There are a lot of tools of parenting that will help you get through sleepless nights and tantrums. Whether it's a beloved stuffed animal, iPad, or all the coffee, you'll be glad to have it on hand when you need it. During the early months of new mom-hood, your go-to choice might be a pacifier or white noise machine, and some moms even need to rely on a nipple shield to help ease them into breastfeeding. But you might wonder, does using a nipple shield affect your milk supply? Turns out, it could.
"Use of a nipple shield could potentially reduce a mom's milk supply because the shield places a barrier between baby's mouth and mom's breast, which results in less breast stimulation," Karen Meade, a registered nurse and International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) at Einstein Medical Center Montgomery in Pennsylvania, tells Romper in an email interview. "Breast stimulation is what drives milk supply."
On the other hand, a nipple shield — which the La Leche League International (LLLI) describes as an artificial nipple — can improve the ability for a baby to get milk, Leigh Anne O’Connor, IBCLC and parenting coach, tells Romper in an email interview. "Much depends on why the nipple shield is used," she says. "Either way, a nipple shield is used as an interim instrument until the issue with nursing is figured out."
Both O'Connor and Meade emphasize that if you are using a nipple shield, then you should be working with an IBCLC or other health care professional who is familiar with breastfeeding management to help you work toward a plan to stop using the shield as soon as possible. Meade says she also recommends that if a mother is using a nipple shield for all or most feeds, she should use a double-electric breast pump for 10 to 15 minutes after each daytime feed to help maintain her milk supply.
Kaylie Groenhout, a birth and postpartum doula and the owner of Doulas of Northern Virginia, explains to Romper that it's really about time and place when it comes to nipple shields, which can serve as a useful tool for supporting breastfeeding.
"Most health professionals working with breastfeeding mothers agree that nipple shields should be used as a temporary solution because they are often supporting an issue that is temporary and can be corrected (e.g. improper latch), waited on for resolution (e.g. prematurity), and/or worked with in the interim (e.g. flat or inverted nipples)," Groenhout tells Romper in an email interview. By leaning on support from a lactation consultant or healthcare provider, you can ensure that the baby is receiving enough milk for proper weight gain and growth and that the underlying issue is treated.
"A poor latch by the baby is cause for poor milk transfer regardless of whether a shield is used or not," she says. "We know that milk supply is based on a supply-and-demand process. When the breast is emptied, the body learns that it must continue to supply that milk in the future." Therefore, Groenhout explains, if a baby is unable to transfer milk efficiently, successfully, and fully, then the mother's body receives the signal that, due to low demand, there should be less supply. Like Meade, she says that hand expressing or pumping after breastfeeding with a nipple shield will "ensure that the breast is given the opportunity to be emptied, and maintain — or even increase — the mother's supply."
When it comes time to wean your baby from the nipple shield, experts say to try easing into it during the let-down period in breastfeeding. Like anything new, it will take time for your baby — and you — to get the hang of it. But before you know it you'll be saying, "Nipple shield who?"
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