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Anyone who has seen my Instagram feed will be well used to the sight of Miss Olive nursing with the aid of a Supplemental Nursing System. That’s no accident; it’s a conscious decision I made a little while ago to be more open about what it takes for me to nurse my baby.

Using a Supplemental Nursing System (SNS)

Feeding Miss Olive takes nursing in public to a whole new level of scrutiny.

Nothing says "subtle" like a cowbell of milk round your neck! I might as well hire a town crier to walk around me with a bell shouting “HEAR YE! HEAR YE! THERE’S A BABY! ON HER BOOB! DRINKING MILK! OVER HERE! ON HER BOOB! RIGHT NOW! DRINKING MILK!”

For all that, my reality has been very positive and I've had strangers come up to me and show a genuine interest in the SNS. That may not sound like a positive thing but I’m all about the sharing so it makes me smile and gush and disturb the baby mid feed in my enthusiasm to demonstrate what we are doing.

The interest has also inspired me to post a short video sharing my tips because when you make the choice to use an Supplemental Nursing System, you realise that you are entering a weird breastfeeding void where all you can find are instructional articles written by women with more limbs (or more compliant babies) than you.

There aren't many places that tell you cheats for using an SNS while lying down in bed, or how to avoid getting tangled in those thin tubes, so I've shared what worked for me.

I have also made and shared a video demonstrating a feed with an SNS. It contains traces of exposed breast because, well, how else do you breastfeed? 

Despite the benefits of maintaining a nursing relationship with my babies and the positive response I have had I sometimes mourn that nursing hasn't come easy. 

In darker moments I wonder whether I’m some kind of fraud for advocating for breastfeeding so strongly. I wonder if using an SNS means I shouldn't count what I do as “proper” nursing.

That makes as much sense as telling someone with glasses that they can’t "really" see but there is no logic to the doubt and it lingers.

It’s a doubt shared by many mamas for whom breastfeeding doesn't “just happen”.

Even with help and support, sometimes you are still left with a situation where you need to do something more to feed your baby. Most women opt to do that by bottle feeding, but often a Supplemental Nursing System can be an alternative.

If you find yourself needing to make that choice, don’t be scared of it. You will need a little time and a little stubborn to use an SNS, but I can promise you it will be worth the effort.

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Have you used an SNS? If you have tips of your own I would love to hear them.


11 comments

  1. Like to have known more about what an SNS is, because when I saw you mention it previously, I googled SNS as I didn't even know what it stood for, then I clicked on images because sticking SNS in google brings up alsorts! Clicking on an image that matched what I had seen taped to your boob, brought up some info but not enough. So would you like to enlighten readers further as to how you use it? what's the cowbell of milk do? Is Olive getting milk from you and milk from a tube from the C of M? Is that still your breast milk? Wish I'd known about SNS sooner then maybe my sister could've tried it, instead that part of motherhood went unfulfilled and now she doesn't want to talk about it. Meanwhile sister-in-law is having a fine ol time breastfeeding.

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    1. Hiya!

      So, yes, as you have no doubt realised SNS is short for Supplemental Nursing System. There are two main brands, one by Medela, one by Lact-aid. They both do very similar things.

      Put simply, the systems are made up of a bottle and some tubes (you can see it clearly in the video I linked to). You put the milk of choice (your expressed milk, donor milk, formula) into the bottle, hang it round your neck and tape the tubes to your boob so it sits alongside your nipple.

      In case you missed the link in the article, you can see it here http://youtu.be/jZIihsJ8Pto

      The idea behind the SNS is that the baby gets milk from both sources. By doing this (rather than bottle feeding) it stimulates you own supply. There are even cases of women using an SNS with adoptive babies lactating after a period of time.

      In some cases this process is enough to improve the mum’s supply enough that they can do without the SNS, in others, you just keep using it until the baby weans entirely. It is designed for long term use and once you get over the initial learning curve, it becomes quite an easy thing to use.

      I’m sorry your sister had such a hard journey. I know I was left very upset by Alfie refusing to latch so I can imagine how she feels. If she ever wants to talk to someone, the LLL are fabulous, or I would be happy to speak to her from a fellow frustrated breastfeeder perspective.

