A baby being fed is usually portrayed in two ways: with a bottle or breastfeeding. These two methods are the most common and are what has been normalized in society. Parents aren’t usually told that there’s another option that combines bottle and breastfeeding. A Supplemental Nursing System (SNS) does just that.
What is an SNS?
A Supplemental Nursing System (SNS) is a method of nursing your baby while also supplementing with breast milk or formula. Breast milk can be your own pumped milk or milk supplied by a donor.
Milk is held in a small container with a straw-like tube inserted into it. The other end of the tube is slipped into the baby’s mouth at the nipple. This allows the breast to be stimulated from suckling while giving extra nutrition to the baby.
When would an SNS be used?
There are many situations where an SNS would be helpful, such as:
- Latch issues. Baby might need time to learn how to properly latch or have difficulty due to ties or premature birth. You can find out more about tongue- and lip-ties on our blog here.
- Low milk supply. Separation after birth, breast or tissue surgeries, or other health problems may cause mom’s supply to struggle to keep up with the demands of baby.
- Relactation. Breastfeeding can be brought on again after a baby has been weaned.
- Induced lactation. Adoptive or surrogate parents can try to establish lactation or a breastfeeding relationship with their baby.
Not all situations require an SNS to be used in the long-term. If there are latch issues, an SNS can be used until they are resolved. Most premature babies are able to develop the needed muscle coordination and strength to successfully latch on their own. Low milk supply can be also be temporary as long as there are no underlying health conditions causing them.
In certain cases an SNS would be used for as long as you want to breastfeed. This usually happens if someone has had breast surgery (such as a reduction or augmentation). It could also be for moms that have hormonal issues that cause a low supply.
What do I need to use an SNS?
Before you purchase an SNS system or gather supplies, contact an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) or Certified Lactation Consultant (CLC). They will be able to tell if an SNS would be helpful for you and support you with advice on systems to use, getting the correct latch, and finding positions that work best for you.
If you’ve already met with a Lactation Consultant and know you’ll need to use an SNS, here are helpful tips on how to get started:
- Choose a system. There are a few different options on the market that you can buy. Medela and Lact-Aid are the most popular. With each company you’re able to buy a starter kit that contains everything you need, but they can be a bit pricey for those on a budget. A Lactation Consultant may be able to help you find all of the parts you need at a cheaper price.
- Gather your supplement. Once you have your equipment you will need to have milk or formula on hand to supplement during feeds. Supplements can be your own expressed milk, donor milk, or formula.
- Set up your nursing area. Having all of your breastfeeding supplies in once place will make it easier for you. Plan to nurse in a comfortable seat with access to a table or basket that holds any supplies you might need. Keep a designated area in your kitchen for clean equipment as well.
- Enlist help. Taking care of your child is hard work, and an SNS can add to the load. Ask your partner, friends, or family if they’re able to pitch in. You’ll need to make sure your equipment is clean and milk or formula is ready to go. An extra set of hands can go a long way.
How do I feed with an SNS?
Nursing your baby with an SNS can be intimidating, especially if you’ve never seen or used one before. We want your SNS experience to be as stress-free as possible. Keep reading to get a better understanding of the process and what it’s like to feed your baby using an SNS.
1. Have Your SNS Supplies Ready
Before using your SNS, double check that all parts have been sterilized and properly put together. If you ordered an SNS kit it should have come with all the necessary supplies. If you went the DIY route, make sure you have all of the following:
- No. 5 French feeding tube
- Baby bottles
- Medical tape
- Breast milk or formula
2. Latch Your Baby
This is where the need to be flexible and patient will kick in. Proper latching can take a little bit of skill without any other issues intervening. Trying to latch on a fussy or uncooperative baby while learning to insert the feeding tube is hard work.
While you are getting used to using an SNS, try taping the feeding tube to your breast using the surgical tape. The end of the tube should be just beyond the edge of the nipple to ensure it is in baby’s mouth. This also makes sure that baby can get a deep enough latch to stimulate the breast and suck milk from the syringe or bottle that is holding the supplement. Once you are comfortable using an SNS you may be able to slip the tube into the baby’s mouth and stop using the surgical tape to hold it in place.
You can wear the milk container around your neck, or tuck it into your shirt or bra. Tucking the container away will lesson the chance of baby tugging on the tubes. Keeping the container near your skin will keep the milk warm from your body heat, too!
3. Be Open and Flexible
Learning to feed with an SNS will require some trial and error. You might need to test out different positions and latches to get it just right. You’ll need patience and determination while you work through the kinks.
If you are unable to have a Lactation Consultant help you, try to find a friend or family member that has breastfeeding experience. They can suggest positions and assist in making you comfortable during the first few feeds.
We always wish that mamas and babies have a smooth and blissful breastfeeding experience, but we know that’s not always reality. Inventions like the SNS have allowed countless moms to breastfeed and babies to receive proper nutrition. If you’re having troubles breastfeeding or think you have a low supply, schedule a virtual consultation with one of our IBCLCs or Certified Lactation Consultants. We can try to pin-point the root of your problem and get you the help you need. We’re here for you, mama.