Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Should you try a nipple shield for breastfeeding challenges?



Nipple shields are a little known breastfeeding assisting tool that can, if appropriate for your situation, make an enormous difference in a woman's breastfeeding success. I'll tell you my own story:

My twins were born 5 weeks early and were on feeding tubes in the hospital, with donor breastmilk, for the first week of their 15 day stay. I was pumping every three hours to get my milk to come and was able to try to breastfeed once a day. They were so little that it was very hard for them to latch, and their sucks were still not very strong. They were healthy for their gestational age, but they were feeder-growers - they just needed to sleep (to grow) and to be fed without expending their energy (feeding tubes). Once they came off the tubes, the struggle began, and we struggled to get them latched, struggled because it hurt, and it was just a lot. I had the lactation consultant on duty come around quite a few times while we tried to work it out, and finally it was suggested to me to try a nipple shield. A nipple what?

Because I met the recommended use for the shields, they made a remarkable difference for us. I also learned later that both girls had a tongue tie, and this was impacting their ability to latch as well. So for me, nipple shields were what we needed to establish a successful breastfeeding relationship with my girls, I truly believe that.

Nipple shields aren't right for every situation - but might they be right for yours?


What are nipple shields? 


A nipple shield is a thin silicon faux-nipple contraption that allows the baby to latch, but they're latching onto the shield and not directly on to your nipple. The letdown sensation still happens, and the baby learns how to feed from the breast while having a little extra help. This was the way my twins were actually able to breastfeed successfully. This nipple shield from Medela is the one I used and would recommend, if it turns out a nipple shield might be right for you.

Fun fact: An article in Breastfeeding Medicine reports that nipple shield use has been recorded for at least 500 years! Instead of silicon, they were made of wood, metals, or animal skins.

Why would I use one?


Nipple shields are recommended for:

  • Breastfeed a preemie baby
  • Latch difficulties due to physical problem (known or unknown)
  • Flat or inverted nipples
  • Other difficulties that would be suggested by a healthcare provider/lactation consultant. 

How do I get one?


Here's the caveat - it's really recommended that you work closely with your healthcare provider or lactation consultant to see if a nipple shield is right for your situation. They are not supposed to be a permanent fix; nipple shields are a short term aid to help you but ideally you would wean yourself and baby off of nipple shield use.

Nipple shields are sized, and for best results you'd have help figuring out which size is best from someone with experience.

Your midwife/care provider, lactation consultant, or possibly your physician, can meet with you, hear your story, concerns, and desires, and can watch you nurse to see if a nipple shield would be of help to you.

There are pros and cons to using a shield, and if you didn't actually need one but just needed an adjustment to latch, it would not be the best decision.

There is more to pay attention to while you're utilizing a shield, because the shields may impact milk supply and how much baby is able to take in. This article from Kelly Bonyata, IBCLC, of KellyMom, is comprehensive and informative.

Find a board-certified lactation consultant here. Many insurances will cover your visit!

If you think a nipple shield might help you successfully establish breastfeeding, then definitely reach out and advocate for yourself. My goal in sharing this is even if one mom reads this story and reaches out to try one, it might change the game for her. Sometimes it just takes one tweak or change in strategy to make a landslide of a difference.

More Resources:

When to consider nipple shields for nursing from Medela

Comprehensive nipple shield article from Kelly Bonyata, BS, IBCLC- including pros/cons, dos/don'ts, and how to wean from the shield.

Nipple Shields: A Review of the Literature, Breastfeeding Medicine, Dec. 2010


Check out other breastfeeding resources on the blog HERE. 

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