The Problem with Nipple Shields


Nipple shields – friend or foe? They are often touted as a ‘necessary purchase’, but perhaps we should be paying more attention to just who is doing the suggesting.

Nipple shields are artificial nipples worn over the mother’s nipple during breastfeeding. Modern nipple shields are made of soft, thin, flexible silicone and have holes at the end of the nipple section to allow the breast milk to pass through. Research on the use of nipple shields has revealed reduced milk transfer of up to 58 percent. It is therefore unsurprising that in Brazilian law nipple shields are included in its list of unmarketable products because their promotion and use can do harm to breastfeeding. La Leche League has commented that:

“Often, with use of rubber shields, infants are not able to compress the maternal milk sinuses, which can lead to long-term milk production problems and increased nipple soreness and damage. Since the infant has to rely on suction alone to transfer milk, nipple shields can drastically reduce his milk intake, potentially causing slow or inadequate weight gain. There are reports that even the thin silicone nipple shields cause reduced milk intake and present a potential for reduced maternal milk supply and nipple damage with improper placement.”

Today I made the decision to complain to Boots (large UK chain of cosmetics and drug stores). The reason? In their Bump to Birth, Parenting Club Magazine they currently have a Hospital Bag Essential feature which at the top states the following: “Pop these b-day must haves in your hospital bag and put it ready to go, by your front door” and then they include Boots Maternity Silicone Nipple Shields.  There is some small print below which says “Not for use until breastfeeding is established”.  So logically, what are they doing in a hospital bag essentials list!?

Now don’t get me wrong, nipple shields have a place in helping a minority of mothers to continue with breast feeding where they would have otherwise given up; for instance, to improve latch when a mother has flat or inverted nipples. However I can’t help thinking that their inclusion in this pregnancy magazine is misleading. Even with the small print, the article could easily lead readers to assume that nipple shields are a good idea to use from the start. By suggesting that all mothers may need them, the article is subtly undermining breastfeeding. Surely nipple shields are a product that would be better to buy as and when needed rather than just in case? The only person that should be recommending their use is a qualified lactation consultant, or similar. It’s important that the baby’s latch is assessed by a professional before a mother resorts to using them.

So why did Boots feature an unnecessary and potentially sabotaging product in a pregnancy guide? The first, and most obvious reason, is to increase their sales of nipple shields. Currently the cost per pair is £4.39. If every new mother were to purchase just one pair, this would give Boots over three hundred million pounds every year in England and Wales alone.

It is also relevant to note that Boots work in partnership with other companies. Their parenting club is sponsored by formula company Cow&Gate and bottle manufacturer Phillips Avent. Furthermore, Boots Parenting Club sponsored The East Midlands Baby and Toddler Show last week, alongside their buddies Philips Avent and formula company SMA. With these facts in mind, it becomes easier to see why sabotaging breastfeeding might be in Boots and their ‘associates’ best interests. ‘Trust Boots’ is their slogan. Would you?

So how about joining me? Type an email, write a letter or pick up the phone. Boots claim that they aim to respond to emails within 2 days.


Click here


Boots Customer Care
PO Box 5300
NG90 1AA


UK – 0845 070 8090
ROI – 1890 708 091
(Monday to Friday – 08:30 to 19:00
Saturday and Sunday – 08:45 to 17:00)