The real boob tube: Learning to feed my baby with an SNS

Had someone told me I’d be pouring milk into a container, hanging it around my neck and taping the tubes attached to it to my breasts I’d not have believed it. I’d tell them: “Bring on the bottle, mate.”

I couldn’t have known how important breastfeeding would be to me until it was threatened. It took time to accept that Talitha needed supplementary milk and that, realistically, some of it would have to be formula.

When it became clear that almost every feed needed a top-up, at least for the time being, I both resented and was grateful for the bottle.

Despite having her tongue-tie corrected, Talitha still has a poor suck. She has to be at just the right angle and there needs to be just the right pressure in the breast or she gets hardly anything. She gets tired too soon.

Though the bottle was helping her gather the energy to make a real go of things, I was beginning to worry that the frequency with which we were using it was making her prefer the ease of its flow to the “hard work” of the breast.

So, we brought in the supplementary nursing system from Medela. It’s hard work, assembling, washing, sterilising, attaching and then, hardest of all: getting her to latch on properly and get the tube in her mouth at the same time.

And then, of course, just when I’ve managed that, little hands find the tube and yank it out, causing the milk flow to stop and the baby to strop.

With practice, we’re getting there. Still, I’m always wondering: when do I start the supplement? My flow is slow and I don’t want us to be at it for bloody ages before starting it but at the same time, I don’t want to start it too soon and she end up not getting as much from the breast itself as she can. Constant conundrum.

It’s just been a few days so I’m sure that with time and experience, questions will answer themselves. And who knows? One day we may not need to use it at all.

While the instructions say to tape the tube so the baby’s taking it under the top centre lip, it’s much easier if you tape it coming up from underneath, especially if you nurse in the clutch position. Some people latch the baby then stick the tube into the mouth corner but I’ve yet to make that work.

Video by Liam Camps

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  • Kudos Adele, despite the downs you’re having with breastfeeding and it not being easy for either of you you are still going for it when others might feel too awful to carry on. Seriously, i’m glad you’re finding your legs with it. 🙂 Nice work also on camera 🙂 xx

  • With Alice in the hospital for 2 months I expressed the little bit of milk I was making up to 8 times a day. When she came home we tried everything to continue expressing and to transfer Alice to the breast. Feeds became long, Alice had no interest in the breast except for comfort. She needed formula to grow. I am impressed with your dedication and committment. I managed a month at home and then we gave in to the bottle. Despite my guilty feelings at first, it was what was best for all! Alice had a good few months start on breast milk.

    • Well done for your commitment, Rachel. I can’t imagine whether I’d have had what it takes to keep expressing with the baby in hospital. I’m so bad at pumping anyway. In the end, you need to do what’s best for your family and you still managed to give her a fab start. x

    • I’ve just read your post about it. I really don’t understand why they don’t just correct the obvious ones. It doesn’t cause any harm and it’s much easier to avert problems sooner rather than working through them later. 

  • Loving the video – never heard of SNS before – you explain it all so well! Rather an ingenious invention, but does sound a tad complicated!

    Hats off to you for your perseverance, Adele…it’s hard to believe that one day all this will be behind you, and you will be regaling her with stories of her babyhood, isn’t it?

    So hang in there! xoxo

    • Every time I use it, it gets easier. I think it’s just about learning how it works in your circumstance. I know, things are better even than they were a week ago… I can imagine when she’s older all of this will seem so far away. Thanks for the encouragement.

  • I’m learning so much from you through all of this, Adele. It’s so important to share it all . Think of all the heartache that could have been avoided if these things were more common knowledge. What a journey it has been so far! And you’re a natural for the camera. Seriously, there may be a future there…you never know, someone may make you an offer

    • Haha, don’t know about that last bit, mummy. But yes, I wish more of this were shared. I just kept hearing either really positive stories of breastfeeding or ones where it didn’t work out when I was pregnant. Never heard of anyone having an awful time and taking steps to overcome it. Hoping to invite others to share those kinds of stories here too.

  • aww Adele this video made me miss you. You look so pretty n tings. btw they mentioned tongue tie at my antenatal class yesterday, the midwife was like ‘if your doctor tells you that the baby has tongue tie but that it shouldn’t be a problem, IGNORE THEM, get baby referred to the hospital and get it sorted out’. And I was like, hell yeah.

    • Miss you too. Want to see your pregnantness. Actually GP did refer me in the end but to pediatrics not a specialist and the appointment’s til October so we wouldn’t still be breastfeeding by then if we’d not got it sorted sooner. Self-refer if need be and pay. It cost friends of ours £80.

