Were you one of those moms who envisioned a new baby cuddled close to you, content and nursing well? If you’re a mom who thought breastfeeding would come naturally to you and your child but have wound up struggling, you’re not alone.
Breastfeeding is a skill — for both you and your little one. There are many reasons you may be experiencing hiccups in your nursing adventure. Some reasons may include a tongue tie and supply issues.
A common reason — and one that’s easy to address — is simply that your newborn has a small mouth and difficulty latching. If latching has been a problem for your baby, you may want to consider using a nipple shield. Here, we’ll look at why — and the best nipple shield that’s right for you.
Why Use Nipple Shields?
Nipple shields are thin pieces of silicone or rubber that cover the nipple while still allowing your baby to nurse (1). They’re soft, so they can conform well to your breast and don’t interfere with natural sucking or nipple stimulation. A small hole in the tip — quite like in a bottle — allows your baby access to your milk.
They may help take out some of the difficulty of nursing for you and your child. You can worry less about shaping your breast for easy milk consumption. Your baby will also be able to take breaks from nursing and relatch easily.
However, using shields may not be the right solution for you and your baby. If you’re experiencing difficulty nursing, and think shields could help you, discuss using them with your care provider or a professional lactation consultant.
With help, you can determine if they will work for you. While every situation is different, there are a few common reasons new moms use them for breastfeeding.
- Unusual nipple shape, especially for the flat or inverted nipple: While a flat or inverted nipple is quite normal and functional, it’s more difficult for a child to latch onto (2). This is especially true for small newborns who don’t have the skill or strength to compensate for this nipple shape (3).
- Premature babies: While the future’s still bright for preemies, they don’t have the benefit of those extra weeks of growth in the womb. Nipple shields can help make their job of nursing easier and help them grow and thrive (4).
Advantages and Disadvantages
Shields can help ease the stress of breastfeeding — for both you and your child. While there are clear benefits to using them, it doesn’t come without drawbacks.
- They can help you avoid transitioning to formula before you or your baby are ready.
- Using them can help your struggling nurser get more milk than they would otherwise.
- They can help a preemie baby transition from using a bottle to using the breast.
- If you have a baby who’s been struggling to latch, your nipples may be suffering. Cracked and bleeding nipples can be given a reprieve through the use of nipple shields.
- They can make it difficult for the baby to fully empty the breast during nursing sessions. You’ll need to take extra care to avoid mastitis, an infection in the breast (5).
- Without the normal stimulation that accompanies nursing, your milk supply may decrease.
- It can be difficult to get your baby to accept the breast without a nipple shield after you’ve used one.
You will need to weigh the pros and cons of using shields with your care provider. While frequently used as a last resort, there are obvious benefits to their use. Under the guidance of your doctor or lactation consultant, you can use them successfully for your struggling nurser (6).
Tips for Using Nipple Shields
Using shields may not make your nursing experience perfect, but they can help. The following tips can help make your journey a little easier.
- Only use them under the direction of a licensed care provider: They can help you make sure your shield is situated properly. Using one incorrectly can lead to a lack of supply. Once used to it, doing it independently should get easier.
- Monitor your baby’s wet diapers: Making sure your baby is passing urine regularly will help you know for sure your baby is getting all the milk they need.
- Nipple shields come in multiple sizes: For them to be truly effective, you’ll need to have them sized correctly to your breast. Consult your professional for an accurate fitting.
- Address any lingering fullness you feel in your breasts immediately: As fully emptying the ducts is difficult while using a shield, you’ll need to be diligent about avoiding mastitis. Be prepared to pump after nursing sessions.
- It may be recommended you use the shield for only the beginning of your nursing session: Some of this will depend on the age, size, and nursing capability of your child. Work closely with your provider for optimal results.
The Best Nipple Shield Reviews of 2020
Now that you know a little more about nipple shields, here are a few on the market you may want to consider.
1. Medela Nipple Shield
Medela is one of the front-runners in the breastfeeding industry. Their complete line of pumps and nursing accessories come highly recommended. If you’ve tried a traditionally-shaped shield and hated it, this one may change your mind.
The unique half-moon shape of this shield keeps a portion of the breast uncovered. This is where the baby’s nose should go, so plan to position the shield according to your baby’s position.
This will allow your baby the benefits of skin-to-skin, to breathe more easily, and to nurse better. It can also make the transition to nursing without the shield easier in the future.
I love that these are also made without BPA and harmful chemicals. You’ll get to choose from a variety of sizes for the best fit possible.
2. Lansinoh Nipple Shield with Carrying Case
Lansinoh is another highly trusted name in breastfeeding. They’ve been working on solutions for nursing moms for 30 years. These shields are another great option from their line of products.
