If you're having trouble breastfeeding, it's possible your doctor or lactation consultant has recommended using a nipple shield. Although this tool will be helpful in the beginning, it's not meant to be a permanent fixture for long term breastfeeding. At some point, you're going to need to learn how to wean a baby off a nipple shield, so the little one can learn to nurse without it. Making the transition from nipple shield to bare breast may take some time, but with patience, you and your baby will figure out how to breastfeed without any help from a shield.
The reasons a mother may need to use a nipple shield can vary from person to person, but at the core of this issue is latch-on problems. According to the website for Medela Breastfeeding, your baby may have trouble latching on if she is premature, sick, or tiny, or your nipples are flat or inverted. Both of these issues can be addressed with the use of a nipple shield due to the way it is designed. It's important to note, however, that a nipple shield isn't the answer to all breastfeeding problems. So if trouble persists, you should always consult a medical professional to get to the bottom of a potentially larger obstacle.
As the website for the La Leche League International (LLLI) described them, nipple shields are artificial nipples that a mother can wear over her regular nipple when breastfeeding her baby. The shield helps encourage the baby to strengthen the suck reflex, but after this skill is shown, the mother should begin the weaning process. The LLLI also suggested making the transition from nipple shield to breast, during the let-down period in breastfeeding. This is a natural pause in the baby's sucking pattern, and a great way to slowly introduce the breast and mother's nipple to the baby. Although it may take time and patience before the transition is complete, this method of weaning off a nipple shield is the most frequently recommended.
Another process for weaning, is to gradually trim back the nipple shield until the natural nipple is exposed. However, it's important to check which material your nipple shield is made of before busting out those scissors. According to the website for Dr. Sears, cutting a silicone nipple shield can create rough edges, which may be harmful to the baby's mouth. The trimming method is safe for shields made of latex, and can be an simple way to ease your baby through the transition.
If you've been using a nipple shield and plan to wean your baby soon, make sure to talk it over with the professional who has been guiding you through your breastfeeding journey. Even though things may not be going as smooth as you planned, you can still have success nursing your baby au natural. Remember not to be hard on yourself — as a matter of fact, you should be praising yourself for sticking with your breastfeeding goals. Your willingness to commit to this process will be what helps you reach success.