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‘I breastfeed my baby with formula’

Mother using a feeding tube to feed her baby formula at the breast“Everything went downhill in our breastfeeding journey when my son was about 11 weeks.

We both got sick, my supply dropped and that was it … cue 10 weeks of pure stress while I attempted everything I could to try to get my son to consistently gain weight.

I was feeding constantly, expressing when I wasn’t feeding and weighing him obsessively with the baby scales that I bought purely for that purpose. When he was 21 weeks I made an appointment with the breastfeeding clinic at the hospital where I gave birth.

After weighing him and finding he was a tiny 3.862kg and taking our medical history the lactation consultant (LC) told me he needed formula. More to the point, she was going over to the hospital to get some so we could give it to him then and there.

She left the room to speak to her boss and I cried, it was a mixture of relief that someone with authority had told me that I could give him formula, guilt that I hadn’t done it sooner and sadness that our breastfeeding journey was coming to an end because my baby would now be bottle fed.

I was pleasantly surprised when she came back with the formula and also some tubing so that I could feed him the formula at the breast. I had vaguely heard about supplemental nursing systems and finger feeding but it all sounded a bit too hard and to be honest, I wasn’t quite sure what it entailed.

Well, it’s actually surprisingly simple. The formula – or expressed breast milk (EBM) – is put in a bottle and a tube from the bottle is taped to the breast so that it ends near the nipple.

Mother using a feeding tube to feed her baby formula at the breast

The baby then sucks at the breast with the tube in their mouth as well which allows them to suck the milk through the tube while feeding at the breast.

They were originally designed for mothers who have adopted babies and want to feed at the breast but are also used for mothers like myself who have issues preventing them from exclusively breastfeeding.

I left that appointment with a baby that had a full belly for the first time in two and a half months, he actually fell asleep in the car!

On the way home, I bought both a tin of formula from the supermarket and a supplemental nursing system (SNS) from the chemist. The SNS cost about $80 which, let’s face it, is expensive for what it is but for me it has been worth every cent. You can do the same thing with just an open bottle and tubing which is much cheaper but for long-term consistent use the one I bought hangs around your neck to allow you to feed without having to hold the bottle which is so much easier.

I firmly believe that had I been aware that supplemental nursing was an option and how easy it would be, I would’ve started topping up with formula sooner. I even could’ve given my EBM top-ups using the SNS and may have never had to use formula at all because that would’ve helped with my supply as well.

I am trying not to live in the past, I can’t change what happened and everything I did was about trying to do the best for my son at the time.

For anyone who is struggling with breastfeeding, please know that there are options out there and that giving formula doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to end feeding at the breast.”

– thank-you to our forum member Sian who has shared her story with us! xx

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11 comments so far -

  1. Wow thank you for sharing Sian!
    I wish I had known – or the lactation consultant or paediatrician had told me about this sort of thing!

    I had a horrible time breastfeeding my first baby. Cracked and bruised nipples from the start, my little one wanted to feed all the time.
    At her four month check up, I found out that she hadn’t been feeding properly from me as she didn’t latch properly, causing my milk supply to drop drastically. She basically was just comfort sucking.
    I was told I had to top up with formula as her weight had fallen so far off the growth chart. Eventually she decided she prefered the bottle to the breast because she got a full tummy from the bottle.
    I felt like a failure at the time, and the health nurse hadn’t helped with her comment of “didn’t you know your baby wasn’t feeding properly”.

    Looking back I know I did my best and while I would have loved to have been able to exclusively breastfeed, it was better for my baby’s health to bottle feed her.
    I have been lucky the second time around with my second baby as she never had any problems attaching and I’ve had a good supply this time for her, but I was very aware of checking her weights as she grew!

  2. I’m really glad I’ve seen this article. I wish I’d seen this years ago. I had a lot of feeding problems with my first and was heartbroken when I couldn’t continue breastfeeding, even though there wasn’t a problem with my milk supply (my baby also wasn’t putting on enough weight due to other medical issues) & had to formula feed. If the time comes with this baby, I’ll definitely be enquiring about this system.

  3. Great to see an article on this. I used this system with my second bub.. took away the stress of feeding then topping up with a bottle and expressing. This way he had a full feed, whilst we both enjoyed the comfort and closeness of breast feeding.

  4. I have never seen this before. I had lots of problems with cracked nipples and clicking with my two. I got through it to bf them for 18 months but at times I just cried over the pain. I had clinic nurses almost forcing me to put them on bottle but to me it was still ok to bf because they were gaining weight (regardless of the pain it caused me). I would love to see this sort of device be more well known. So many women (my sister included) desperately want to bf and can’t. So they go through the emotional ringer feeling like they have failed as a mother, which is complete rubbish because sometimes it just doesn’t work out. This could give them another option to try. To me, nothing is more beautiful than seeing a baby breastfeeding or breastfeeding a baby and this allows more women the possibility of that joy even if the bottle contains formula. Absolutely brilliant !!!

  5. I had trouble in the beginning with each of my 3 sons with milk supply. Feeding each of them with a lactation tube to the breast helped a huge amount to fully breast feeding all three of them as I wanted.

  6. I have two children now in their 20s and I did the same/similar thing. The “contraptions” have come a long way since the 1980s. Looks much easier to manage now.

    It gave the opportunity to still breastfeed and know that your baby was getting all they needed to grow and you could relax and enjoy your baby more.

    Well done Sian.

  7. Congratulations, Sian! And thankyou for sharing your story!
    I, too, breastfed with formula – I used the SNS for 10mths because my baby has a tongue tie that meant he was unable to transfer milk effectively and my supply also suffered as a result. But the SNS gave him that extra incentive to keep suckling effectively and meant I could make up any shortfall in my supply without giving a bottle.
    I know its not always an easy road to travel, but like you, I am so grateful for the opportunity to continue breastfeeding. And I am passionate about spreading the word that there is another option out there to help with feeding!

    Are you part of the Supply Line Breastfeeders Support Group? You’re most welcome to join! As is anyone who uses/has used any type of SNS, anyone who supports women to use one (incl. health professionals), or mums who would like to know more about it.

    thankyou again for sharing your story. x

  8. I too used an SNS until my daughter was 4 months old as she had a sever tongue and lip tie which stopped her from being able to transfer milk effectively!! I was able to use it to build her oral strength and function after her ties were revised too. It is a super nifty little devise. There is a very supportive group of Brisbane mums that voluntarily run a Facebook support page for using supply lines like the SNS or lactaid!

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