      I’m glad your sister in law is doing so well. It always makes me smile to hear about babies enjoying a good nursing relationship with their mamas

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  2. Brilliant video! Very informative. I think I fully understand the purpose of this.

    IF my sister has a change of heart and decides to have another baby, I will point her in the direction of your blog and this page. Her son was full of liquid from the birth, and until he started to drastically lose weight, did the hospital sit up and take notice, meanwhile my sister tried her hardest to breast feed him, and then moved to bottles with different teats because she was told he had a high roof of his mouth, and then finally the hospital did their bit, and he was able to feed from a bottle. My sister had given up the idea of breast feeding, and the midwife had told her, her baby would never have latched on. My sister lives with the fact she will never know whether it was something she did wrong, or did she have a baby that would never have latched on. I tell her, if the hospital had cleared him of the fluid that was in his stomach, leaving him feeling full all the time, at the time of his birth, then she would probably have been able to breast feed him.

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    1. Well if you have any more questions, I'll happily answer them for you, or your sister in the future.

      It is so hard when you don't get the support you need until it is almost too late. I know the NHS has limited resources but one of the reasons I got so involved in trying to shape maternity services after Alfie was born is that it the long reaching impact of those shortages is just so devastating. I hope your sister knows that she did the best she could with what she had at the time. That's all any of us can do and is no reflection on her. Even if your sister doesn't want to have any more babies, I'd be happy to talk to her about her experiences or point her in the direction of some other resources who might be useful to her: Sheila Kitzinger for instance runs a Birth Crisis helpline http://www.sheilakitzinger.com/birthcrisis.htm who I'm sure would be very helpful to her.

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  3. Brilliant, thank you very much for the link. I will send the link to my sister. She's still not recovered healing wise from the 4th degree tear she suffered, GP is dealing with it, but it's taking a very long time to sort. My nephew is nearly 2, that's how long it's taking to sort. The way my sister envisage things happening, didn't happen for her. My sister-in-law was lucky, her Mum being a Midwife, drove up and was with her every step of the way at the hospital. Her Mum reported later, she was practically left to it, with them knowing that she is a Midwife, plus the Mat Wing was low on staff.

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    1. I'm so sorry she's had such a bad time of it. If there's any way I can help, just give me a shout and I will do my best. On the flip side, I'm glad your sister in law was able to have the birth she wanted supported by her mama!

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  4. Thank you very much. I did tell my sister the problems you had giving birth to Esme and then you went onto have Olive and it was wonderful.

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  5. When I was breastfeeding my son I am only using one breast as the other is not working. Weird just to say that but this wouldve been a nice alternative before. I weaned him already. Still a nice process. I love it and I hope that it will be more mainstream > SNS #MBPW

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    1. Thank you! I find it such a shame that it isn't more widely known and that's part of the reason I want to shout about using it. Kudos nursing your son on one side, I bow down to your superior milky abilities!!

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  6. Yes thank you for sharing about the SNS!!! I used it to nurse our 8 (yes eight, not a typo) children because I had such low milk supply. Anytime I hear about baby who weaned after receiving supplement from a bottle I feel so bad. It doesn't have to be that way. I wish more pediatricians would suggest using a Supplementer (www.lact-aid.com also makes one. Both systems are good and each has it's strengths & weaknesses. I loved the disposable pre-sterilized bags with the Lact-aid. ) Seems like Pediatricians SHOULD be recommending what is best for baby, which would be supplementing at the breast. Thanks again! (and congrats on using the SNS laying down!! Eight babies & I never mastered that one. lol)

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    1. Holy moly! Eight babies on an SNS!! You rock my world Pam!! I have to admit I have never tried the Lact-aid. I think the fact that I have dropped a bag of expressed milk before made me shy of using it in case the same thing happened when I wasn't paying quite enough attention. I share your frustration about mothers not being told about the option of using an SNS and babies being weaned when neither were ready; but we keep sharing and hopefully we can help mamas make different choices in the future!

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