Breastfeeding isn't always a walk in the park. Between the cracked nipples, middle of the night feedings, and just the overall mental toll it takes, it can be a lot for a person to handle. Sometimes you have to get creative with breastfeeding to make it work, and that can mean exclusive pumping, timed feedings, or using an apparatus like a nipple shield to make the process easier. The idea is that these measures serve as stopgaps during a difficult time, but what happens when you want to move on? Like how do you get rid of the nipple shield if you've been using one to get that latch right?
Nipple shields, for the uninitiated, look like see-through pasties that sit over the nipple and help protect sore nipples and encourage good latch, according to KellyMom. They're made of a medical grade silicone and feel soft and rubbery to the touch, a bit like the nipple of a bottle or a pacifier. Designed for short term use, weaning from nipple shields can be a bit of a process, and it requires a good deal of patience. But because they increase a mother's risk of plugged ducts and mastitis, according to Frontiers in Public Health, they should be discontinued after the initial problem is resolved. According to Lansinoh, maker of a popular nipple shield, mothers can try everything from feeding their babies more frequently to hand expressing a bit of milk onto the nipple before guiding baby to the breast to encourage a better latch.
I spoke to Leigh Anne O'Connor, International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), and she tells Romper that it's not always cut and dry when it comes to weaning off a nipple shield. You need to truly evaluate your baby's readiness first. "How to wean off of a nipple shield depends on why it was introduced in the first place," O'Connor says. "Generally speaking, I encourage parents to try to wean off of a nipple shield once breastfeeding with the shield is going well and whatever other issues surrounding it are resolved." So if your son is still going full baby werewolf on your boob, he might not be ready to wean off the shield.
For women like myself who've used the shield for one reason or another, they can be a real life saver. I had to use it when my son started biting down on my nipple with a little too much vigor. OK, a lot too much vigor. It wasn't pleasant, and the nipple shield helped protect the delicate tissue while it healed from my son's biting tendencies, plus it discouraged him from gnawing further. Apparently the jelly quality of the silicone is just not as fun to rip into as tender human flesh.
When it came to weaning him, I took the advice of my pediatrician and started pulling him off of the nipple shield when he was too knackered to make a fuss. As he finished on one side at night, I'd move his drowsy baby face to the other unprotected nipple only a little bit conscious. It worked. And it must work for lots of others, because it's one of the most common ways cited when searching for how to wean a baby off a nipple shield, noted KellyMom.
According to IBCLC Anne Smith, there are several strategies you may employ. She wrote on The Badass Breastfeeder that you can start by aiming to "provide lots of skin-to-skin contact" by tucking your baby into a sling "kangaroo style." She noted that another solid method to move away from the shield is to "start the feeding with the shield, then slip it off and offer your nipple after the milk has let down, the initial breast fullness is lessened, and he has some milk in his tummy to take the edge off his appetite and settle him down." This is similar to how I would feed from one breast with the shield and the other without. It gives your baby a sense of peaceful satiety that soothes them so they're more relaxed when it comes time to eat.
But you have to be consistent, and O'Connor says repetition is key. "I encourage them to try to offer the breast at least once a day," she recommends. This sentiment is echoed across all of the information I found, and it makes sense. But it's going to take a ton of patience, and you might need to seek the assistance of a lactation consultant or your pediatrician to get it done. Don't stress, though. Babies (and mamas) learn all of this in their own time, so if it doesn't happen overnight, it's not a huge deal.