Inverted Nipples

Nursing with inverted nipples and breast shields

While the vast majority of women are able to breastfeed their babies, some will have a particularly difficult and uncomfortable nursing experience because of their nipple shape. It's amazing how such a small feature can make such a big difference, but many moms can attest to the frustration, disappointment and discomfort of trying to breastfeed with flat or inverted nipples. Luckily, there are ways to overcome the problem, such as careful positioning, manually expressing milk and getting help from a lactation consultant. However, another extremely effective treatment is also a fairly quick and easy one: using breast shields (also called breast shells) at specific times to gently bring out the nipple. Learn how breast shields work, which type to choose and how to get the greatest benefit from these helpful tools.

How Breast Shields Work

There are different breast shields that are designed for different purposes, but all aim to extract the nipple and protect it from becoming flattened and sore. While some women are blessed with nipples that are ideally shaped for effective breastfeeding, others struggle with flat or inverted nipples and hard areolas that can make it difficult for your baby to latch on. Breast shells help to solve this problem by surrounding the areola and shielding the nipple itself as the breasts prepare to produce milk in late pregnancy, and between feedings once the baby is born.

The shields are made of hard plastic discs with a hole in the middle where the nipples stick through. By pressing down on the base of the nipple, these discs can coax flat or inverted nipples out and increase the probability that your baby will latch on from the get go. But since they put pressure on your milk ducts, wearing them for long periods of time could cause leakage and soreness. In some cases, using a breast pump and breast shields interchangeably will make it easier to nurse without stressing your breasts to the point of pain or discomfort.

The Best Shells for Correcting Inverted Nipples

While a few companies make breast shells, Medela breast shells stand out in terms of variety, effectiveness and reputation for insightful design. Medela makes breast shells with a wider opening to treat sore nipples and versions with smaller and softer openings (called nipple formers) to gently extract the nipple for easier breastfeeding. These nipple formers are worn inside your bra for a half hour to an hour before you plan to breastfeed, and though many women find that a bit of milk tends to pool in the bottom, most report that they're fairly comfortable to wear.

Regardless of the brand of breast shields you choose, it's important to use them correctly. Since plastic isn't breathable, keeping the shields against your skin for too long can not only lead to leakage, but this can also cause your skin to bruise or even become infected. A clogged milk duct or mastitis is the last thing you want to deal with, so take good precautions: keep an eye on the clock when you're wearing them and wear a comfortable bra with slightly loose fitting cups to prevent pressure build-up.