Find out if you can benefit from a supplemental nursing system (SNS), how to use one, and how it can help you introduce allergens when exclusively breastfeeding.
What is a supplemental nursing system (SNS)? How do you know if it's right for you, and what are the benefits of this system for moms? Find out here. Plus, learn how a supplemental nursing system can help you introduce allergens to your baby (in line with medical guidelines) --- while still continuing to exclusively breastfeed.
What is a supplemental nursing system?
A supplemental nursing system (or breastfeeding supplementer) is a tube system that gives baby pumped breastmilk or formula, at the exact same time as they nurse at your breast.
The system includes a bottle that attaches to your breast, to your shirt, or around your neck. You'll fill the bottle with breastmilk or formula.
Attached to the bottle is a tube --- the end of that tube attaches to one of your nipples.
When baby sucks at the breast, more milk or formula flows out of the tube (so they drink from your breast and the tube at the same time).
An SNS system is meant to supplement your breastfeeding when you have a low milk supply, baby is having trouble nursing, or you otherwise need assistance with giving baby nourishment through breastfeeding.
The extra milk or formula that the SNS supplies can go a long way when you need help. And as baby keeps sucking, that may help stimulate your own milk production.
Benefits of a supplemental nursing system
A supplemental nursing system can benefit moms in many different situations. Read through our list to find out if you and baby could benefit from an SNS.
Supplements a low milk supply (and helps build it up)
The most common reason moms use an SNS is because their milk supply is low. If your supply is low for any reason (including if baby struggles with nursing), an SNS can help you encourage successful breastfeeding and stimulate more milk production.
The extra milk or formula provided through the SNS will give baby the nutrition they need during a breastfeeding session (instead of during a bottle feed). This will fill in the nutrient gap and motivate them to keep nursing.
As they suck, this will help stimulate more milk production, leading to an increased supply. The more often they nurse, the more you'll produce.
Helps you start breastfeeding if you couldn't start right away
If you wanted to breastfeed, but had to start with the bottle instead for medical reasons, an SNS can help you and baby transition to breastfeeding --- even if baby isn't yet strong enough to suck.
An SNS works well for preemies and other babies who had to spend time in the NICU, or who had health problems that made them impossible to breastfeed at first.
The SNS rewards baby for making the effort at sucking, and encourages them to happily breastfeed (even if they couldn't remove much milk from the breast or if your supply is still coming in). After all, they're still able to get a good amount of milk from the SNS. And as they suck more and build their strength, this helps you build up your milk supply.
Helps with relactation
If your milk supply completely dried up for any reason (such as breastfeeding troubles, or if you had health issues that made it impossible to breastfeed for a time), but you would like to retry breastfeeding, this is known as relactation.
The best way to encourage relactation is to have baby suck at the breast --- the demand of the sucking helps reestablish your supply.
As baby sucks, using an SNS will reward them for their efforts even though you currently aren't making any milk. And the more they suck, the more likely you are to relactate.
Even if you don't build up a full supply (or relactate at all), the SNS will still ensure baby gets enough milk --- and help you build a closer bond with baby.
Helps induce lactation for adopted or surrogate babies
If you're welcoming your newly adopted baby, or your baby born via surrogate, there's a possibility to induce lactation --- even though you weren't pregnant --- by having baby suck repeatedly.
Using an SNS can help you give baby nourishment during this time, while bonding in the same way you'd bond with any breastfed baby. The bond could also help your milk come in, when combined with the sucking. (And even if you don't start lactating, you can still keep using the SNS to foster this closeness).
Introduce allergens early, even while exclusively breastfeeding
Even if you don't have trouble with milk supply and don't need to start or restart lactation, there's another benefit of a supplemental nursing system --- starting allergen introduction while exclusively breastfeeding.
Guidelines from leading national medical associations, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (AAAAI), support introducing babies to allergens --- like peanut and egg --- as early as 4-6 months of age.
But many moms choose to exclusively breastfeed during this window.
With Ready. Set. Food! Stages 1 and 2, you can safely mix peanut, egg, and milk into a bottle of breastmilk or formula and introduce allergens --- even before you and baby are ready to start baby on solids.
If you're exclusively breastfeeding and don't want to bottle-feed breastmilk (or have struggled with getting baby to accept the bottle), mixing Ready. Set. Food! with pumped breastmilk and feeding it through an SNS is another option.
(And if you're using an SNS for any other reason, Ready. Set. Food! is a quick and easy way to incorporate allergen introduction if your baby is 4+ months old --- use the SNS instead of a bottle.)
Ready. Set. Food! is the only system that lets you safely introduce allergens by mixing with breastmilk or formula --- including breastmilk or formula fed via a supplemental nursing system.
Simply mix Ready. Set. Food! with the expressed breastmilk or prepared formula, and then use the SNS as you normally would.
How to find an SNS?
If you've decided that an SNS is right for you, where can you find one?
- In the hospital, if baby is in the NICU or receiving other treatment
- At baby supply retailers
- From your lactation consultant, if you're working with one
Since it's a piece of breastfeeding equipment, your health insurance should cover the cost of an SNS. But be sure to check if you need to get the SNS through a specific source in order for it to be covered, or if you need to purchase it first and ask for a reimbursement.
How to use an SNS?
Here are the basic steps on how to use a supplemental nursing system. Remember that the exact steps may differ depending on the brand of SNS you use, so read the instructions that came with the SNS.
For a visual guide of how to use an SNS, watch this video from certified lactation consultant Diba Tillery, RN, IBCLC:
- Pump breastmilk or prepare formula.
- Wash your hands.
- Pour the milk or formula into the SNS bottle.
- Tightly close the lid.
- Make sure the tube is closed and threaded through the clamp.
- Flip the SNS bottle upside down.
- Squeeze the bulb once, so milk or formula will flow right away when the tube is open.
- Put the bottle on your neck or on your shirt, following the instructions that came with the SNS (position it over the breast that you won't be using to feed baby, if the SNS has just one tube).
- Attach the tube(s) to your breast(s) with paper tape. Make sure the end of the tube is over the tip of the nipple (or a little past the nipple, if that's what your brand of SNS calls for).
- Position baby in your desired breastfeeding position.
- Encourage baby to latch on deeply, just like if they were breastfeeding without an SNS.
- Lift the tube out of the clamp so the milk or formula can flow.
- Let baby suck for as long as they desire.
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