Weaning from Nipple Shields
Nipple shields still represent somewhat of a controversial topic in breastfeeding support fields. Some still consider them an artificial nipple and an intrusion into the breastfeeding relationship. To some extent, they are correct. However, some women, myself included, simply could nbot have been successful in breastfeeding without the assistance of a nipple shield. (For more details on nipple shields and why they are used, see my article, "Breastfeeding With Nipple Shield," listed in the related links at the end of this article.
Because of the inconvenience associated with the shield, as well as, I think, ambivalence in the nursing support community still over recommending and using them, pressure to wean from them *as soon as possible* can create stress to a breastfeeding mother. By virtue of using the shield, there is obviously already a breastfeeding challenge going on, so this pressure to wean from the shields concerns me.
There is a sometimes a misconception that using a shield is a "life sentence" – that once you "give in" and use one, you'll never be able to give it up. Like any intervention in breastfeeding, there is certainly always a risk of confusion or preference from the baby. However we choose interventions for two reasons – the baby's health, and establishing breastfeeding and milk supply. If a nipple shield will help you achieve these two significant goals, please don't be afraid of the shield. Worry about weaning later!
There are some women who never wean from the nipple shield. I don't believe that this is a preferred option – there are definitely convenience and sanitary factors – but these can be overcome or simply dealt with. If the shield does not pose a supply problem for you, nursing and the baby's growth is going well and you appreciate the security of the shield – and if idea of weaning is making you more stressed than actually using it, you don't *have* to wean from the shield. I know this should seem like it would go without saying, but there is so much pressure in the breastfeeding community to do so, it may be something you need to hear.
That said, if you want to wean from the shield, here's some tips and strategies you can use:
• Don’t rush things – If you are using a shield, chances are you had a bit of a rocky start. I remember the relief, both physically and emotionally, that I felt when my baby had her first quality feed with the shield. It took several weeks before I could put her to breast without the fear that she'd reject the shield just like she's been rejecting the breast and we'd be back in trouble again. Now I did have to pump after feedings while using the shield (again, see my other articles on nipple shields in related links, below), so I knew I didn't want it to go on forever. But do take some time to just *relax* into the breastfeeding relationship, revel in the fact that your baby is growing and thriving simply from your magical milk, and celebrate your success before moving onto worrying about what comes next.
• Try occasionally, especially at night – Every once in a while, try putting the baby to breast without the shield. At night may be your best bet, when the baby is sleepy and just rooting and perhaps willing to latch onto whatever smells like mama's milk without thinking much about it. Also, increase your lazy skin-to-skin time with the baby – find some time to lay around with baby, or put him in a sling by with free access to the breast. He may surprise you! (But don't stress out if he doesn't… give it time…) Also, try at varied times – perhaps the beginning of the feed when hungry will overcome any reservations about the missing shield, or if that is too stressful for the baby, give the first breast with the shield and try without on the second side, after the initial hunger has been satisfied.
• Have reasonable expectations and patience – From many women I know who have used shields, and most of what I have read, most babies seem to wean most easily from shields somewhere between 14 and 20 weeks (this is not a scientific statement, just my observation – mine happened to be at 16 weeks). Unless it just happens naturally, I don't think I'd recommend to most mothers to try much before 12 weeks. There is a line of thought that you'll be letting the baby get too used to the shield, but I don't buy that way of thinking. I'm a big proponent of fulfilling a baby's needs *now* and worrying about later, well, later. Later they may not need the shield – they will be stronger, or nipples will start drawing out, or their mouth will be larger (and your new nursing breasts, smaller). Whatever it is, trying to force something the baby is not ready for will only create stress, whereas later, it could be a breeze.
• Make it as convenient as possible – If a shield is making it possible for you to exclusively breastfeed, buy into it. If it's annoying you trying to keep it clean, or feeling like you are stuck in the house, or you worry about going out and forgetting the shield, alleviate those concerns. Buy more shields (one benefit of being on the shelf at Target!), buy some kind of case to carry them in (beg your local orthodontist for spare retainer cases…they work great!), get a nursing cover that makes it easy for you to use the shield unselfconsciously. Whatever it takes to make nursing less stressful for you, do it. It may cost a few dollars, but not as much as formula!
Weaning from a nipple shield can take some time. Waiting until your instincts tell you the baby is ready, rather than worrying about external pressures over whether or not it's "natural" will serve you well. If your baby is getting breast milk my means of a nipple shield, celebrate your accomplishment and wean if you choose, and when the time is right.
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