My Love/Hate Relationship With the Medela SNS (Supplemental Nursing System)

Supplemental Nursing System SNS

Medela Starter SNS

When I was pregnant, I pretty much thought that breastfeeding would be a given.  I had a breast reduction a while back, but honestly, I wasn’t thinking much beyond images of my baby (who was surprisingly smily and chatty for a newborn, and never, ever cried) and I (perfectly made up, wearing my favorite Louboutins, and sans the 50 pounds I put on during pregnancy) going for a stroll in the park, me expertly whipping out my Bebe au Lait nursing cover (I had the perfect one picked out) and letting her go to town.  Imagine my surprise – ME, who prides myself on always being over-prepared and over-informed – when the lactation consultant at the hospital handed me a Medela supplemental nursing system (SNS).  What was this contraption and how was I supposed to feed my baby with it?!  No one actually showed me how to use an SNS.

And so began my love/hate relationship with the SNS.  I’ll leave the breastfeeding vs. formula debate out of this; I believe every woman should do what’s right for her and for her baby and be free of judgment.  For some it’s a personal choice and for others it isn’t.  It turned out that I had low milk production (probably due to my breast reduction) and my baby had mild jaundice.  As set as I was on breastfeeding prior to having Olivia, I had to supplement with formula.  Back to the SNS.  In the four weeks that I fed my daughter exclusively via “that damned straw” I grew to hate the rocket-science-like precision with which I had to align the tube over my nipple to get a proper latch and the fact that cleaning it was so cumbersome.  But I loved the closeness it gave me with Olivia, especially after watching her struggle to nurse, writhing in frustration because there wasn’t much milk to eat.  I also appreciated the fact that it stimulated my milk supply so I could give her as much breastmilk as possible.  Between the SNS, pumping, preparing formula AND cleaning the SNS, pump parts and bottles, it was a rough start to feeding.  But I’m so glad I did it.  Now, I’m able to at least feed Olivia approximately 25% breastmilk each day.  I should add that I also tried More Milk Plus and Fenugreek capsules and they seemed to have worked a bit.  Honestly, the biggest increases I saw were the day after I drank a beer and after I ate oatmeal cookies but there’s no hard evidence that either of these work (I’ve heard lots of anecdotal stories, though).After going through my ordeal with the SNS, I discovered that two close friends also had to use it.  I wondered why there weren’t more blog posts dedicated to it, and figured I should share my tips.

Tips For Using a Supplemental Nursing System (SNS)

    • Order a few backups of the Medela Starter SNS. They are a pain to clean, and after a while, since you’re using it 24×7, milk/formula builds up in the straw part and the straw starts turning yellowish. I don’t trust that it’s fully sanitary at that point.
    • Don’t put any part of the SNS in a microwave sterilization bag – I learned that the hard way and ruined an SNS.
    • I hold the SNS in the crook of my neck.  The higher you hold it, the faster the milk flow and vice versa.
    • Even though the starter SNS is meant to be “semi-disposable”, it is better and easier to use than the regular version. I found that the regular Medela SNSseemed better in theory, but Olivia was sucking too much air through it, and then she’d be in pain because of the gas.
    • If you have trouble positioning the straw in the exact right position on your nipple so baby latches on to the nipple AND straw properly, you can use two pieces of tape to make an upside down “T”, so you’re supporting the tube vertically and horizontally.  I always found that it was sliding around all over the place and I’d have to relatch her a million times.
    • Hang in there!! It can be really frustrating and emotionally exhausting to be a new mom AND have feeding issues.  Just know that it gets better, and the SNS helps you get there.

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  1. Thanks for the post! I have been using the SNS religiously for 4 weeks, we started on day 3 when we left the hospital. I have the same exact feelings about using it. I’m glad I’m not the only one out there! My little girl is doing great now, but i still don’t make enough milk. At what point did you stop using the SNS and switch to supplementing with bottles? Do you have a bottle preference?

    • Hi Rocky, I officially made the transition at 4 weeks, after the pumping and using SNS at every feeding got very emotionally and physically draining. I still use it once in a while just for the closeness. But what I’ve started doing is nursing for as long as she will take each breast (she starts to get fussy once she feels like she isn’t getting anything) THEN giving her the bottle and THEN pumping. So I’ve eliminated the SNS out of the equation, but am still stimulating milk production. We’re at almost 9 weeks now, and I am only able to pump 6 oz for her on a good day. Check out this really inspiring video I saw recently by a mom in the same boat. We’re def. not alone!

      As for the bottles – funny you should ask! I have a whole post dedicated to this – we’ve tried them all!

  2. I was Googling about the Medela SNS when I came across your blog – great information but what struck me the most is that I had a breast reduction too 18 months ago, and my 3 week old daughter is also called Olivia! What a coincidence 🙂

    • Thanks, Ash! I’m so glad you found this post helpful. Let me know if you have any more questions about my experience using the SNS. And as for the coincidences, isn’t life funny that way?! XO

  3. I have to say thanks for your post. It’s nice to see that I am not alone in my struggles with breastfeeding. My daughter is now 13 weeks old and I have been using the SNS since day 4 when we came home from the hospital. Your description of how you envisioned yourself before your daughter was born was exactly what I did! I struggled a lot with the idea of supplementing, but the SNS has allowed me to have the bond with my daughter I so desperately wanted. With its help I estimate that I give her about 25-35% breadtmilk each day, and for that, it’s worth the effort. Thanks for your post!

