Ensuring that you’re using the right-sized breast shields is often directly related to the comfort and efficiency you experience while pumping. If you experience nipple pain while pumping or feel that your breast pump doesn’t effectively empty your breasts, you may be using the wrong size breast shield. The good news is that this is typically an easy adjustment and just means that you’ll need to ensure the breast shields that you’re using are ideal for your unique body. With breast shields that fit, your pumping sessions should be efficient and pain-free.
What are Breast Shields?
Breast shields, sometimes called flanges, are components that fit over your nipples while you pump. A properly fitted breast shield creates a seal around your areola, allowing the pump’s suction to pull your nipple into a tunnel within the shield. Together, the seal and the suction help you express milk into a bottle connected to the shield.
Breast shields are available in a variety of sizes, and it’s important to use shields that are fitted for you. Using a shield that is too small or too large can impact the milk you express in pumping sessions and may also cause discomfort while pumping, sore nipples, and more.
If your breast shield is too small, the pump’s suction will cause your nipple to rub against the shield’s walls. If it is too large, some of your areola may also be pulled into the tunnel.
Medela’s PersonalFit Flex™ Breast Shields were designed with FLEX™ technology and are available in four sizes. With a 105° opening angle designed to reduce pressure on the breast while optimizing comfort and an oval shape that can be easily rotated for comfortable, flexible positioning, these shields play a key role in pumping comfort and efficiency, so you can get the most out of every session.
Finally, it should be noted that although they have similar names, breast shields are not the same as nipple shields. Breast shields are used during pumping while nipple shields are used to encourage latching and to protect nipples when breastfeeding.
Breast Shield Fit
Moms, especially those who haven’t pumped before, often ask: “how do I know if my breast shields fit?” The most common signs of an ill-fitting breast shield may differ between individuals, but often include:
- You can feel your nipple rubbing against the inside of the breast shield, often causing pain, tenderness, and discomfort during and after your pumping sessions.
- Your nipples or areolas become red or white during or after pumping.
- You can see that a lot of your areola is pulled into the tunnel of the breast shield during pumping.
- You feel as though you aren’t fully expressed after your pumping sessions.
Remember, mama, your nipples may even change size or shape throughout the postpartum period and during your breastfeeding journey, so it’s possible a breast shield that once fit may now be too big or too small. Also, some moms need to use different sized shields on each breast – and that’s totally normal too!
How Breast Shield Fit Impacts Milk Output
Poorly fitting breast shields can affect milk output in various ways. The shield should form a seal with gentle pressure and you shouldn’t need to press down to get a better seal. You may block milk ducts if you need to put pressure on the breast because the shield doesn’t fit quite right. Blocked ducts won’t fully empty, so you’ll see less milk expressed.
If the shield is instead too small, it may compress your nipple as it enters the shield tunnel and limit milk flow. Plus, pumping shouldn’t hurt. If pumping is painful or your nipples become damaged because your breast shields don’t fit, you may decide to end your pumping session before your breasts have been effectively expressed – or even wean earlier than you may have liked due to the pain involved with pumping.
Either way, poorly fitted breast shields means you may not pump as much milk as you should. Because of that, you may also begin to produce less milk over time. This is because breast milk is produced on a supply and demand basis, so the more you express then the more your body will make to replenish supply.
If you don’t effectively express your breasts during each session, your body will naturally begin to produce less milk. It’s important for you to take note of how your breasts feel prior to breastfeeding (such as full and heavy) and how they feel after breastfeeding (usually softer and more comfortable), so you can better understand your body during this unique time and know whether your breast shields are properly fitted.
Correct breast shield sizing helps you ensure that you can fully – and comfortably! – express when pumping.
How to Find the Correct Breast Shield Size
For a comprehensive overview of breast shield sizing, check out Medela’s breast shield sizing guide. Here’s what to know about measuring yourself to find the optimal size for you:
- Measure the diameter of your nipple. This is the distance between opposite sides of the nipple measured across the nipple base. You can do this with a ruler or flexible measuring tape. Do not measure the areola; just include your nipple here.
- Use the breast shield sizing guide to view PersonalFit Flex breast shield sizes and determine the best size for you.
- Test the breast shield to ensure it fits.
Remember, your nipples and breasts may change after delivery and as you embark on your breastfeeding journey. Repeat this measuring process as needed as your body adjusts to the postpartum period or if you notice any of the symptoms outlined above.