As a first-time mum, I didn’t know that breastfeeding can be so hard…. and painful. After all, this is what nature intended us to do. Nourish our babies with our amazing breastmilk. I imagined this beautiful unit we two would form while nursing. Just the way you see it in breastfeeding commercials.
And we got there, eventually, but, certainly not at the beginning. Instead, there were my flat and inverted nipples which became sore very soon and my baby with his poor latch which lead to frustration on both sides.
I was determined to breastfeed my son for a minimum of 6 months if not longer but it was just so very hard and painful. I honestly have to say, that the nipple shield saved our breastfeeding journey. Without it, I would have given up after just a couple of days, while still in the hospital.
Read on to learn about the benefits of using a nipple shield and possible negative effects, plus my experience as a first-time mum, using it for breastfeeding.
Disclaimer: I am not a lactation consultant or professional in this field. If you experience any difficulties with breastfeeding or would need further advise, please get in contact with your GP, midwife, Maternal Child & Health Nurse or a professional lactation consultant.
MY BREASTFEEDING ISSUES
We had issues from day one. I struggled to get him to latch properly. Thus he didn’t get enough milk and my nipples became sore and my breasts very engorged. At the start, even with guidance from the experienced nurses, we had serious issues with finding the right latch.
So, for the time being, I first got the nurse to express some colostrum out by hand, which was not a nice feeling at all. Some stranger pressing on your breasts and squeezing out some liquid. She was gentle but firm enough to get some golden juice out for my baby which he took out of a needless syringe with eager.
From the third day onwards, once my milk came in, I started to use the breast pump to relieve my engorged breasts and make sure my baby got enough milk. It was a great relief for my breasts which became engorged with milk.
Also, my nipples got flatter by the full breast and even harder for my son to find the right latch.
A couple of days after birth, in the hospital, it was 4 am in the morning and my baby was hungry again. I was determined to get my baby to latch on to give him his satisfying feed. But nope, it didn’t work – again- my baby got very irritated as his hungry mouth tried to latch on to fill his tummy with warm milk. We didn’t succeed and we needed help from the nurse once again. So the nurse asked me this night if I want to give a nipple shield a try.
FIRST STEPS USING THE NIPPLE SHIELD
I never read or heard about it before but I wasn’t keen on using it. It didn’t feel right for me, I did not want to use this. But on the other hand, my breasts were full and I was frustrated that Luca didn’t latch on correctly. So I was willing to give it a try.
I tried to latch my son onto this massive artificial nipple and – Wow – he was latched on straight away. The milk was flowing and my son was eager to have a good feed.
This felt good. My breasts were finally getting emptier and hurt less once the milk was coming out.
After 20 mins it was time to change sides. This was a bit messy. A bit of milk was left between the nipple shield and my breasts, so once I removed it, it just flows straight down. OK, need to be prepared with a tissue for the next time.
Onto the next side and same wonder happened again. Milk running out and my son was happy feeding.
WHAT IS A NIPPLE SHIELD
A nipple shield is a very thin silicone cover which is put over the mother’s nipple while breastfeeding. It has small holes at the end as to allow the milk to flow through to the baby’s mouth.
On the one hand, it works as a protective barrier between the nipple and the baby’s mouth, for example, if you have sore nipples from previous breastfeeding sessions. On the other hand, the shape of the nipple shield allows the baby to have a bigger nipple area to latch on, which can make it easier for your baby to latch on to your breast, which can be difficult if you have flat or inverted nipples like me or if the baby is still figuring out how to latch on properly.
HOW TO USE A NIPPLE SHIELD
It is very important to use the nipple shield correctly and to have the right size. I suggest you see a professional in this field guide you through it, for example, your midwife or a lactation consultant. I started using the nipple shield in the hospital and my nurse was able to give me a detailed description on how to use it and she made sure I used the correct size. It was a bit fiddly to use at first but after a couple of times, this worked easily.
If you want a detailed description just to get a start ahead, please recommend this article from BabyCenter on How to Use Nipple Shields.
HOW LONG TO USE THE NIPPLE SHIELD FOR
The nipple shield should just be used temporarily and for as short as possible so that you and your baby do not get dependant on it.
We actually used it for 3 months, which was a bit too long in my eyes. Although we did see a lactation consultant to help us breastfeed without. It took us honestly a good amount of time to get rid of the nipple shield but we did get off.
But after that, we were confident enough to feed without. And I breastfed my son until he was 13 months old without any aid of a nipple shield.
REVIEW OF THE MEDELA CONTACT NIPPLE SHIELD
I only used the nipple shield from Medela, which I felt very comfortable with. It is very thin and soft, so feels very good on your skin. As Medela is such a big brand, I felt that this product is safe to use with my baby. After reading a bit into it after first using it, I was confirmed that the website claims this is taste-free for my baby and free of any BPA. I also like the shape of it, as it is not completely round but has a small gap, so you can have some skin contact with your baby while nursing, which has with under the benefit that it stimulates the “Happy Hormone” Oxytocin.
- aids a young baby to latch onto the breast
- gives sore and cracked nipples a break and time to heal
- keeps you going with breastfeeding while you may have otherwise given up
- it is small and lightweight, it uses almost no space in your bag when out and about
- if used for too long, your baby may refuse to feed directly from the breast
- you need to remember to carry it with you when out and about
- Tip: have a couple on hand, in the house and in your handbag
- not so discreet feeding in public, because you first need to put on the nipple shield and then the baby
- cleaning of the nipple shield after each use
- if used for too long, it may reduce your milk supply.
Overall, I can only recommend using a nipple shield, if used for a short time and follow-ups with healthcare specialists. For me, as a first-time mum, it made it possible to breastfeed my son, which was so very important for me and was a big factor of us bonding and dealing with Postnatal Depression.
But, I should have taken more effort into weaning my baby off the nipple shield much earlier. I am not sure if it really did reduce my milk supply and therefore my son wasn’t gaining as much weight as he could, but it was just so easy. Once my son was stronger, he easily latched on and I didn’t have any more pain due to a wrong latch.
If I ever have a second baby I would not regret using this again, but I would try harder to get rid of it earlier.
Have you used a nipple shield while breastfeeding? Would you recommend it to mothers who are experiencing serious issues with breastfeeding or advise against it at any means? I am interested to know.