Last week, a wonderfully dedicated family pregnant with their first baby came to see me. The mother was worried about her upcoming birth and breastfeeding journey. Just a few years before our visit, she had a breast reduction because of her chronic back pain. The pain was resolved but she realized that it could affect her chances to make milk for her baby. She was worried that by introducing bottles her baby would have a harder time breastfeeding.
Breast reductions, poor growth of breast tissue, early trauma, or hormonal and thyroid challenges can caused decreased milk supply. A poor latch, tongue tie, swaddling, pacifiers, or unhelpful rules like timing and scheduling feeds can decrease it as well.
Our visit started with some basic education around getting the very best start possible. From the birth experience to early and unlimited skin to skin contact, to feeding on demand and how to tell if the baby is getting enough milk. After this typical prenatal information, I introduced an essential tool for any new family who may need to supplement: the lactation aid. Sometimes called a supplementary nursing system (SNS), or “the tube” by many breastfeeding parents, this little system of supplementing milk allows for exclusive at-the-breastfeeding while supplementing.
Here’s the top 7 benefits of using a lactation aid:
- The baby learns to breastfeed, by breastfeeding.
- The tube at the breast alleviates the possibility of the baby developing a preference for the fast flow of the bottle. Often this fast flow leads baby away from breastfeeding and towards more bottle-feeding.
- The baby gets all the milk they need at the breast and with little worry that they wont get enough milk if not latching and feeding well.
- It allows the baby to drink well at the breast which increases the signal for more milk from the mother. This signal then increases the mothers milk supply all in one step.
- Mothers enjoy the time freed up by feeding at the breast and adding “the tube” when needed. It’s much easier than the routine of breastfeeding, bottle feeding, pumping, and washing the equipment. That’s like doing the work of feeding three separate times!
- Offers the baby consistent flow. Consistent flow turns around breast refusal, fussiness at the breast, and even encourages babies who have never latched on.
- It preserves the physical aspects of breastfeeding that have nothing to do with milk. The action of breastfeeding develops palate shape, the architecture of the airway, better dentition, and better moulding of the jaw, which bottle feeding negatively influences.
Sometimes the lactation aid can be challenging for families, so here are some easy troubleshooting scenarios. I find that most often there are simple tricks and changes that can make lactation aids work well.
- The end of the tube should sit in a vessel of breastmilk that has a small hole in the top. Connecting the tube to a syringe becomes unmanageable for the breastfeeding parent to use alone. It can feel overwhelming holding the baby, latching the baby, maintaining the latch, adding the tube, and holding the syringe. If the baby tries to suck through the tube with syringe attached, the suctions can be too slow and difficult for the baby to tolerate. With the tube in a more-open vessel, baby can drink more easily.
- The lactation aid should sit just above the corner of the baby’s mouth, where the lip can seal around it. If the tube is in the corner of the mouth, there may not be a complete seal to draw milk up well.
- You can add the lactation aid sooner than expected, if waiting too long leads to an upset and fussy baby. It’s better to place it well while the baby is still happy at the breast. This way baby will continue to get mother’s milk and the milk in the tube.
This family left our visit feeling confident that they will have a great chance of breastfeeding their baby, which may look different from what they originally imagined. They would do everything to get the best start possible and arrange for an IBCLC visit in the first days of life to help with their breastfeeding goals. Now understanding all the benefits of feeding their baby at the breast, with help from the lactation aid, this family is motivated to try something new and give their baby the best start possible.
Ashley Pickett, IBCLC