As a new breastfeeding mom, breast shells, or breast milk collection shells, could be one of the best investments you ever make!
Breastfeeding is ideal for your baby, but most nursing mothers know that feeding an infant several times a day can really take a toll on your breasts. Sore, cracked nipples can be irritated by even the slightest touch of clothing. Chafed, inflamed skin can make latching on extremely painful. Of course, having lots of milk is a bonus, but engorgement can be very uncomfortable. And, let’s not forget the embarrassing leaks that happen at the most inconvenient times (and stain your favorite shirt). Or, what about the milk that runs from one breast while you are feeding from the other?
Wouldn’t it be nice if you could make all these problems go away? Or, at least make them a little more manageable? Then you could set all the worry and discomfort aside and put your focus solely on enjoying the benefits of breastfeeding: the cuddling, bonding, and precious Mommy-baby time.
If you have experienced even one of these common breastfeeding issues then breast shells or milk collection shells may be the perfect solution.
What Are Breast Shells?
Breast shells are one of those products that can sometimes be confusing. Some are meant to help relieve engorgement and prevent or heal sore, cracked nipples. Others are designed for milk collection. Occasionally, they may also be recommended to correct flat or inverted nipples. And, then there are brands that are designed for use in all of these situations.
But, as complicated as it can seem, breast shells are really a fairly simple product. Breast shells are composed of two sections that snap together and fit inside your bra: the inner (or back) section is disk-shaped with a hole in the middle that encircles the areola (the area surrounding the nipple). The nipple protrudes through this hole. This part is made of a softer silicone material to conform to the shape of the breast. The curved or dome-shaped outer section protects the nipples from clothing and collects leaking breast milk. Most shells also contain small holes or vents that allow air to circulate to prevent irritation and promote healing. Some styles also include a foam insert to absorb excess milk.
Are Breast Shells The Same As Breast Shields?
Breast shells are often confused with breast or nipple shields, but they are very different – opposite actually. If you have flat or small nipples and your baby is having difficulty latching on, your doctor or lactation professional may recommend using a breast/nipple shield. This is placed over the nipple during feeding. It is nipple shaped and contains a hole that allows milk to flow through. Like breast shells, shields do protect or draw out the nipple, but they are used in different situations. Shields are worn during breastfeeding to aid in the latching and suckling process; whereas, shells are worn between feedings and must be removed for nursing.
How Do Breast Shells Work?
Breast (and milk collection shells) are worn inside the bra, which holds them in place and prevents shifting. As mentioned, they can be used for more than one purpose. If you have flat or inverted nipples, they can help prepare your breasts for feeding. The shells put gentle, yet consistent pressure on the areola. This stretches the skin and draws the nipple out.
This slight pressure also helps ease engorgement by letting some of the breast milk drain into the outer shell. Plus, you won’t have to worry about those embarrassing leaks, because the shell provides a protective barrier.
The rounded outer section separates the nipples from your clothing so it doesn’t rub against or chafe sensitive skin. Breast shells also contain ventilation holes that allow the nipples to breath and heal. While this is a great benefit, if you are using the shells to collect milk, you need to be careful when leaning over or lying down, as leaking can happen through these holes. Some brands include non-vented shells that are meant specifically for collecting and may be a better choice if you are taking a yoga class, doing some gardening, or breastfeeding while lying down.
Most shells are quite discreet and are not noticeable when worn in the bra under clothing. As they do take up space, many mothers suggest buying a bra that is one size bigger than what you would usually wear. Keep in mind that some shells, particularly those intended to collect over 2 ounces of milk, can be larger and may give a more unnatural breast shape.
When Do I Wear Breast Shells And/Or Milk Collection Shells?
While you are feeding your baby, you can place a breast shell over the non-nursing breast. The design of the shells will encourage the slow release of milk. This is especially helpful in relieving engorgement if you breastfeed from only one side at each feeding. The milk collected can be saved for later use.
Breast shells may also be worn continuously between breastfeeding sessions. However, it is recommended that you begin with shorter periods of time. Start with 30-60 minutes to see how your breasts react. Remember that shells apply gentle, continuous pressure, and prolonged use may cause irritation to the milk ducts. Some moms can wear them all the time, while others need to give their breasts a break. Also, since breast shells are placed inside the bra and against the skin, you may have to give yourself some time to get used to wearing them.
If you notice irritation or rashes that do not improve, you can try using silicone-free breast and milk collection shells. There are a few companies that make them, but they aren’t as easy to find so it may take some searching to hunt them down.
If you are using breast shells for flat or inverted nipples, it is suggested that you begin wearing them during the last few weeks of pregnancy. But, since they do stretch the nipple outward and put pressure on the breast, you should speak with your doctor or lactation consultant before prenatal use. After your baby is born, you can continue to wear the shells between feedings.
Can I Wear Breast Shells Or Milk Collection Shells At Night?
