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my ten step process for weaning from the nipple shield

nipple shield

I have a theory about nipple shield distribution, and it’s based on the large number of families I see who are struggling to ditch the shield.

I always ask how the family got the shield in the first place, and the story is always the same: the nipple shield was introduced in the middle of the night by a nurse who may or may not have been a lactation consultant.  

I have a mental image of someone pushing a cart down the halls of the postpartum ward, flinging nipple shields like frisbees into every room at the stroke of midnight.

(Yes, I know this is not the case.  I love me some nurses.  No hate mail please.)

Nipple shields are a tool, and they can be a massive help to nursing families.  Often times they allow baby to continue breastfeeding in situations where nipple damage, pain, or poor latch could lead to a parent giving up on nursing altogether.  

They’re certainly not a new invention; nipple shields have been around in various forms for hundreds of years.  I have no doubt that today’s silicone shields are leaps and bounds better than the lead, glass, and rubber shields of the past.

The Medela Contact Nipple Shield that most of my clients get in the hospital
mamivac nipple shields

The Mamivac Cherry Nipple Shield, seen on the right, is often recommended by IBCLCs due to its unique “cherry” nipple shape

But nipple shields are fiddly and inconvenient, and they can be messy and frustrating to use.  They can also be difficult to wean baby from; the shape and structure of a shield can make it easier for baby to stay latched and once a baby is used to a shield they often don’t want to nurse without it.

So what steps should you take when you’re trying to ditch the nipple shield?

Before you start this process, it’s really important to know that weaning from the nipple shield takes time and patience.  The process may be two steps forward, one step back for a while.  

Best case scenario, you can totally ditch the shield within 2 weeks- but I’ve seen it take a month or more.  Patience is your best friend here.

The other factor to be aware of before you start is that the shield may be masking latch or anatomical issues that still need to be addressed.  

A nipple shield doesn’t fix anything- whatever problems you had that caused you to start using the shield may still exist.  

If you start to have success latching baby without the shield but you are experiencing pain or nipple damage, GO BACK TO THE SHIELD and call me or another IBCLC for help.

The baby in this picture does NOT have a good latch. Heck, I don’t think this baby is even eating. She looks really confused.

This is a 10 tip-step-process hybrid: mostly in chronological order but not all steps/tips will apply to all people.  Please read the whole list first and decide which tips apply to your family before you begin!

1.  Do as much skin-to-skin as possible, even when baby isn’t eating.  This helps to re-wire baby’s brain and can help them latch without the shield.  Skin-to-skin can make a BIG difference in getting baby to latch.

2.  Watch your sleeping baby for early hunger cues (rapid eye movement, fidgeting or wiggling, etc) and try latching them when they’re just barely awake.

3.  Nurse baby often- every 2 hours or more, at each hunger cue- because babies with empty bellies are very impatient and may refuse to even try latching without a shield.  You cannot nurse a baby too often, and you can’t spoil a baby.

4. Do not allow baby to get upset while trying to latch to the bare breast.  If baby begins to complain or cry, use the shield and try again later.  You do NOT want baby to associate your bare breast with being uncomfortable or upset!

5.  Hand-express a few drops of milk onto your nipple before trying to latch to entice baby.

6.  Talk gently to baby and encourage her/him. They’re used to hearing your voice from their time in-utero, and the sound of it is comforting and soothing.  Even if latching isn’t going well, continue using a positive tone.  It’s purely anecdotal but I have noticed that the moms I see who talk to their babies while they latch tend to be more successful at it!

7.  Use your hand to compress your breast so that the breast tissue around your nipple is shaped like a sandwich and easier for baby to latch on to.

8.  If your nipples are inverted or very soft, there are different techniques to make your nipple more “shield shaped” and firm.  Try:

  • Pumping for a few minutes before latching baby to evert your niple
  • Use an ice cube or a cold wash cloth to harden your nipple before attempting to latch
  • Use a product like Supple Cups or Lansinoh LatchAssist to evert your nipples

9.  On the other hand, if your breasts are engorged and too firm for baby to latch on to, use reverse pressure softening to soften your areolae.

10.  If baby refuses to even try to latch without the shield, try the bait and switch.  Get baby eating with the shield and 3-4 minutes into the feeding, as his/her eyes begin to close, unlatch baby and remove the shield, then quickly try to latch baby without it.  This can work like a charm if you do it fast!

