Nipple shields are often suggested to mothers as a method for getting a baby to take the breast. Unfortunately they can cause more problems than they alleviate. Latching on is best achieved with patience and confidence that the baby will eventually take the breast - especially if not given anything else to suck on in the meantime. Nipple shields appear to give a quick solution to the problem of a baby who is taking time to learn to suckle. Breastfeeding is not necessarily a speedy business, especially in the first few days.

Sometimes they are offered if a woman is experiencing soreness, which would probably be alleviated by correct positioning.

The disadvantages of nipple shields are:

that babies will later refuse to feed without them

that they restrict the flow of milk to the baby and

that they prevent full stimulation of the breast to produce more milk.

They are therefore not advised long term. The problem parents contact me about is trying to get the baby to latch onto the breast without them. Some ingenious solutions to this problem have been found, from putting sterilizing solution onto the breast so it smells familiar to the baby, to cutting a millimetre a day off the end of the shield until there is just a ring left and the baby is fully fixed to the breast. I have even had a call from a mother who fully breastfed each of her four children with a nipple shield for every feed. That seems to rather defeat the idea that breastfeeding can be more convenient, but I admired her perseverance.

Nipple shields are occasionally useful when cracked nipples are too painful to nurse from for a day. Obviously it would be better not to get so damaged in the first place.

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