It is not recommended that you wear breast shells when you are sleeping or lying down. Since they don’t attach to the body, a bra is necessary. Even if you wear your bra to bed, shifting of the shells could cause pressure on the nipples or irritation to the skin. Plus, you don’t want to wake up in a puddle because you rolled over in your sleep, causing breast milk to leak through the ventilation holes. Even with absorbent inserts, leakage is still a risk. Foam can only hold so much liquid, right?
Do Breast Shells Affect Milk Supply?
Breastfeeding is a supply and demand process. Breast shells apply pressure which encourages leaking, and this may stimulate an increase in milk supply.
Can I Use The Milk Collected In Breast Shells?
Basically, there are four types of breast shells:
- ones designed for flat or inverted nipples
- ones designed to protect and help heal sore, cracked, irritated nipples
- ones designed primarily for milk collection
- ones designed to both protect/heal the nipple and collect milk.
Whether or not you can use the breast milk depends on the type of shell. Some breast shells include a foam insert that absorbs the milk. These are intended to prevent leaks and protect the nipples by keeping them away from clothing and allowing air to circulate. You cannot give this milk to your baby. Shells designed for milk collection do not have foam inserts. Most still have ventilation holes so they offer all the same benefits. Some collection shell kits will also include a solid shell without ventilation holes.
Since the breast shells are in your bra and against your warm body, milk can spoil quickly. To prevent bacteria growth or contamination, be sure to empty your collection shells every 1-2 hours. Most brands have a convenient spout, or air vents that double as spouts, to make emptying easier. If you aren’t going to use the breast milk immediately, pour it into a sterile bag, bottle, or tray and refrigerate or freeze for future use.
Any milk that remains in the breast shells too long should be discarded.
How Do I Clean Breast Milk Collection Shells?
Not only are breast shells beneficial and convenient, they are also easy to clean. They are worn under clothing so they are exposed to heat and sweat, plus the moisture from the breast milk, so, it is important that they are cleaned daily. Separate the parts and wash both the backs and outer shells with warm soapy water. Rinse well, and allow them to dry thoroughly before re-using. Squeeze the milk from the foam inserts and rinse them under cool water until they are clean. Most breast shells (excluding foam inserts) are also dishwasher safe.
If you are using your shells for milk collection, sterilizing is also recommended. You can use boiling water or a steam sterilizer.
Which Breast Shells Are The Best?
Deciding on the best breast or milk collection shells really depends on how you will be using them. Are you wanting to draw out a flat or inverted nipple? Are you needing to relieve sore, cracked nipples or ease engorgement? Are you hoping to collect milk that can be used to feed your baby? Is milk collection your main focus, or just an added bonus?
Some breast shell products are designed for a very specific purpose while others come with interchangeable backs and outer shells so you can decide which one is best depending on the situation.
Some things to consider include:
- Hole size – Big or Little? The inner sections, or backs, are available with smaller holes for flat/inverted nipples or larger holes for sore, cracked, and sensitive nipples. Shells designed specifically for helping flat or inverted nipples will also provide all the same benefits, but smaller openings are more effective at drawing out the nipple. Some moms also find the smaller opening a better solution for engorgement. It really depends on what you need and which option is most comfortable. Some kits come with both small and large-holed backs.
- Absorb or Collect? Foam inserts are meant to soak up excess milk and prevent those embarrassing leaks. But, any milk collected must be discarded and cannot be used to feed your baby. These types of shells are also ideal for those first few weeks when your milk supply is coming in and your engorged breasts are screaming for relief! If you want the benefits of a breast shell, but don’t need or want to use the milk, then this is the perfect option.
- To Vent or Not To Vent? Allowing air to circulate over sore nipples is one of the greatest benefits of breast shells. However, if you are collecting milk, you will need to be more cautious about certain movements. Without foam to absorb, liquid can easily leak from the vents. So, unfortunately, you won’t be touching your toes or doing any cartwheels. At least not while you are wearing your vented breast shells. Non-vented outer shells are also available. These are intended primarily for milk collection and aren’t as effective for protecting and healing sore nipples. Some kits come with both vented and non-vented shells that can be interchanged as needed.
- Cup Size and Shape. Most shells conform to you breasts and are discreet enough to wear under your clothing, but they can vary in shape. Depending on your body type and breast size, some may feel more natural than others. And, the amount of milk you want to collect with determine the size of the outer shell. Some will hold as little as 1/2 ounce at a time, while others can store as much as 3 ounces before needing to be emptied.
- Are You Sensitive? Although rare, some people do react to silicone. If that’s you, look for silicone-free breast or milk collection shells.
Our Recommended Breast Shells:
Our favorite breast shells are called Lacti-Cups. They are extremely discrete under your bra, fit comfortably and seem to collect a lot mroe milk than the other brands. If you currenly use nursing pads for leaking, you may want to try these instead! They also help if you just want relief from painful, cracked nipples. The dual purpose helps make them our top choice for new moms!
Breast shells are an innovative product that can address multiple issues often associated with breastfeeding. No matter what you need, there is a breast or milk collection shell that can help. Isn’t it great to know that you don’t have to suffer or be uncomfortable? Now you can just embrace the joy of nursing your baby and cherish your time together!