    • Thank you so, so much for your kind words, Leah! You are definitely not alone! It was so challenging navigating being a new mom and then having this added variable of the SNS to deal with, plus the feeling that my body sort of betrayed me on top of that!! But things got a whole lot easier, I got better at using the SNS, and came to terms (as best I could) with the fact that I was doing my best! Xo

  4. Thanks for the tips! Im struggling with getting the straw positioned in my bubs mouth correctly, definitely have a love hate relationship with the SNS!

    • Thanks for stopping by, Marissa! Don’t worry – you’ll become a pro in no time 🙂

  5. Hi
    I am about to use SNS for the first time and I’m a little nervous. I want to make sure i clean it properly afterwards and was wondering how people went about ensuring the tubing was cleaned. Can you use an electric steriliser or do you have to boil in a pan like the instructions read?

      • I brought home the starter SNS from the hospital the other day. I only used it once there (with formula). I cannot clean the darn thing. I have read the directions. I have tried to run water through the tube but it doesn’t flow through the tube. I have tried with and without parts attached. I have dunked it in a bowl of soapy water and squeezed the teat. Nothing forces those little drops of formula out and they do not look like they are permanently stuck to the tube, just need a push out. I wish I could find a video of someone cleaning the product. I also have an Olivia, btw.

        • Congratulations on your new addition! I love her name 🙂 I would sometimes try putting my mouth over the wide part and blow it out – maybe that’ll work for you if you haven’t already tried it?

  6. Thank you for this post! This is baby number two with me and the Sns. I also love and hate it. This time seems to be better. I sucked soapy water through then clean water through then air dried. Seriously I’m having a rough day with the Sns. This post is making my night.

  7. Hi,
    I just read your blog. Thank you for this. its nice to know i am not alone.
    My baby is 3 weeks old today. I am struggling a lot with breast feeding and just got started with the SNS.
    I really can’t figure out what to do with the straw positioning – i try to attache it in different directions and use tape but it keeps moving and when finally my baby is on the nipple I can’t see the milk flowing out. i think it is just not positioned correctly in my babies mouth. she has a hard time putting the nipple in her mouth (and maybe I have a hard time helping her..) and having to deal with this straw just gets me more anxious.
    I think i just needed to get my frustration out, that’s all.
    I appreciate you sharing your experience.

  8. Thank you so much for this!!! I have a 12 day old daughter and we have been using the sns since the hospital for jaundice as well. I have good milk supply, but for whatever reason she falls asleep on me everytime I exclusively breastfeed. The stress of not knowing if she’s getting enough was so emotionally straining. I decided to continue to use sns for as long as I feel comfortable so she is getting formula and my breast milk. I feel that the pressure and guilt that society puts on us about feeding is awful. I’ve been crying since we’ve been home because of the stress of feeding. I appreciate your blog!

  9. if your still “babies” the documentary.. via you movie ever about real mums and bubs from opposite ends of the celebrates mothers and their efforts despite their challenges and will make you laugh.. it made me less uptight/pressured by a western mindset.

  10. I just wanted to share with all the struggling moms that we used a lactation aid ( no. 5 French feeding tube) for 6 months. They can be purchased at some pharmacies and last about a week. I am proud to say I am still breastfeeding with it. It’s not ideal but I am happy to have the bond with baby. I know most ppl see the SNS as short term only, I encourage you to try it if you want to breastfeed longer and can’t get your supply up.

    Lots of love to all mamas who feed their babies in any way.

  11. Thank you for your post, nice sharing!

    I have recently purchased Medela  Supplemental Nursing System (SNS).

    My 6-week old baby has been bottle-fed with 80% expressed breastmilk and  20% formula due to low milk supply.

    I am using it in order to go back to exclusive breastfeeding and direct latch on. I am now using SNS for every feeding session.

     My baby is able to latch on properly as he made one or two letdowns in each feeding. If I latch him on without  SNS, my milk flow will be too slow for him since he had got used to faster flow in bottle  for the past 6 weeks and he  gets fussy and give up on breast.

    My questions are as follows:

    1. Is SNS required to be used for long term?

     2. If the answer is No for Question 1,  what is the best timing or what are the indicators for me to wean him off SNS?

     I wish to wean him off SNS as soon as possible, at the same time i do not want to rush into it and make thing worse.

    Please  guide me through this and I really appreciate your help. Thank you .

  12. Also I would like to ask how could I incorporate pumping and sns feeding in a day? Should I pump before or after feeding with sms? I can’t skip pumping as I am supplementing my breast milk in the sns bottle.


  13. I wanted to add my experience with cleaning the SNS hose “straw”. I noticed the yellowing as a build up of formula. I clean this by filling a bottle with extremely hot water a few drops of dawn dish soap and running the SNS through with that water, while also running my thumbnail and pointer finger along the yellow area to help break up the gunk. I squeeze the bulb part of the dropper to increase speed that the water travels through the straw to help flush it out. When the formula has broken up, I rinse everything and fill the bottle up with really hot water so that I repeat all the steps to make sure the straw is properly rinsed before I use it for the next feeding. I’ve been using the SNS for 3 weeks and so far I have not had to replace the unit. To be fair, i do not do this after each use, but every time I want to do a proper clean and sanitize on my supplies.

  14. As a Lactation consultant helping with the Starter SNS, do you have any advise for encouraging and supporting mom’s using the SNS in the hospital. We are changing from making an SNS with a feeding tube, to the starter SNS

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