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What it's Really Like...to breastfeed with a supplemental nursing system

What it's Really Like...to breastfeed with a supplemental nursing system

Posted by Kelly Northey on 13th May 2019

I wanted to write this because in all the antenatal classes we attended and I'm sure all the books I read BEFORE having my baby, nobody seems to mention that there are ways like using a Supplemental Nursing System that can help you mix feed your baby while you're trying to overcome breastmilk supply issues.

The Australian Breastfeeding Association outline the following very valid reasons why when there's medical reasons involved and extra milk is needed that it's better to give it through a breastfeeding supplementer than by bottle:

  • Milk given in this way rewards the baby's efforts at sucking and he is more likely to be happy to feed from the breast and stay there for a longer time.
  • Since the amount of milk a mother makes depends on how much her baby sucks and takes milk from her breasts, this extra sucking will increase her milk supply.
  • Use of the mother's own expressed breastmilk in the supplementer helps a weak or easily tired baby to get more milk with the same amount of sucking.
  • The sucking action required during breastfeeding differs from that used with a bottle. Some babies find it hard to do both, or reject the breast in favour of the different bottle.
  • The mother is able to provide milk at the breast and this helps with both the hormonal and physical aspects of breastfeeding.

By the time my baby and I landed ourselves in Torrens House here in SA (this truly amazing place filled with midwives and lactation consultants around the clock to help you get to the bottom of your breastfeeding problems) he was around 6 weeks of age and we were quite honestly just about to give up on breastfeeding. 

We'd already spent ALL of our time up until that point trying desperately to get it happening for us and I mean EVERYTHING we knew about at the time - countless trips to the doctor or hospital lactation consultants, home midwives visiting, drugs like Motilium and we were still pretty much feeding for 45mins to an hour at a time with 15 minute breaks in between around the clock. NOTHING was working to bring in my supply and give my son what he was needing and we were both beyond exhausted and distressed. 
I WISH more than anything I'd known now what I do now about lactation cookies and the links to food and nutrition, but you can only know what you know at the time and things like lactation cookies didn't exist to buy back then, nor was I in any 'place' to be able to research and buy ingredients and bake them myself. It was all consuming to just work out how to feed my baby, let alone anything else!

When we checked into Torrens House, they proceeded with a regime where you weigh your baby before each feed, feed them and then weigh them again afterwards to try and guage whether they are actually receiving enough milk. It was no surprise to me that when we did this with my son hat he was only receiving around 5mls after after a good 45 minute of feeding! It was no wonder he was failing to thrive and was completely inconsolable day and night!

In our case, I desperately wanted to continue breastfeeding because I felt really strongly that it was the best thing for him and loved the closeness, however he needed more than I was producing and it was recommended to start him on some mixed feeds containing whatever tiny amounts I was able to express plus formula.

Because I wanted to continue feeding and didn't want to give up hope that 'it might just come good and start', they introduced me to the Supplemental Nursing System (SNS). The SNS is a special container that you wear on a cord around your neck. It has narrow tubing attached, which you tape to your breast, that carries expressed breastmilk or formula from the container to the nipple. The idea is that you then continue to breastfeed your baby like normal and they will draw down the milk through the tubing and receive this as well as any milk you produce too at the same time.
The one we used was a Medela one (pictured left).

It was the perfect solution for us at that point in time because latch wasn't an issue for it, it was purely supply not meeting demand, so I never thought once about not giving it a go and we continued to use this for every feed for the next few weeks.
While it did work well for us and was a great option to help give us a few more weeks of trying and being able to breastfeed, the process unfortunately still didn't help increase my own supply and once we returned home I found that I was increasingly needing to feed him while being out and about and couldn't easily find places were I could set us up to feed in this manner - it was a bit time consuming and fiddly to setup even at home.


It was truly heart-breaking to decide to just make the switch to bottles, but for me at least the Supplemental Nursing System did make me feel like I had absolutely given everything possible a go, which as a mother is the very best you can do! Whether its about breastfeeding or some other issue that can arise any time throughout your child's like, you do your best and decide what is best for you both at the time.
I hope reading more about this type of feeding system might help others out there who like me had never heard about such a thing!