If you're a mother who found herself struggling with either supply issues or your baby's serious latch issues, you might have needed to supplement, whether with your own pumped milk, whenever possible, donor milk, or, if neither is available, formula. With getting back to exclusive breastfeeding as a goal, if you were getting informed support from a reputable source, you may have been advised to try an at-the-breast supplementer, such as a Lact-Aid or an SNS (the "supplementary nursing system" by Medela) in order to avoid the pitfalls of using a bottle too early, nipple/flow confusion in particular. Finger- or cup-feeding are also frequently recommended by good lactation professionals, and are great in the short term, but some mothers occasionally need to supplement for longer while their supplies are established or their babies suck coordination is improved.
But without adequate instruction - and good demonstration - these supplementers seem devilishly complicated to the point of maddening, and understandably, many mothers get fed up with trying to figure them out. A search online for a decent YouTube video turns up a few Jack Newman offerings. I have the utmost respect for Jack Newman, and the information he makes available is incredibly valuable - but to be brutally honest, these supplementer videos are of little to no use to a mother who is trying to figure the damned thing out, and in particular, how to get their baby latched using the supplementer all by herself, which is going to be the reality for 99.9% of all moms out there. He's doing it all FOR her. It's nice to show it in action, and promote its benefits, but not helpful at all in learning HOW.
Moveover, the way he pushes the tubing into the baby's mouth after the latch is established is completely impossible to do if you're using a Lact-Aid instead of an SNS (which I do strongly recommend; more on that later), because its tubing is so much softer than that of the SNS. This is one of the reasons a Lact-Aid is preferable in the first place, but you MUST put the tubing in at the same time the baby latches on.
So, I'm taking it upon myself. Pretty much literally. Why? Because I believe so strongly in supplementing at the breast whenever supplementing is needed, whenever it is possible. In addition to the way supplementers circumvent nipple confusion, it also makes it possible for mothers who have supply issues to increase the amount of stimulation, and thus production, their breasts are getting. (Regular pumping sessions may still be advisable for a while - please consult an IBCLC about this if it is your own situation - but why not kill two birds with one stone? Pumping and supplementing is hard enough.)
And perhaps most importantly but more challenging to quantify, it IS breastfeeding, and will help to improve baby's latch (again, see IBCLC for advice on how to monitor this) AS you are feeding, whereas with a bottle, even slow flow and/or "breast-like" bottles like the Breastflow, one can only cross one's fingers and hope too much damage to baby's technique isn't done. Using paced feeding and an upright position helps, but it's challenging.
This is also personal: The Lact-Aid made it possible for us to make the transition to the breast after struggling for months, and I firmly believe we never would have made it without it.
An important note: I mentioned that there are two major types of supplementers out there, the Lact-Aid and the SNS by Medela. I have used both, and FAR AND AWAY, I feel that Lact-Aid is the superior product. I write about this in our nursing story, but in a nutshell: It is much, much more user-friendly in several ways, including the way you wear the bags around your neck, the fact that no taping is necessary, and the fact that the tubing itself is very soft and shouldn't disturb baby at all - they probably won't even notice, especially if they're newborns. I started using it when Lily was 4 months old and she was fine, whereas the harder tube of the SNS makes many a baby balk. YES, it's true, I also have ethical issues with Medela, but I promise you I felt this way long before I learned of some of Medela's questionable practices.
Make no mistake: if you choose to use the Lact-Aid, and I sincerely hope you do if supplementing is necessary, there is still going to be a learning curve. I cannot tell a lie: the first few days are pretty much gonna suck. But every feeding is practice, and within a few days, you'll start to really get the hang of it. And in a week or possibly two, it'll be down pat. To be honest, for the first couple of days, I only did Lact-Aid feeds a few times a day, during the times when Lily (and her mom) was at her 'best', i.e. not in the middle of the night. And then I gradually added more Lact-Aid feeds in. You might want to try phasing-in this way, too. Take it one feed at a time.
OKAY. Without further ado, here's a very short video, starring my boob and the baby of one of my clients, with whom I became friendly. I actually had been donating some milk to her privately as a result (she had breast reduction surgery years ago, and like some, though not all, BFAR moms, had to supplement a bit). I also occasionally babysat, and we mutually decided, Well, if she's getting my donated milk anyway, why not offer it from the tap?
