A Supplemental Nursing System Could Help You Breastfeed

Plus 6 tips to make your supplemental nursing journey easier.

A Supplemental Nursing System Could Help You Breastfeed

When my daughter was born three years ago, I spent almost a year nursing her then topping her off with a bottle. It was both time consuming and frustrating. So when I become pregnant with my son a little over a year later, I began researching options to make the process easier. I had already experienced breastfeeding and wanted to share that bond with my son. But I I knew I might need to supplement to make it easier for both me and him. It turned out that SNS was the solution for us. And it might be for you too. Below, Lactation Consultant, Melanie Venuti helps us clear the clutter around the SNS.


What is an SNS?

SNS stands for Supplemental Nursing System. It’s basically a container of of milk (your own pumped breastmilk, donor milk or even formula) that hangs around your neck with a small, inconspicuous straw that you can slip into your baby’s mouth while he breastfeeds. An SNS may be recommended for a mother to use by a lactation consultant for specific reasons concerning the baby, or reasons concerning the mother.

Who might be a candidate to use an SNS?

There’s a lot of reasons a mom might choose to use SNS to feed her baby. Here’s a few scenarios:

  • Baby is having an issue with latch.
  • Premature baby
  • Baby has a cleft lip or palate
  • Baby born with Down Syndrome
  • A mother adopting a child who either wishes to induce lactation or create an intimate bond by breastfeeding their baby
  • A mother who has had previous breast related surgeries, including augmentation, reduction, or removal of breast tissue for medical reasons, or a mother who has insufficient glandular issue

What’s so great about it?

I know, I know, sounds intense, right? It’s easier than it sounds and it saves time! Here’s a few of the benefits:

  • The baby spends more time on the breast therefore hormonally stimulates the milk supply which hopefully lessens the time needed to pump after.
  • Similar to bottles, the bags can be prepped ahead of time but don't need to be heated from the fridge because your body heat takes care of that!
  • Eliminates any possibility of nipple or flow preference, which can often happen if bottles are offered when the baby is very young.
  • Using an SNS allows for the exclusive breastfeeding experience, which is not only about providing mother's milk to baby but just as much as about creating an intimate bond. It provides a comforting, safe place for baby and offers the mother and baby a way to feed in the most natural approach.

And the cons?

  • It can be overwhelming to learn how to use at first and when you're sleep deprived and likely already frustrated, adding another new thing to learn might just be too much.
  • Cleaning the tubes takes time (you can't just throw them in the dishwasher.)
  • It can be a little bit trickier to nurse in public if you and baby are still adjusting to positioning the tubing, a nursing cover, etc...a hungry baby is a hungry baby!

Here’s 6 tips to make an SNS easier for you:

  1. Get a lactation consultant. If you suspect you might be having any of the above symptoms or issues, get a Board Certified Lactation consultant sooner rather than later! It will help to have support and guidance, especially if it's your first baby. She/he will also be able to give you advice on which system to use, and may be able to assess and improve position and latching. This will ensure that your breast is being stimulated properly and will avoid sore and damaged nipples. And don't hesitate to reach out to a lactation consultant before your baby is born if you are concerned you might have issues breastfeeding. Find a lactation consultant close to you here.
  2. Get your partner on board! Mamas have enough on their plate feeding the baby, get your partner involved by helping to make the bags of milk and clean the tubes each day. In the beginning it also will help to have an extra set of hands to help you position the bag and tubing so that baby can get a proper latch. (It takes a village, people!)
  3. Make space. Create a small area of your kitchen where you can clean and prep everything. Having one designated place to keep all your supplies will make it easier when you have a hungry baby on your hands.
  4. Explore the options. The two most popular at breast supplementing systems are the Lact-Aid and Medela SNS. Most hospitals will be more knowledgable about the Medela system; however, the Lact-Aid is much easier to use and more popular among Mother's who have tried both.
  5. If you have milk, use it! Donor milk is also always an option, as is formula. Talk to your lactation consultant if you need help creating a pumping schedule or finding donor milk. I was lucky enough to receive donor milk from my sister, who had her daughter only a few months before my son was born. They are now 'milk twins!'
  6. Give yourself a break. If it's too much or too hard, take a break and don't feel like you have to try at each feeding. If the bottle is easier, go with that as the supplement for one feeding and then try the SNS the next. Do what you can but the bottom line is always, happy mom, happy baby-no matter how you feed them.

Websites to find more information:

Breastfeeding Today

International Breastfeeding Centre

The Adoptive Breastfeeding Resource Network

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