Made of BPA-free silicone, these shields are soft and flexible. The included carry case is perfect for keeping track of your shields and making sure they stay protected from germs.
They come in two sizes. They have a low-profile and a rounded, more natural shape to the nipple. If you’re looking for a shield that can help make later weaning easier, this one’s worth investigating.
3. NUK Barely There Nipple Shield
These have a unique triangular shape to them. Nodules help stimulate your milk to flow and give a realistic texture to your breast.
Just less than an inch in diameter, the NUK shields are thin and soft. Flexible and made from BPA-free silicone, they can make nursing more comfortable for both you and your little one. The shields are quite easy to stretch, which can help you get the perfect fit you’re looking for.
The triangular shape can be helpful if you have a restless nurser. Even with a lot of activity, you can expect the shield to stay in place without jeopardizing your baby’s latch.
4. Momma Bear Premium Nipple Shield
The Momma Bear shields are soft and thin. They conform well to the breast and allow for great skin-to-skin contact with your baby. The extra holes in the nipple can make it easier for your baby to get the quantity of milk they need.
Made with food-grade materials, the silicone nipple shields are non-toxic and BPA-free. They’re easy to position and the spiraled tip helps keep the nipple from collapsing in on itself during use.
The textured base is a great feature. It makes it a little easier to hold the shield in place. It also works to provide a more natural nursing experience for your baby.
5. Purifyou Premium Nipple Shield
Easy to use, the Purifyou shields provide a great layer of protection between your baby and your sore nipple. Straightforward in their design, they’re non-toxic and made with BPA-free materials.
This pack comes with a set of three nipple shields. It’s perfect for leaving a spare in your diaper bag. The included handy storage bag can make it easy to keep track of your shields.
There’s little risk with trying these shields out. This product comes with a satisfaction guarantee. If you aren’t happy with the product, you can send it back within 30 days for your money back.
6. JLR Industry Lactation Nipple Shields and Collection Shells
The nipple shield and collection system can be a great option if your premature baby is struggling with your let-down. It can help break up the stream of milk so your baby can catch up.
The included shells can be used on the other breast to catch any milk that would otherwise be lost. The collected milk can then easily be transferred to long-term storage for later feedings. This extra milk can help your baby gain weight.
Both the shells and the shields are made from food-grade BPA-free silicone. Soft and flexible, they’re comfortable to wear and easy to use. Simply wash and sterilize your breast shells after use and they’re ready to be used again next time.
7. Ameda Contact Nipple Shield
Unlike many other shields on the market, this one by Ameda is available as a single purchase. If you’re looking for a short-term solution and don’t mind relying on one nipple shield only, consider this Ameda. It’s a great option if you’re on a tight budget.
BPA and DEHP-free, these silicone shields are thin and flexible. They can help provide a more natural breastfeeding experience for you and your baby.
These standard size shields adhere well to the breast without getting in the way of your baby’s nursing and will help you to continue breastfeeding if you have sore nipples or baby has difficulty latching to the breast.
Caring for Your Nipple Shields
They should be thoroughly cleaned after each feeding. Wash by hand in hot water with dish soap, then rinse well. Allow them to air dry and they’ll be ready for use at the next feeding.
Plan on sterilizing your shields once a day. You can do this on the stove top or with a bottle sanitizer, the same as you would a bottle’s nipple or pacifier. Simply bring water to a boil and allow the shield to boil for 20 minutes.
Weaning off Nipple Shields
As your baby gets older and becomes a more competent nurser, you’ll find you need the nipple shields less. When it’s time to wean off using them altogether, the following tips may be helpful.
- Apply ice to your nipple before nursing: This can harden your nipple and make it easier for your baby to latch on. It can also work to dull any pain from the latch until your nipples have toughened up.
- Pump before nursing: This can trigger your “let-down” and make nursing less work for your baby.
- Breastfeed frequently: If your baby is exceptionally hungry, they may resist a new nursing situation. Avoid letting the baby become hungry by having frequent nursing sessions.
- Breastfeed while your baby is tired: You may be able to slip an unshielded nipple more easily by a tired baby.
- Nurse in different positions: Trying new positions may make nursing without the shield less of an issue for your baby. They may not realize they need the shield in this new position.
Breastfeeding Successfully — With a Little Help
Don’t think that breastfeeding isn’t an option for you just because you’ve encountered some difficulty. Talk with your care provider to see if a shield could be beneficial to you and your baby.
While we recommend all of these products, if we had to choose, it would be the Medela Nipple Shield. We love that we don’t have to give up precious skin-to-skin contact to give our babies a real nursing experience.
Have you used nipple shields in the past? Did they make a difference for you or your little one?
We’d love to hear about your experience. Leave us a comment below.