Nipple covers are used temporarily during breastfeeding to help correct certain problems that may occur. Nipple covers may help with are sore nipples, inverted nipples, flat nipples or a bad latch. They are not intended to be a permanent solution, and the breastfeeding mother should attempt to solve the underlying problem in conjunction with using the device.
Breastfeeding moms can choose between two types of nipple covers, depending on the need. The most common is the nipple shield, which is made of flexible silicone and covers the entire nipple and areola. Nipple shields contain one or more holes at the nipple end to allow milk to flow out. Nipple shells, on the other hand, are smaller, covering only the nipple, and are typically made of plastic. Nipple shells have no holes.
Nipple shells are used to protect sensitive or damaged nipples from rubbing against clothing or for use as a treatment for elongated flat or inverted nipples. They are worn in between feedings or for a short while before feedings. Nipple shields are used by mothers with sore nipples or whose babies have a poor latch or who are premature. They protect the nipple during feeding and are designed to channel the milk out and into the baby's mouth. Nipple covers should be considered a short-term solution with the goal of returning the baby to feeding directly from the breast.
Picking Up a Pair
Nipple shields and shells are available from drugstores and online through companies that sell breastfeeding products. They may also be available through hospitals or lactation consultants, who can demonstrate the proper way to use these products and help resolve the underlying breastfeeding problems that led to their use in the first place. Nipple coverings come in different sizes and should be chosen to fit the the size of the baby's mouth and the size of the mother's nipple.
Caring for Covers
Nipple covers should be sterilized before the first use by immersing them in boiling water for five minutes. They should be thoroughly cleaned with soap and hot water between uses and sterilized once a day, explains Medela. Any milk that collects in the devices should be discarded after use, not saved for later, since warm milk can spoil rapidly.
Neither breast shields nor nipple shells can correct the problems that bring about their use in the first place. Sore nipples are often the result of a poor latch, and only correcting the latch will solve the problem. It may be difficult to wean the baby back onto using the regular unshielded nipple after using a nipple shield, according to Dr. Sears. Use of a nipple shield may also reduce the stimulation to the breast, leading to a decrease in milk supply. Nipple shells work well as a temporary protective device, but developing a proper latch may be more effective than nipple shells at correcting flat or inverted nipples, explains Dr. Sears.
The use of breastfeeding nipple covers of either type may increase the risk of developing plugged milk ducts. A plugged milk duct can slow or stop the flow of milk, causing your baby to get less milk when feeding. It can also cause milk to back up behind the blockage, which makes the breast swell and become painful.