12 Sept 2012

Powerful Images: Supplementing with Donor Milk

Today's Blog Carnival post was contributed by blogger Paala Anderson Secor at Paa.la. Here, she discusses a device that is at once extraordinarily beneficial and mighty challenging to use – the at-breast supplementer. Enjoy all the fantastic info and resources Paala has gathered!

What an inspirational milksharing image.
A woman looking straight at the camera while nursing her child using a supplementer. "For so long I wanted to keep my breastfeeding a secret. This is the first time I'm able to come out with it in a real way." All donor milk for the past 16 months. All feedings at the breast.
via Emma Kwasnica with the caption,

“Breastfeeding mom, Courtney Jarecki, shares her story of donor milk feeding with an at-breast supplementer via this wonderful photo and caption.
 I am heartened to see more and more women speaking out about donor milk and at-the-breast supplementation… and yet I am sad that there is still stigma around this (and BF in general, yo!). Please share this photo and honour Courtney and her kiddo, and ALL the mamas who use another mother’s milk to nourish their children.”

Thank you for sharing that powerful image, Emma. Without you, I would have never seen such a thing, a proud mama nursing in public with an at-breast supplementer.

At first glace I thought this mama had ipod wires in her shirt. But after taking a closer look, I realized those were for nursing! At-breast supplementers, like Madela’s Supplemental Nursing System and the Lact-Aid, are options for breastfeeding with donor milk or formula. Because breastfeeding is more than just about the milk. It is about bonding, sharing that special connection, hormones, and so much more.

What is an at-breast supplementer?

Quite simply, an at-breast supplementer is a feeding tube that is attached to a formula or breast milk filled bottle that allows for supplementary feeding at the breast. This system enables mothers (and fathers too!) to breastfeed baby even though baby is being supplemented. One brand, Lact-Aid has been around for over 40 years and is recommended by doctors, nurses, lactation consultants, oral physical therapists & books on breastfeeding, birth and parenting.

What are the reasons for using an at-breast supplementer?
  • Babies need to nurse for security, bonding and company, all the while positive hormonal releases are happening. The at-breast alternative to bottle feeding is an at-breast supplementer.
  • An at-breast supplementer is a helpful tool for adoptive mothers to induce lactation.
  • For currently lactating mothers that are looking for ways to naturally increase their milk supply without pumping or ingesting teas, herbs or taking prescription medications, an SNS or Lact-Aid can enhance milk production by triggering hormonal changes in mothers because the baby is at the breast suckling.
  • Even if the mother has no milk at all, using a supplementer is a wonderful way for the mother and baby to benefit from the bonding experience.
  • They are also used to aid in Suck-Training, oral physical therapy for infants.
  • Using an at-breast supplementer helps prevent nipple confusion because the baby is nursing at the breast, not on a rubber nipple.
  • If a mother needs to maintain or re-establish the breastfeeding bond, a supplementer is a wonderful tool.
Personally, I have never used one but if for some reason I needed to quit breastfeeding due to surgery or medication or my supply dried up, I would likely select this feeding option because I know how important the physical and emotional connection is while nursing my two children. I would not want them to find comfort in a pacifier for their non-nutritive sucking needs when I am their real thing and am fully available for them. At-breast comfort nursing satiates my baby’s need for a soothing, familiar place or event. As my children sit on my lap and nurse, we hug and I kiss their heads, read them books or I teach them things about nursing or what is going on around us. Mostly though, we just snuggle quietly and enjoy the parent-child exchange.

According to Dr. Linda Palmer, author of The Baby Bond, when a baby is nurtured by the snuggly warmth of our body, comforted by our familiar scent (pheromones), hearing the beat of our heart and the sound of your voice, our baby’s neurons and hormones program them to desire and flourish in this environment.

And bottle feeding can weaken a baby’s suck reflex and even, unfortunately, lead to early weaning. I want my babies to be at-breast for as long as they need to be, not for me, for them, because that is what I believe is in their best interest. The mother above, Courtney, has breastfed her baby for 16 months using an at-breast supplementer because she knows the importance of nursing from the breast, even if her body cannot produce milk. My own personal breastfeeding goal is two years for my new baby, who just turned one last week, and then weaning when she is ready and not a day before if I can help it.

How does this image make you feel? Have you ever participated in milk sharing or tried an at-breast supplementer?

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  1. Trevor, SNS is a brand of supplementer (Medela). There is also the Lact-Aid, and you can make homemade supplementers as well.

    1. You are so right! Thank you. I just corrected the terms in the post above. It now uses "at-breast supplementer" as the generic term.

  2. I had milk supply issues & tried at-breast supplementing with a thin tube & large syringe supplied by my midwife. I found it extremely awkward: only when the plunger was removed did the milk flow properly, but then I had to hold it up with one hand. I eventually gave up on it entirely. My partner would give our son bottle 'top-ups' after each breastfeed, while I pumped.

    After he really took to solids, my son didn't need the extra 15-20% milk supplement. We're still breastfeeding today--he's 25 months. :)

    I wonder if the SNS bag-type feeder would be any easier to use? I wasn't able to find one locally & the ones I saw online were really expensive, as I recall. When I have a second child, I plan to be better prepared for low supply, as I suspect it'll happen again.

    Could anyone tell me where I could buy one of the SNS or similar at-breast feeders?

    1. Don't be so sure that you'll have low supply with the next one. Your breasts change with every pregnancy (I'm currently expecting my fourth and have noticed changes in my breasts this time around still). Try to look into what might have affected your supply with your son - did he get a pacifier too early or bottle supplimentation before your supply was able to fully establish or undiagnosed tongue or lip tie or anything else? Is there anything you can do differently, during pregnancy, birth or afterward, that might help you keep you build and keep your supply better? There are lots of things you can do that don't cost anything.

      As for buying one of the at-breast supplimenters, a quick Amazon.com search found some, they're in the price range of a low-end breast pump. I don't know your definition of "really expensive", that may be in your expensive range depending on personal circumstances. I don't have a link to any make-it-yourself instructions. You *might* be able to get one covered by insurance if needed, if Obamacare doesn't get repealed - I know breastpumps are supposed to be covered now with a few exceptions that make insurance not have to cover them quite yet (but will whenever the policy renews), not sure if other breastfeeding aids are too but worth looking into. Check with your insurance when the time comes, and also talk to some local lactation consultants (whose services are now supposed to be covered by insurance also) - they may be able to help you prevent the need for the tool entirely, or help you navigate the insurance maze to get it covered if it is needed.

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