Six days after Babi bach was born we were sent back to hospital to get him checked over by a paediatrician as he had lost more than 12% of his birth weight. We were pleased to find out that he was healthy and the doctor wasn’t unduly worried, he said that it can be common for breastfed babies to take longer to regain their birth weight. So over the next few days we did loads of feeding, using switch feeding and compressions during each feed. I borrowed an electric pump from the health visitor, expressing milk in between feeds to stimulate my breasts to produce more milk. Babi bach didn’t lose any more weight but he didn’t gain any either. I came to dread those scales and the process of undressing him and laying him on them, only to find that all the efforts we were making were not giving the results we needed. It was clear that my milk on its own just wasn’t enough, and 18 days after he was born we started supplementing his milk intake with formula milk.
Everything I had read about breastfeeding had said that you shouldn’t use bottles of formula as it would decrease your milk supply. So when the doctor had asked me if I wanted to use formula I said I’d prefer not to. I spoke to the feeding consultant in the hospital who explained that on the rare occasions when a mum’s milk really isn’t enough for a baby to gain weight, supplementing them with formula can help to make it possible to continue breast feeding. She also suggested that I took medication, Domperidone, which helps to increase milk production.
It is really hard to know that you are not making enough milk for your own baby. I felt that a process that was supposed to be so natural was becoming so far from that – the drugs, pumping, using formula. I felt like a failure in that I couldn’t even supply my baby’s first need.
Then Babi bach started to gain weight. Supplementing it seems was a step towards me being able to accept the situation and enjoy feeding my baby. As he got older we graduated from cup and syringe feeding to using bottles, but then he started to show preference for drinking from the bottle rather than from the breast, as he didn’t have to put in as much work to get more milk much quicker (so I couldn’t blame him for that!).
It was suggested we try a Supplementary Nursing System (SNS). The SNS is a bottle that you wear around your neck filled with either formula or expressed breast milk; it has two tiny tubes that carry the milk to your nipples, where the baby feeds from the tube whilst latched on as usual to your breast. One benefit of using the SNS is that all the sucking happens at the breast, stimulating more milk production. It can save time, especially if used instead of cup feeding which can take a while. The SNS can prevent nipple confusion between breast and bottle and can help with flow preference. All in all I am a big fan!
It has been a battle to try and accept that I am doing the best I can for my baby (and I am still working on it) but part of that has been introducing supplementing and using the SNS. Giving formula means that his dad can feed him a bottle every now and again which is great bonding for them. It also means that unlike some babies who only drink from the breast and then have difficulty accepting a bottle, we know that in the future he will drink from a bottle, cup or anything that contains milk! Most of all it has meant that babi bach is gaining weight steadily and consistently which has taken the pressure off, and we can enjoy our feeding time together whether we are using breast milk or formula.
For anyone starting out using an SNS here are a few ways I found of making it easier to use:
Make sure you read the instructions!
I ditched using the neck cord early on when one time Babi bach was crying for his food and I was fiddling around trying to get the cord on! I just lean the bottle against my chest or tuck it into my top.
I also gave up taping the tubes on pretty quickly too. I tried feeding the tube into his mouth once he was latched on, like in this video. Most of the time I just pop it into his mouth as he latches on. Sometimes this can go wrong and I have to redo it, and I do find it easier on one side that the other.
I’ve found it’s important to get the baby latched on well and sucking as normal, because if they aren’t they won’t be stimulating the breast in the right way to produce more milk, and it may make your nipples sore! Sometimes babi bach slips a bit and starts sucking on the tube and my nipple like you would suck on a straw – he gets the formula out but it hurts!
It can be hard to get the knack at first, and hard if the baby is really hungry or upset, so I found it easier to use when he was calm. If babi bach is crying and won’t latch on, I show him the tube and tickle it on his lips – this gets his attention and he knows he is going to get milk so he calms down enough to latch on, he soon learnt that when the tube appears it means more food!