There is a lot of mixed opinions about the use of nipple shields. Some are against them, some say the negatively effect your supply, and some say they are a life saver. I am in the life saver camp.
What is a nipple shield? A nipple shield is a soft flexible silicone nipple that is worn over the mother’s nipple while nursing the baby.
When Bunny was born she immediately nursed. When we were in the hospital, the Lactation Consultant said Bunny’s latch was good and she was doing well. We were discharged from the hospital and went to the well baby check the next day. Bunny was loosing weight. Too much weight. The Lactation Consultant decided to investigate Bunny’s latch and mouth to see what was going on. When Bunny was 3 days old we discovered she had a tongue tie. We were able to clip her tongue tie that day, but the ENT didn’t clip it as far as we would have liked. Because of that, Bunny and I started using a nipple shield. Tongue-tie (ankyloglossia) is a condition that restricts the tongue’s range of motion. With tongue-tie, an unusually short, thick or tight band of tissue (lingual frenulum) tethers the bottom of the tongue’s tip to the floor of the mouth. A person who has tongue-tie might have difficulty sticking out his or her tongue. Tongue-tie can also affect the way a child eats, speaks and swallows, as well as interfere with breast-feeding.
The nipple shield was supposed to be a short term solution. We saw a Lactation Consultant every few days. Bunny wasn’t able to latch without the nipple shield. The Lactation Consultant said Bunny had a small pallet (mouth) and still had a minor tongue tie. Because of these two issues, Bunny still needed the nipple shield to sustain her latch. Bunny was able to latch without the nipple shield, but because of her high pallet and her tongue tie, it was too much work and she could only nurse for a few seconds. The nipple shield allowed Bunny to continue nursing.
When Bunny was 10 months old and still not able to nurse without the nipple shield, I saw another Lactation Consultant and asker her if she thought Bunny had a lip tie. This Lactation Consultant agreed with me that Bunny did in fact have a lip tie. Inside your mouth, there is a small fold of tissue which runs between your upper lip and gum (you can feel it with your tongue). This is called the maxillary labial frenulum (or frenum). Most people have no significant frenulum attachment, but sometimes this frenulum attaches further down the gum, or runs between the front teeth and attaches behind them, causing restricted movement of the upper lip. It’s similar to tongue tie, but involving the upper lip and gum instead. Often times the lip tie will effect the positioning of the upper teeth, causing a gap.
Tongue ties often occur in conjunction with lip ties. I was very sad and disappointed that the first Lactation Consultant missed the lip tie when Bunny was 3 days old. Because Bunny was 10 months old when the lip tie was noticed, the procedure to correct her lip tie would involve her being put under anesthesia. Neither I nor My Love were comfortable with Bunny having the procedure done. We decided to wait until Bunny was older to have her lip tie corrected. The procedure would still be unpleasant, but at least she would be old enough to somewhat understand what was happening and why. Luckily, when Bunny was 14 months old, she fell and split her lip tie by herself. I wish the first Lactation Consultant caught the lip tie when she saw the tongue tie.
When using the nipple shield correctly, there should be no supply issue. There are those who are concerned about your supply dropping if you use a nipple shield. The contact nipple shield allows the baby to touch the breast, which helps your milk supply to increase in the early days and weeks, and helps your milk supply to be maintained in the later months.
In my experience, using the nipple shield did not decrease my milk supply. I would make sure the nipple shield was on correctly, that there was good milk transfer (I could see milk inside the nipple shield), and that my breasts were soft after Bunny nursed. You do need to make sure your baby’s latch is correct when using a nipple shield. It is a tool to help, not a replacement for good positioning and latch.
Using the nipple shield was very frustrating for me in the beginning. I was frustrated that I could not nurse without it. I was frustrated when it fell off. I was frustrated that I had to use the nipple shield to nurse Bunny. I was frustrated that I had to take the nipple shield with me everywhere I went.
I was frustrated that I wasn’t actually nursing my baby. That I needed this piece of plastic to do something that was supposed to be so natural. It took me a long time to get over this feeling. I hated nursing Bunny in public because I was afraid someone would see the nipple shield. I was afraid I would be looked down upon. Eventually I stopped caring what other people thought. I was nursing my baby. I was fighting every single day to make the best choice I could for Bunny. I hated the nipple shield, but at the same time I loved it. I loved that the nipple shield was able to allow Bunny and I to nurse. To this day, we still use the nipple shield.
Bunny is now 18 months old. We still use the nipple shield. Bunny is able to nurse without it and sometimes does. I think it is more of a comfort object for her now. Using the nipple shield is normal to Bunny, she doesn’t need it but I am glad it was (and is) there when we needed (need) it.
I did end up buying 2 nipple shields so I could always have a clean one. I would use one, clean it and let it dry, and while it was drying I would use the second one. This was also helpful for the middle of the night when I would loose the nipple shield in the dark.
If you are using a nipple shield, please know that it can be a long term solution. If there are circumstances where using a nipple shield makes your nursing relationship better, or even possible, embrace the nipple shield! Be thankful we have this wonderful technology. It took me a long time to do that, but once I did, I was much happier.
The nipple shield we used was the Medela contact nipple shield. You can find this nipple shield at Target, Buy Buy Baby, and most hospitals.