Using nipple shields to help with the pain of breastfeeding

Mature Woman Breastfeeding Baby at Home

My daughter and I had a bit of a bumpy start with breastfeeding due to the fact she was tongue-tied and arrived early so she couldn’t suck the milk that hadn’t come in yet. Once we were ten days in things were going great and I assumed there’d be no more issues.

It was everything I hoped and wanted it to be. I was nursing and nourishing my child with my body. The feeling of achievement, satisfaction – not to mention the endorphins – was overwhelming.

And then it hit…one day it felt like she was sucking on a nerve, and I almost shot off the couch. I like vampire genre books and movies and it is what I would have imagined someone drinking blood from you felt like. Now, I know we give blood sweat, and tears to our kids but this wasn’t the plan. 

My nipples were fine. I didn’t have mastitis, no blisters, she didn’t have teeth moving or erupting. I, for the love of God, could not figure what the pain was but it continued for several feeds and days intermittently to the point I was thinking I’ll have to stop feeding her directly.  

I worried I’d have to exclusively pump because of the pain

I was already expressing for the human milk bank to help other sick and premature babies and so my husband could give our baby a bottle a night.  I knew my breast milk collector and pump weren’t hurting me.  I was suddenly panicked, was this me now….was I going to have to express exclusively if this pain continued?  Bottle feed my milk to her?

I was so sad and dejected.

  • I tried every different pose to see if that was it. Nope.  
  • Tried grinning and bearing it just in case it passed. Nope
  • Tried Massage.  Nope
  • Tried Hot flannels.  Nope

So I did what every mum should…I reached out to my village. Within minutes I had been given several options and the one that worked was nipple shields.  I have to be honest I hadn’t even thought of them. I assumed they were for cracked or sore nipples so it never crossed my mind to use them.  But as I didn’t know what was causing the pain in my breasts I would try anything.  

I assumed they were for cracked or sore nipples so it never crossed my mind to use them

I did have a funny account of sending my other half out to the pharmacy to get some in the night and him having that moment where the assistant asks him what size he needs. He’s pretty cool about these things but trying to figure out the size of his wife’s nipples was a first. Bit like the guy in the lingerie shop when asked what size he was after and he’s desperately trying not to look at the women’s chest.  Needless to say, he delivered a small and a large set just to be safe than sorry.

They helped with the pain but came with their own issues

Now, I can’t say that they were an instant fix. Whilst they did solve the problem of the pain they came with their own set of interesting issues. 

They’re not super easy to use, as in getting in the right place, get them to stick to skin so baby can latch and not to dislodge when bubs moves. Allowing that all too familiar trickle of a teat full of precious gold to dribbling into your waistband. I also had to go between the small and large size,   see-sawing upon a good fit. 

They were a bit awkward pulling them out and attaching them in public. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not worried about feeding in public but it looked to the untrained eye that I was playing with myself and then the shields would fall off or move under the t-shirt as you were getting bubs ready. At home, I had more privacy and the freedom to whip a boob out and adjust and re-adjust them. In public, not so much!

Happy Mature Mother Breastfeeding Child

The pros and cons of using nipple shields

At the time, I didn’t even bother to read up on the pros and cons of nipple shields. I was just happy they were allowing me to continue to feed my baby instantly. However, since then I’ve looked into the pros and cons of using nipple shields.

Cons of nipple shields

  • They may decrease milk supply as nipple and baby are not directly meeting and fluids are not being exchanged (baby’s salvia tells mothers milk what the baby’s body needs in the next feed. )
  • Ducts can get blocked as there is no direct suck from your child to empty them and this can lead to mastitis.  
  • They need constant cleaning, like bottle sterilizing after every feed, etc. (I just pooped them in a cup of boiling water after each use. But for someone exclusively breastfeeding,  you aren’t doing the whole sterilizing routine so they can be seen as extra work!) 

Pros of nipple shields

  • They can help with the transition between breast and bottle, baby gets used to a different teat
  • Good to relieve sore, cracked, and inverted nipples by offering healing time 
  • Can help with tongue-tie or problem latching on, helping the baby to open mouths wider to achieve a deeper latch as they are significantly bigger than your nipple itself. Even the smaller size. 

In the end, I used them temporarily (which is recommended ) and I gradually weaned us off them as I wanted my daughter to breastfeed directly from me.  And I’m happy to say the pain didn’t return!  I think they should be viewed as an aid to feeding with whatever issue you have at the time but breast/ your body is best.  For me,  they were a means to an end. If you need them, then use them I say. Whatever works for you and your baby. 

Disclosure: This article includes a personal account and experience of breastfeeding and using nipple shields. Please seek the help of a medical professional should you need it whilst breastfeeding.

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