How to Use a Nipple Guard to Breastfeed
This is a guest post from my friend, Jaymi, from the Salty Mamas.
When I set out to breastfeed my first daughter, I was well aware of the many challenges that could come with it. My mother and sister had both struggled to breastfeed, and I knew there could be challenges with breast milk supply. However, I was extremely unprepared for the fact that I might need to use a breastfeeding shield.
Nipple shields, or nipple guards as they are sometimes called, are small silicone discs that look something like the nipple of a baby’s bottle. They are often recommended for babies who are struggling to latch, or for mothers whose nipples are cracked, sore, or bleeding.
Or, in my unfortunate case, for mother’s with “non-ideal nipples.”
Yeah, that was fun to hear at the lactation consultant’s office three days postpartum.
I was super put off by the idea of placing a piece of silicone between myself and my nursing baby (I mean, wasn’t the idea that breastfeeding was natural? And more importantly, wasn’t it supposed to mean that I didn’t have to spend precious time cleaning silicone nipples?).
But as soon as got over my initial discomfort, I realized that it was the best way for me to continue nursing my baby. It quickly became one of my very favorite breastfeeding tips, and certainly, that counts as a win.
So if you find yourself in the position of using a nipple guard for the first time, you don’t need to be intimidated. With a little practice (and these genius hacks) you’ll likely find that using a nipple guard makes breastfeeding a much easier experience, both for you and your little one.
Choosing the Right Size Nipple Shield
The fit of your nipple shield is extremely important to its success. Most women use a standard 24mm breast shield. When it is on, it should fit so that only the nipple itself goes into the rubber nipple, while the rest of the shield rests on the areola.
If you find that using the nipple shield is painful, you likely have the wrong fit. Rubbing, redness, or too much tugging at the areola can indicate that the breast shield isn’t the right size for you (source: http://www.medelabreastfeedingus.com/article/143). Luckily there are lots of other sizes that you can try out. Check with your lactation consultant or the brand’s website for proper sizing.
Using a Nipple Shield
Using a nipple guard for the first time can be a bit awkward, and is most easily done with the help of a lactation consultant. If this is not an option for you, Dr. Internet is here to help. You can find tons of tutorials on YouTube that walk you through the process (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9DSJTtCERTo).
Some of the most important things to keep in mind are that the nipple shield should first be wet with breast milk before applying, which allows for a more secure fit. Fold the breast shield in half, with the nipple part facing inwards.
Position the shield so that is in the center of your breast, with the indentation directly over your nipple. Apply the breast shield first to the upper half of your areaola, and then make sure the rubber nipple is fitted properly before applying the bottom half of the shield to the rest of your breast.
Cleaning Your Breast Shield
Just like a bottle, the breast shield must be properly cleaned after each use. When my daughter was an infant, the recommendations allowed for storing the shield in a Ziploc bag in the refrigerator between uses.
Unfortunately, when the CDC changed their bottle cleaning recommendations, their standards for cleaning nipple shields changed as well. Nipple shields should be cleaned after every use using hot, soapy water in a dedicated basin and with a dedicated brush. After washing, they should be allowed to air dry in a clean place. All feeding items should be sanitized daily. (Source: https://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/hygiene/healthychildcare/infantfeeding/cleansanitize.html)
But, girl, ain’t nobody got time for that. I mean, you’ll make time eventually, but after EVERY FEEDING? Not gonna happen.
You can lighten your load by purchasing extra breast shields, enough for at least two or three feedings (if not more). It may sound like a lot, but it’s super easy to forget to wash after each feeding (I mean, you’re probably exhausted and a little stressed- memory isn’t likely to be your strong suit). Having extras on hands means that you’ll always be ready to feed your baby on demand.
When you’ve used up a few of them, you can do a batch cleaning to get several of them clean and ready to go all at once.
Storing Your Nipple Shield
One of the hardest parts of using a nipple shield for me was that I lost the convenience that breastfeeding usually offers. I couldn’t just whip out a breast and feed my daughter- and wasn’t that supposed to be a big benefit of nursing?
So I felt sorry for myself for a minute, and then I did a little digging. I discovered that you can purchase nipple shield storage cases on Amazon. I loved these little cases not only for storage at home, but for using my breast shield on the go as well. They keep them clean, dry, and ready to access whenever they’re next needed.
Using Your Nipple Shield in Public
Using a nipple shield can be a little awkward, especially in the first few weeks of use. Even if you’re planning to nurse in public without a cover (which, more power to you, mama!) you may consider investing in an awesome nursing cover for when you’re trying to use your nipple shield out and about.
We love the spaciousness of this nursing cover form Bebe Au Lait. The curved bottom means that your cover tucks in closely to your body, eliminating accidental slips, while the rigid open neckline means that you can actually see what you’re doing (pretty crucial when it comes to a breast shield).
As an added bonus, it even comes with a little pocket that can easily hold your nipple shield for you. It’s like this thing was specifically designed with nipple shield users in mind, and is well worth the investment. Whether you’re using a nipple shield or not, it makes an excellent addition to your baby registry.
How Long Will I Need to Use a Nipple Shield?
How long you’ll need to use a nipple shield varies widely from person to person. Some moms only need it for a week or two while their breasts heal, and others need to use it for six months or more before they wean off of it completely.
In my case, with my non-ideal breasts, (seriously, so rude) it took about six weeks for my body to respond properly to nursing. My nipples took on a slightly better shape after frequent breastfeeding sessions, and my daughter and I found a way to make nursing happen by working together. We started weaning off the nipple shield at around six weeks, and stopped using it completely by week 8.
It can be a bit awkward at first, but if you’re struggling with breastfeeding, trust me on this one- the breast guard is a total game changer. Whether you end up using a nipple shield for a short time or a long time, it can be a fantastic tool to help make your breastfeeding more successful- and less painful!- over the long term.