look and listen for swallows. Let your baby finish feeding on one side before switching to the other breast. Use breast compression to keep your baby breastfeeding longer or to boost the amount of milk baby is getting.
Most of all, keep a positive outlook. Some women use a nipple shield for 6 days, some for 6 weeks, some for 6 months or more. Set your own goals and don't be afraid to amend them. Look at the nipple shield as a sign of success ” not failure ” you are doing your best for your baby.