Nipple shields have been used in one form or another for over 500 years! Early nipple shield were made of:
- Silver - Can you imagine your baby latching on to a silver nipple cover??
- Wood - Ouch...watch for splinters!
- Lead - We all now know the dangers of this material to brain development.
- Pewter - Similar in texture to the silver and must have tasted terrible.
- Animal skins - Probably the softest and maybe the most helpful.
- Ivory - Very high class but very rigid and I wonder how hard they must have been to make. Poor elephants!
Fast forward to the 20th Century and we started to make nipple shields from rubber, latex and now silicone. They have come a long way for baby and are much thinner now than ever before.
We hear a lot about the possibility of nipple shield use reducing milk transfer. This most likely comes from a 1980 study which had this finding. The thing is that the nipple shields being used in 1980 and those being used today are quite different. The much thinner silicone shield allows for much more feeling for mother and thus less reduction in milk transfer and production. Some shields also have a cut out for the babies nose and this tends to aid in that touch component.
We recently asked a group of moms why they used a nipple shield and these were some of their responses (paraphrased):
- We used it for a few days when baby wouldn't latch. I think it kept baby at the breast.
- My baby was premature and it helped him to latch. We then found a tongue tie once he was bigger. We were able to stop using the shield once it was clipped.
- We tried the nipple shield due to a tongue tie but my baby didn't like it.
- I used a nipple shield because my nipples were flat/inverted at first. We weaned off around 3 months. I wish we had tried sooner.
- I had flat nipples and the shield helped my baby to latch.
- My nipples were very damaged and the shield helped my nipples to finally heal. We used the shield for several months but now have weaned from it.
Why Use a Nipple Shield?
Nipple shields can be a great tool if used with common sense. Good reasons include:
- Flat or Inverted Nipples - Many moms have no clue that their nipples are flat or inverted until they have a baby. A shield can assist with early latching. Note: Some babies have no trouble with latching on a flat or inverted nipple!
- Premature Baby - Nipple shields are commonly used for these babies who struggle to latch. The shield is often the only way that these babies can maintain suction. They can be a tool that saves this breastfeeding relationship.
- Babies who prefer the bottle - When baby has been given a bottle in the hospital and is sent home not nursing a nipple shield can feel closer to a bottle nipple in baby's mouth and can help to transition baby back to the breast.
- Damaged Nipples - Some mommas have nipples that really take a beating in the early days of breastfeeding. A nipple shield can be just enough of a barrier to help mom heal her nipples for a few days to get baby back to directly nursing.
- Tongue Tie - Some families choose not to revise a tongue tie. A nipple shield can be the only way that baby will nurse until their mouth gets larger/stronger or until their tongue does stretch a bit. (There are lots of schools of thought here. Not offering an opinion just a reason for the shield use).
Ultimately, there are usually underlying circumstances for which a nipple shield is being used. It is imperative that families visit with a trained lactation professional to figure out what is going on and to make sure that we take care of those issues. Long term nipple shield use may be a challenge. Often babies will not take a nipple shield as they get older. Carrying a nipple shield with you at all times can be stressful and putting one on with ease before latching baby in public can also cause mom undue stress.
- To find a qualified lactation professional, you can visit the International Lactation Consultant Association website.
- When using a nipple shield, it is important to make sure you are offering lots of skin to skin time for baby.
- Make sure you are attempting to latch baby directly at the breast often. Here is a helpful video on latch.