Should you use a nipple shield to solve your latch pain problems?

 

Have you been having nipple pain, and are wondering if a nipple shield is the right choice for you? In this blog, I'll tell you what need to know before making the decision about whether or not a nipple shield is right for you

TLDR VERSION

Nipple shields can be helpful, but they can also come with a tradeoff. 

They almost always make the quality of the latch worse, even if they end latch pain, and you may get stuck using it.

Before jumping to using a nipple shield for latch pain, make sure you rule out that it isn't positioning causing the pain in the first place.

If you do decide it is right for you, make sure you get one that fits you well. 

 

A nipple shield is just a tool that can be used to help make feeding better in the right situation, but just like you want to don't want to use a hammer on a screw, you want to make sure that a nipple shield is the right choice too. 

A nipple shield is a tool that's used for 3 reasons.  

1. A baby can't get the initial latch onto the breast.

This is the most common reason nipple shields are given out, and generally why they are given out at the hospital.

1. A baby has weak muscles in the mouth

A nipple shield makes it easier for them to stay latched onto the breast.

3. Painful Latching

Breastfeeding hurts so much that your nipples are getting damaged or you are going to stop doing something you otherwise want to do.

In this blog post, I'm going to focus on number 3.

If you are considering a nipple shield because your nipples are physically damaged, that can make a ton of sense as a way to stop the damage from getting worse or to help your nipples heal, but the most important thing you need to do is to address why you were getting the pain in the first place.

For lots of people, the pain is happening because of how you are latching, and without changing that, you may end up right back where you began once your nipples are healed. 

If you are stroking your nipple down your baby's mouth, and they are chewing your nipple into their mouth, it's the force from the bite that is causing your damage and pain.

When you use a nipple shield, that can spread out the force a bit, but stop the damage from happening, and while this seems like a no-brainer, there is a tradeoff.

It’s really hard for a baby to get a deep latch on a nipple shield because they stick out farther from your nipple and most babies end up chewing them into their mouth. You end up reinforcing that same behavior that caused the pain in the first place, and it creates a loop that you can’t really get out of very easily, and you can get stuck using the nipple shield for a long time.

Expert Tip:

Getting your baby to open wide before your nipple goes into their mouth is a magical fix for nipple pain, even when there is some damage, even if you have been told your baby has a tongue tie.

If latching hurts you, it's probably because the approach to latching you are using for your baby isn't working for you guys, and a different approach may make all the difference in the world, and then you won't need the nipple shield anymore anyway.

Click this link to get my free latching E-book to help you understand how use your baby’s reflexes to get a better latch.

 

If you are giving me the side-eye about this and still plan on using a nipple shield, I do not blame you. I know how much it hurts when latching isn't working.

If you have worked on latching, and it still hurts you, here's what you need to know so it's easier to break out of the nipple shield cycle when it's time.

👉 You want one that is soft.

Some nipple shields are softer than others, and you want one that is soft.

The nipple shield provides a different sensory input to your baby's mouth, and if they get conditioned for the firm feeling, it can make it harder for their brain to notice a softer feel.

The Medela nipple shields are really firm. I'd avoid those.

Some widely available softer ones that I use are Lansinoh, PurifyYou, Mamivac and Maymom. These are available on Amazon.... is definitely not an extensive list. Other shields may be soft too. 

 

👉It needs to fit your body.

You want to measure your nipples to make sure you get close to the right fit.

You can do that in exactly the same way you would measure your nipples for a pump flange, instead of staying the same size or going down, you probably want to go up 1-2 mm. It will stay on a bit better.

The average nipple is 17-19 mm, so your best fit with the nipple shield is probably a 19-21.

Fitting these things is an art, not a science, so you'll have to experiment to get your best size.

The smaller they are, the shorter they are, and the easier it's going to be for your baby to get more of the nipple shield - and your breast - in their mouth.

You can get a free downloadable ruler to measure your nipples by clicking this link. 

👉Put it on by flipping it inside out first.

When you are putting a nipple shield on, you want to make sure you flip it back onto itself (you can see this in the video above) before putting it on.

That will help to get more of your nipple into the shield, and it will help them stay on better.

You can try adding a tiny bit of breastmilk or water to the rim of the nipple shield to help it stay but the truth is that there are just some breast tissues where they simply don't stay very well.

👉Pay attention to how you latch.

And finally, remember that nipple shields can reinforce the same latching problems that caused the damage in the first place, you just may not realize it because it doesn't hurt.

So, you really really want to pay attention to your mechanics when latching and make sure your baby opens wide, and comes up and over your nipple when latching. And if you aren't sure how, make sure you get the ebook in the link above. 

To Recap

Nipple shields are tools that can be really helpful under the right circumstances but also have some negative tradeoffs because they can reinforce inefficient latching and cause behaviors that can make you get stuck using them.

Before you jump right to using a nipple shield, make sure you are latching in a way that helps your baby open wide so it reduces pain and damage so you can make sure that it is actually the tool you need.

THE GENTLE LATCHING™ GUIDE

Learn how to be painfree by bedtime. 

 

The Gentle Latching™ Guide will help you learn how to how to position your baby to help them use their innate reflexes to get a better latch that doesn't hurt, so you can put your latching woes behind you. 

Get the Guide