Remember:  if you or baby get upset, stop.  Use the shield.  Try again at the next feeding, or if you’re super frustrated, try again tomorrow.  This can be a long process.  If it was easy, you wouldn’t be reading this blog post, right?

Gift yourself with some grace.  Imagine me (literally) patting you on the back.  This breastfeeding thing is not for wimps.  You’re doing a great job.

And if you have success with my tips, please come back and let me know!




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9 thoughts on “my ten step process for weaning from the nipple shield

  1. I have flat nipples or perhaps just really short nipples. With both my daughters before I used a nipple shield. My first nursed for one year my second for nearly 3. Now with my son who is 2 months old I am using a shield once again and I really don’t want him to. This article has encouraged me to try and wean off it. I know it will be hard but I really want to try.

  2. Thank you SOOOO much for this encouraging post!!!!! I read it a couple months ago and felt so much peace and also empowered.
    We started the shield when my Rocky was 5 days old… Because every time I tried to feed him he would scream and get so stressed trying to latch that he would just pass out and sleep. He was tiny and I was big… I thought maybe the shield would help us for a few weeks while he grew and adjusted to things. (I used it with my daughter 8 years ago, for a week only, while healing up, and weaned her in a day)
    We tried many times to do the sneak attack approach, taking the shield away after he latched on. It worked for a minute sometimes but then he would get so stressed out and scream. I kept trying for a few weeks occasionally, let him get familiar with me.
    So fast forward, now Rocky is 11 weeks old. A few days ago I was sick And lounging around in bed and the couch with him. We took our time and I kept offering myself. I brought the shield back each time he got stressed..but as the day wore on it was less and less. The next two days we went completely without the shield. He seemed very agitated while nursing but I figured he just needed time to get comfortable with the new system. He seemed to not remember the shield though, as there was no screaming. Now we’re eating and latching peacefully each time.
    I honestly think the shield was a huge hindrance to him because now he eats for shorter amounts of time and gulps more frequently. And it’s so much easier to nurse in public without having to constantly sneak the shield in and adjust it every time he unlatched. And milky spillage!!! Yuck!!!

    I’m so proud of my boy, and myself. I have so much peace right now…I had anxiety before but just dealt with it.

    There’s hope for us all, and this post was amazingly helpful!! Thank you!!

    Renae and Rocky (Rockford)

  3. I actually had to supplement with a SNS due to lack of weight gain and that’s what ended up helping me wean baby off the shield. I wonder if it would be a helpful tool for others too. It worked so well and we were off the shield in days.

  4. Hi there! My baby is 3.5 months old and we’ve been using a nipple shield from the beginning due to flat nipples. I am exclusively breast feeding, and while the shield doesn’t bother me a ton, I would really like to get off it. But I’m worried—have I waited too long? Would things like skin to skin still help? Or is this plan more suited to newer babies? Also, is it possible for nipples to simply be TOO flat to be successful nursing without a shield or can anyone feasibly nurse?

  5. Hi Rachel,

    I’m trying to drop the nipple shield. My breasts feel empty and now baby is fussing with both bare nipple and shield, I don’t know what to do. Is it possible my supply has dropped because I’ve stopped using the shield? Her wet diaper count is the same, a little higher but it’s stressing me out that my supply is dwindling because i’m not nursing as long as I was with the shield/using the shield anymore.

    1. Hi Madeleine, your comment got stuck in my spam queue and I just saw it so I’m sorry but I hope you connected with a knowledgeable IBCLC for support with your problems!

  6. We were never able to wean from a nipple shield with my first. I know in hindsight he had some unresolved issues and perhaps his tongue tie reattached and that could have been why. I could never get him to latch though without it. He still went on to nurse for 14.5 months before he finished. I have worked with several other mothers with similar situations. I always like to remind my moms that I work with that (like you said) don’t stress! Sometimes you can’t wean from it and you may not ever figure out why. This was an excellent post!

    1. This list is great, validates the strategies we’re using with my little guy – of course I wish there was a silver bullet but this is encouraging.

      And WOW to the poster who never weaned but nursed 14 months! Rock star. I’m committed to breast feeding but the shield drives me nuts at 5 weeks so can’t imagine!

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