Let me be clear: this isn't exactly an official extra service I regularly offer to clients, it just kind of worked out that way. I had worked with them on using the Lact-Aid, too, and one day, after struggling with descriptions and coaching, I said hey, since I've nursed her anyway, would you mind if I simply showed you on myself? She was totally fine with that, and so I did. It was IMMEDIATELY much easier for her. And then it occurred to me that, due to the dearth of existing videos it might be helpful for the internet masses to see as well. She offered up her beautiful little one for me to film (isn't she precious?), and here we are, our other kiddos chattering in the background.
There you have it. Please, in the comments, ask me about anything that needs clarifying, or anything to do with the Lact-Aid. One thing I can think of right off that merits a bit more explanation: If you want to start off the feed with milk from the breast and add the supplementation at the end, which is preferable, you can either delatch and relatch, or, even easier, as I demonstrate, simply start the feed with the tubing pinched off in one of the notches in the body of the Lact-Aid device, then, when babe's sucking slows down, release the tube from the notch and the supplement will start to flow. Oh. and one other note, the bag of milk is hanging kind of low here - you can adjust the strap so it's much higher, and you can nurse in lots of different positions.
Again, feel free to deluge me with questions.
Somehow I knew it would just be a matter of time before, one way or another, I showed my boobs on the internet. But here it's for a noble purpose, right? RIGHT? If it convinces even one mom go with the Lact-Aid instead of a bottle, or instead of tearing her hair out with an SNS - and then giving up and going with the bottle, it is all worthwhile.
When I shared this with my own LC, Jennifer of Intuitive Parenting Network, she quoted my statement, "Because I believe so strongly in supplementing at the breast whenever possible, any time supplementing is needed," and said "I am allowed to smile, right?"
I feel it's only fair to point out what she's getting at, which is that when faced with doing this myself, I fought it tooth and nail. I talk about this in the link to our nursing story I posted towards the beginning, but I think it's worth repeating here as well. Yeah, I literally resisted using this for months. MONTHS. My experience trying to use an SNS at about 6 weeks was just so indescribably awful that I desperately wanted to avoid using anything like it ever again if I could. So I kept pumping around the clock and bottlefeeding my milk to Lily. I was using the upright "paced" technique, and I would try various ways to offer the breast before, during, after, and in-between feedings, but I was still bottlefeeding her. And was really making little to no progress towards our goal. Treading water is all it really amounted to, and driving myself nuts with frustration in the process.
Jennifer, and other moms in our support group who had trod the Lact-Aid path tried many times to convince me that the Lact-Aid was going to be a much different, much better experience, and more importantly, because I was at a total standstill in progress with the bottlefeeding, it would likely be the one thing that got me over the hump. And they were absolutely right about both things. If I had tried using the Lact-Aid earlier than I did, I could have started nursing her many weeks, even months earlier than we finally did. No exaggeration.
People often commend me for sticking it out the 5 months it took to get Lily nursing, and I appreciate that and do take it in, but honestly, the stubbornness that I tapped into to get her ON the breast is the same stubbornness that made me resist using the Lact-Aid, and therefore held up our progress much longer than was probably necessary. I just had to get to the end of my rope, my absolute wit's end, the point where I was truly on the edge of just giving up altogether and EPing for her. I was trying to figure out how I could make my peace with this decision, and I realized that the only way I would ever be able to be okay with giving up on breastfeeding is if I truly KNEW that I had tried everything. And the Lact-Aid was the final frontier. If things didn't work after that, then I would be able to forgive myself, knowing that I had done my very honest best. But only then.
So I took the proverbial deep breath and threw myself into it. And it was tough for a few days, but after that, grew progressively easier - and I saw progress. Real progress. Within 3 weeks she was only taking about 2 ounces per day from the supplementer (I used it at every feed, but only released the flow of the tubing when she was starting to slow down). I kept using it for another week, just to be on the safe side, but really, we had made it. We had crossed over. And it was totally the Lact-Aid - and those who convinced me to try it - that did it.
I'm grateful beyond words that Jennifer can now smile at my stubborn ass. If you're facing anything similar to what we faced, any variation on it - look, DON'T follow my example. Don't torment yourself for months, fearing that breastfeeding will be impossible for you, out of fear of some frustrating feedings and having to learn a new technique. Supplementing at the breast is a godsend in the right situation. Just do yourself a favor and use the superior product, commit to overcoming the learning curve (because you WILL), and go for it. I'm rooting for you!