There are many reasons a mum may need to use nipple shields: for flat or inverted nipples, damaged nipples or to transition a baby from the bottle to the breast. Nipple shields are a thin, silicone Mexican-hat shaped shield that you place over your nipple. During breastfeeding, the nipple sucks further into the shield and there are holes in the end for the milk to come through into the baby’s mouth. Some babies can become dependent on shields and will refuse the breast without them, some have trouble grasping the nipple if the shield isn’t on, other women find nipple pain too severe if the shield is removed.

There is some anecdotal evidence that using a shield can reduce milk supply. Some reasons for this may be because baby isn’t latched fully onto the shield or that it takes more effort for the baby to remove the milk through the plastic and tires before he’s had a full feed at the breast. Although handy at the time, most women find using shields fiddly and annoying, and mostly hope to wean off using them.

There is lots of help available for mums who are weaning from nipple shields.

In the breastfeeding clinic, we get a lot of women coming in needing some assistance removing a nipple shield. In most cases, we are able to get baby latched without the shield. Sometimes it’s instant, other times it may take a few days or weeks to fully wean from using the shield. To wean from the shield, one of the main things we need to do is work with the mum to shape her nipple so there’s more breast tissue presented to the baby to latch onto. This is especially the case with mums who have flat or inverted nipples. To do this, we usually suggest a ‘U-hold’, which is when you position your thumb and forefinger at 3 and 9 o clock around the nipple and squeeze it into a ‘ledge’ for your baby to grab. Then, support the baby along his spine, press the heel of your hand between his shoulder blades, being careful to keep your hand away from his head, and press the chin into the breast just below the nipple. Once the chin touches, bubs should root around and open his mouth, then ‘bring the baby to the breast, not the breast to the baby’ and use the bottom lip to lever him up and over the ‘ledge’. Once he’s on, wait a few minutes until you can hear good sucking and swallowing, slowly let your hand go, swap your hands over from a cross cradle hold into a more comfortable cradle or ‘Madonna’ hold, lean back, and relax.

Weaning from a shield requires persistence and patience, so keep going! And don’t forget to ask for help if you aren’t getting the results you are after.  St Vincent’s Private patients can call our breastfeeding clinic to speak to a lactaction consultant at any time, or book in for a day to help you with any of your breastfeeding queries. This is a free service, only for our patients.

Call the St Vincent’s Private Hospital breastfeeding clinic on: (03) 9411 7797.