A nipple shield is a thin flexible silicone cover, placed over the nipple before baby attaches. It has holes to allow milk to flow through.
The shield is shaped like a hat with a brim and a crown. Some shields have cut-out sections around the brim that allows your baby's nose and/or chin to touch your skin rather than the nipple shield.
When is a nipple shield used?
A nipple shield may be suggested for a variety of reasons and when other options have not worked to fix the nipple or attachment problem. A nipple shield is usually only used once your milk has 'come in', often around day 2 to 6 after the birth. In most cases, you only need to use a nipple shield for a short time.
Breastfeeding experts have different opinions about nipple shields and when/if they should be tried. Some of the reasons for using them include:
sore, damaged nipples
attachment issues (e.g. flat or inverted nipples, baby having mouth variations such as a high palate or because of being premature)
a baby learning to feed at the breast after using a bottle.
Concerns with the use of a nipple shield
The older types of shields were made of hard plastic or thick rubber. This affected how well a baby could drain the breast and so a mum’s milk supply could reduce over time.
With the newer thin silicone nipple shields, this doesn't happen as much. However, your baby may still take a little longer to feed than they would without it, as the nipple shield will still slow the flow a bit.
If your baby’s attachment is still not great, then they may not get as much milk. It's important to check the signs that your baby is getting enough.
How to use a nipple shield
Nipple shields come in different shapes and sizes and you need to have the right one for you and your baby. A shield that isn't suitable will damage your nipples further.
You will also need to learn how to use the nipple shield properly. Have a face-to-face consultation with a lactation consultant, breastfeeding counsellor or doctor who is a lactation expert. They will help you choose the most suitable nipple shield and make sure your baby is well attached with it.