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Nipple Shields: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Nipple Shields: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

nipple shield breastfeeding lactation support

A nipple shield is a therapeutic breastfeeding tool that is often used to aid with latch for a variety of problems. It is estimated that nipple shields have been around for hundreds of years, and they have come a long way in design.  Nipple shields are now manufactured to be thin and flexible, and most are made of silicone.   


Many moms are given a nipple shield in the hospital but are given limited education on the pros and cons of using a nipple shield. Although nipple shields may be a useful tool in certain situations, they also may cause challenges. Nipple shields create a barrier, may exacerbate latch issues when mom attempts to go back to direct breastfeeding, and they can lead to poor milk transfer and decrease mom’s milk supply.  


The Good - Nipple Shields are a useful tool when they are indicated. These cases most likely involve a premature infant, breast anatomy issues like flat or inverted nipples and infant oral anatomy issues that make achieving a proper latch more difficult. They also may be indicated when attempts to get an infant back to breast have failed. As well, in an instance where mom is about to give up on breastfeeding all together due to pain/soreness, they can be used to help mom heal and establish a positive relationship at the breast. In all these cases, it is best to have the infant followed by a Lactation Consultant.


The Bad - Nipple shields need to be fitted properly to be effective. It is good to meet with a Lactation Consultant when considering a nipple shield. Infants tend to have a shallower latch when using the shield which may exacerbate the underlying issue. Nipple shields can lead to poor milk transfer and inadequate emptying of the breast which in turn decreases mom’s milk supply and may cause issues like plugged ducts and mastitis.


The Ugly - When poor milk transfer and inadequate emptying continue for any length of time, this can lead to low weight gain in the infant and decreased milk supply for mom. These problems become more difficult to correct a month or two down the road. Additionally, weaning from the nipple shield takes time and patience.  


Now back to the Good News!! -  The lactation team at Annapolis Pediatrics is happy to work with any breastfeeding families to evaluate whether a nipple shield is indicated. The lactation team will educate, help correct underlying latch issues, prevent soreness, and pain for mom, and work to establish a positive experience for the breastfeeding family. Additionally, the team will also follow moms when nipple shields are indicated to help protect supply, promote adequate milk transfer, and eventually help wean off the shield if possible. 


If you have any additional questions related to nipple shields or breastfeeding, call our office to discuss with a nurse or make a lactation specific appointment with one of our Lactation Consultants. 

We also invite you to attend one of our Breastfeeding education classes - Breastfeeding Adventures (prenatal and newborn) and/or our Breastfeeding Support Group (new parents). Register to join us for our next event directly on our "Classes and Events' page: