Supplemental Nursing System: What is it and When is it Used?


A supplemental nursing system (SNS) is a tool to help a breastfeeding mother keep her baby nursing at the breast even if the baby requires a supplemental feed. An SNS feeder is a thin feeding tube that is tucked just inside baby’s mouth while baby is latched onto the breast, and then the other end of the tube is attached to either a syringe full of expressed breastmilk, donor milk, or formula.

As the baby sucks, the plunger is slowly pressed down, and milk is pushed through the tube into baby’s mouth – to stimulate baby to suck longer at the breast. Or, there is the option to have the other end of the tube situated inside a bottle where the baby’s sucking pulls the milk up and into the tube, requiring more effort on the part of the baby. 


This type of tool is used in a variety of circumstances when baby is either not latching well to the breast or requires supplementation. The reasons for its use can be mother-related factors or baby-related factors – or both.  

Mother-Related Factors Include:
  • If the mother has had breast surgery, and her milk supply is low 
  • When a mother needs to supplement with formula for low milk supply or any other reason
  • If an adoptive mother would like to breastfeed and needs to build a milk supply
Baby-Related Factors Include
  • A baby that is born prematurely
  • A baby is not gaining weight well or is very sleepy at the breast
  • A baby is having problems sucking
  • A baby has Down’s Syndrome, a cleft lip or palate, or is neurologically impaired
  • If a bottle-fed baby is being transitioned to the breast


A supplemental nursing system can be very beneficial in that it keeps baby close to mom and allows baby to be sucking and stimulating mom’s milk supply while getting a measured volume of milk. Baby experiences all the benefits of skin-to-skin from being close to mom and this closeness can increase milk supply and promote bonding for mom. Mom can often save time when using this method, rather than having to breastfeed and supplement separately. 


As with any tool, the challenge lies in knowing how to use it properly and getting familiar with it. Understanding how to set up the tube and syringe (or the tube and bottle) and then making it work for each specific mom and baby, is something that can feel overwhelming for a parent. A mom supplementing with an SNS should be in contact with a Lactation Specialist or Consultant to provide accurate guidance and information about its ongoing use and weaning off it appropriately.  


A supplemental nursing system can be a helpful tool to promote breastfeeding, and many moms appreciate having baby receive the needed supplement right at the breast.  Although it can be cumbersome for some moms to get comfortable with using it, when utilized under the guidance of an experienced Lactation professional it can aid in the promotion of breastfeeding and improve the self-efficacy of moms whose goal is to breastfeed.


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