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Nipple Shields: What You Need to Know

By WBC Director of Lactation, Lisa Erbes

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Sore nipples, cracked nipples, flat nipples, inverted nipples, low supply, lazy suck, because the Lactation Consultant said so, because the pediatrician said so, because my sister-in-law used them, because my best friend told me to put them on my registry.

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For the most part, none.


Let me explain.  While there are RARE instances of using nipple shields temporarily and sparingly to draw out an inverted nipple, for the most part Baby is capable of doing this without the device.  The baby intuitively knows how to draw out and maintain the teat.  In fact, with instincts as their guide, they learn how to do this on the job and overuse of nipple shields might actually interfere with this learning.

The only time use of shields is universally justified is with preterm babies IN the NICU.  Born early, their sucking muscles and reflexes are not yet fully developed.  However, by the time they are deemed strong enough to leave the hospital, they are strong enough to take the nipple without the shield.  In fact, it’s imperative that they do so.

Nipple shields can present a slippery slope toward serious nursing problems.  For one, while they may ameliorate acute sucking deficiencies in preemies, nipple shields actually encourage a lazy latch and weaker mouth muscles when used over an extended period of time.  Additionally, nipple shields actually lower Mama’s milk supply (again, when used over an extended period of time) because the milk hormones are stimulated by skin on skin contact with the baby.

This is a no-judgment post, Mamas.  If you picked up nipple shields at Babies R Us or were advised by a health care professional to use them, no worries!  It’s OK.  Just come off them, if you can, as soon as you can.  They are a helpful tool for temporary, rare, and distinct situations.  They are not a given for the baby registry!  Once your baby is able to successfully latch and keep latch, throw away this “crutch.”  Don’t go back and forth or use them on occasion once a strong latch is achieved.  You don’t need a device if baby is able to nurse in the raw!


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