  • you are tiny woman!

    did you really just have a baby?

    Great post though, you are doing so well in raising awareness about how hard breastfeeding can be.

    Stick with it x

  • […] out, now I’m practically married to the thing. The last thing I do at night is wash up the SNS, the breastpump and our vast array of bottles, stick ‘em in the steriliser and dump my lumps […]

  • Finally I meet someone who has to us this thing like me. I was going to a speech pathologist too. Cause my daughter wasnt gaining well, and I was advised to nurse 5-10 on each side then. Ring in the SNS and have her finish with that. With the medium tubing it was taking forever so I had go up to using the large tubing. So far everything has turned out great and I’m able to kelp her at the. Feast during feedings . I love what the SNS has done for my breastfeeding relationship !! Good luck

    • It’s tough going but worth it. I did stop using it for a while and started using bottles instead because I was just fed up of having to wash it and having to reattach the baby a few times as she kept fiddling with it. Then she started rejecting the breast again so I started using it again. I now don’t use it at all as I can feed completely from the breast. I am taking domperidone though to up my milk supply. Hopefully it’ll continue to work for you. You’re doing a good job. Anyone who uses an SNS is a bit of a hardcore mama. 😉

  • my daughter is 5 weeks now, and her tt was clipped at 2 days (i learned my lesson with my son after i waited 3 months to clip his tt :[ ). poor suck and tongue movements led me to syringe feed, tube finger feed, and use the haberman as well as suck training techniques. SUCH hard work from such a small piece of cartilage! 

    good work mum!

    • It definitely is hard work! So you had two tongue-tied babies. I’m sorry you’ve had such a hard time of it. Well done for doing all that you’re doing! Have you looked into cranial osteopathy at all? I found it really helped my daughter’s suck quite a lot.

  • I always latched the baby on with the tube taped to my nipple- I never could get it inserted far enough in once she was latched onto the breast-either that or I would end up gagging her.  When I first started using my SNS I would tape the tube further up in the breast leaving a fairly good amount of slack room then I would hold my breast with one hand with the fingers cupping underneath the breast and the thumb held the tip of the SNS tube just past the tip of my nipple.  I’d latch the baby on– then quickly tape the tube to my breast near the aereola and tucking the slack tubing up inside my shirt– If I moved fast enough I could usually prevent flailing baby arms from pulling the tube out. It’s not an easy contraption to use as you feel like a octopus I grew to love mine as it maintained my sanity being able to see her at the breast while we were struggling.  Keep up the good work and good luck!  

    • What a fantastic comment! Thanks for your very detailed clips. Thankfully I’m not using the SNS anymore as I’m now producing enough and her suck is organised. I found when getting ready to use it though that there wasn’t much “real life” info so thanks for sharing yours. Out of interest, how long did you use it for?

  • […] It’s worth at least making contact with an IBCLC in your area so that if you do run into difficulties you know who to call in a hurry. Breastfeeding helplines are brilliant but there’s nothing like having someone come to your home. I know that NCT breastfeeding counselors do this too but my own experience has been with an IBCLC who knowledgably and compassionately helped me to pinpoint why Talitha wasn’t gaining weight and work through the minefield of low milk supply and supplementing using an SNS. […]

  • It must be an Adele thing, the hospital gave me one when I was at the end of my tether. A baby with nipple aversion was one cause, low milk supply was another. I was devastated by the time I got it, it was a total last resort. It was amazing, we called it tubey booby and only stopped because I was slowly losing my mind and making breastfeeding too big of an issue. Also it only came with one set of everything so the cleaning etc was time consuming and it prevented me from going out and about which I needed to do, again to help my mental state. Even writing this is making my eyes prick as I wish on one hand that I had stuck at it, but on the other I know that she is a totally happy baby on formula. Formula is not “mucky milk” and the stigma needs to be removed to stop mums like myself driving themself demented. PS it was my sister who called it mucky milk in one of her counselling moments ha ha!!

  • […] It’s worth at least making contact with an IBCLC in your area so that if you do run into difficulties you know who to call in a hurry. Breastfeeding helplines are brilliant but there’s nothing like having someone come to your home. I know that NCT breastfeeding counselors do this too but my own experience has been with an IBCLC who knowledgably and compassionately helped me to pinpoint why Talitha wasn’t gaining weight and work through the minefield of low milk supply and supplementing using an SNS. […]

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