What The Heck is an SNS (Supplemental Nursing System )?

Breast or bottle. Bottle or breast. Pretty much your only options for baby feeding, right?

Wrong.

What The Heck is an SNS (Supplemental Nursing System )?

by Nyssa Retter | Diary of a Lactation Failure

There are actually several options for feeding or supplementing babies; you just may not have heard of them.

Today, we’re going to talk about At-Breast Supplementers, commonly referred to as a supplemental nursing system or “SNS.”

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There are 4 types of at-breast supplementers. The Medela Starter SNS for short-term use, the Medela SNS for long-term use, the Lact-aid, and a homemade supplementer (DIY ABS) using a thin feeding tube in a regular baby bottle.

Starter SNS

I don’t even want to talk about the Starter SNS.  If you get one for free from a lactation consultant, fine, but otherwise, save your money. I do not recommend this one.

Medela SNS

The product I have experience with is the Medela SNS. It’s a hard plastic bottle with two tubes (one for the milk to flow through, and one to release the vacuum created when baby sucks.)

It can be a bit tricky to get started. I’ve found these instructions to be the most helpful. I used the SNS for 20 months with my daughter, and I always had to use “boob tape” as I called it to hold the tube in place. I found the CVS brand of paper tape (in the bandage section) to be the easiest to apply and remove without causing trauma to the areola skin.

Many moms choose to latch baby on and then snake the tube into baby’s mouth while baby is nursing. Others simply hold the tube near the nipple as they latch baby on. Some babies go for it, and others won’t.

This type of SNS is gravity fed, making it ideal for babies with a weak suck. The higher the bottle is held, the faster the milk will flow. If the bottle is held at or below baby’s head, the flow will be slower, which is good for helping to build milk supply. Tape or no tape, pre-latch or after, high or low, you’ll figure out what works for you and your baby.

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The Lact-aid

The Lact-aid is another commercially available and popular supplemental nursing system. I don’t have personal experience with it, but many moms prefer it to the Medela version. It consists of a single tube and a soft plastic pouch that is filled with the supplemental breast milk, donor milk, or formula. I hear it’s excellent for discreet supplemental feedings because you can tuck the Lact-aid pouch into your bra as you feed baby. The Lact-aid is not gravity-fed like the Medela SNS, and can be used in many positions. However, I never had any problems side-lying with the Medela SNS, I just had to watch the placement of the bottle.

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The DIY ABS (Do It Yourself At-Breast Supplementer)

The homemade version consists of a small feeding tube inserted into a regular baby bottle.

Here’s a video about how to make one:

So, what the heck is an SNS good for?

At-Breast Supplementers are great for supplementing at the breast to avoid nipple confusion and preserve the nursing relationship. They can assist in the following situations: adoptive nursing, oral deformities in baby, breastfeeding after reduction with low milk supply, insufficient glandular tissue and low milk supply, re-lactation and building a milk supply, et cetera.

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More than anything, I wanted to nurse my babies until they self-weaned. It had always been my plan. With my first, I made it two months before I threw in the towel, frustrated that I couldn’t make enough milk for my baby boy. With my second, I made it 9 months nursing and supplementing with bottles. When my third baby was hospitalized for dehydration and no weight gain at 2 weeks old, I finally met with a lactation consultant who agreed that I had insufficient glandular tissue and might never have enough milk to nurse my babies exclusively. I asked her for an SNS. It was frustrating at first, but we got the hang of it eventually and went on to use the SNS until my daughter was 20 months old. She continued to nurse without it through her little brother’s pregnancy.

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We tandem-nursed for a little while, big sister nursing on the side little brother had just finished, and she slowly weaned herself over the next several months. She was 3 1/2 the last time she nursed. Now little brother is 14 months old and still nursing like a champ. We used the SNS with donor milk until he was about 7 months when we were able to start supplementing him more with nutrient-dense, high calorie foods.

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I really credit the SNS for our nursing successes. Without it, I would have been constantly doubting my body’s ability to feed my babies and feeling like a failure. But they found comfort AND nourishment at my breasts, just as I’d always wanted.

For anyone out there struggling with low milk supply, know this: Breastfeeding isn’t ALL or NOTHING. Every ounce, every drop, is worth fighting for. Whether you use an SNS, bottle, formula, donor milk, or whatever. YOU are enough. You are doing enough.

For More Info, check out- Digging into the Breastfeeding Toolbox: At the Breast Supplementers

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Nyssa Retter is the blogger behind Diary of a Lactation Failure and the creator of the IGT and Low Milk Supply Support Group. She has been an avid lactivist since she was a little girl.