What are these things?
I have recently heard people I know talking about silicone nipple shields, not to be confused with hard plastic breast shields. Nipple shields are used when nursing to protect sore nipples from further damage, but breast shields are put inside a woman's bra and taken off to nurse. Breast shields can be used for two reasons: to protect sore nipples from clothing or to attempt to correct flat or inverted nipples.
Experts I have consulted about these items says that neither one is necessary, and should be avoided. Babies can get hooked on the nipple shields, not accepting the breast without them, and experts say that breast shields don't really help with inverted or flat nipples, anyway.
I experienced extremely sore nipples with cracking and bleeding during the first two weeks of breastfeeding. The lactation consultants at the hospital told me that is the result of a poor latch. They were showing me how to correct Ewan's latch to prevent further trauma to my nipples, but in the meantime, they gave me gel breast pads, not shields, to put in my bra between feedings.
When I told my doula about it after we came home from the hospital she was worried they had given me nipple shields and said not to use shields. I did not ask her at that time why shields should be avoided, but in Dr Sears' Baby Book he says that a baby can become dependent on the shield and not accept the breast without the shield, which means that you have to keep using them. Also, Dr Sears says that the shield can keep the nipple from being stimulated enough to produce a good letdown of milk, which can compromise the achievement of a good milk supply.
It was my experience that the pain is short lived, so nipple shields would only complicate the breastfeeding experience. Mostly, I had pain when he first latched on, but as he continued to feed, the pain subsided. After two weeks, I had no more pain, because his latch was corrected. I continued to use lanolin to help my nipples stay moisturized for another week or two, but nipple shields were hardly necessary.
Breast shields are advertised as helping inverted or flat nipples, but Dr Sears says that they don't actually work. He says that a baby with a good latch can make any nipple shape work just fine. Also, women use them to protect sore nipples from rubbing on clothing, but Dr Sears says that the pressure from the shield can cause excess leakage, which is annoying.
I found the gel breast pads from the lactation consultant worked very well. They are essentially like a band-aid for your nipples. They promote healing of sores and help keep you moisturized. They can be used for a whole week if you take care of them. You can also buy some wherever breastfeeding supplies are sold, but they aren't exactly the same as the ones you can get from an IBCLC. The ones from the IBCLC are thicker and last longer.