Sometimes things just don’t go to plan and you end up doing things differently to how you planned, or even imagined. I always planned to breastfeed Astrid, but when she was born everything that could go wrong, did go wrong.
During her birth, Astrid managed to get herself stuck in my pelvis, resulting in 3 hours of pushing. In the end she came out with the assistance of a vacuum cap, resulting in a big bruise on her head and a sore neck from being stuck on a weird angle. Both of these factors meant that she was very unhappy for the first few days of her life and couldn’t turn her neck in one direction. We eventually got that sorted out with the help of an osteopath, but for a couple of weeks she couldn’t turn her head properly to feed. She also had a severe tongue tie. We were initially told that it didn’t need fixing but this was revised to definitely needing fixing after we realised what problems it was causing with feeding. The tongue tie meant she couldn’t latch properly and that she was having trouble sucking. Then I had an issue with some retained membranes which affected my milk coming in. All of this severely affected my milk and resulted in low supply.
As Astrid lost a lot of weight very quickly and we had to comp feed her. All my efforts to boost my supply (fenugreek, domperidone, lactation cookies and expressing) helped but didn’t do enough, so we were syringe feeding her formula on top of breastfeeding, then moved to a bottle for her comps. After a couple of weeks the lactation consultant suggested I try a supply line. Many people have never seen a supply line (or supplemental nursing system) but this is what it looks like:
The first picture shows the valve (the orange plastic disc). The supply line comes with different sized valves so you can control the flow rate from the supply line to the baby. Then there is the supply line which is the plastic bottle with the 2 lines coming out of the top. I also need my tape dispenser so I can attach the lines for feeding. Basically you put additional milk (either formula or EBM) into the supply line container and tape the tiny plastic tubes to your nipples as you breastfeed. This means that the baby can get additional milk from the supply line to boost their intake and simultaneously it boosts your own supply as they can suck for longer as they are getting more, faster. I was never able to express much milk so have always used formula in the line, but other people do use EBM. It can also be used with people who have adopted babies or don’t make any milk at all, as you don’t need to have your own milk for it to work. In my case though, I do have milk, just not enough and it doesn’t flow fast enough so the supply line helps.
I fed Astrid with the assistance of the supply line from the time she was 2 weeks old, until just before she was 14 months (when she moved to cow’s milk full time). Many people have trouble with breastfeeding, and I’ve known lots of people who have had low supply issues but often a supply line wasn’t suggested. One of my friends has fed both her babies for extended periods using one and I’ve met some other women at the health clinics who have used one, but it isn’t a well-known alternative.
The downsides to using a supply line are quite numerous. You have to sterilise it in the the same manner as a bottles, but you also end up using bottles to make up and store formula so it ends up requiring additional washing and sterilising. It also isn’t that convenient. You have to tape the lines to yourself and it is hard to do this discreetly. After awhile you get good at knowing the exact way to tape them but it can be fiddly as the line has to be in the right spot and the right length for the baby to get a good latch. Babies are also very good at pulling them off (especially as they get older). Some babies just refuse to use them as they can feel it in their mouth. It also means you constantly have tape all over your breasts. Even using the hypoallergenic tape I get a rash from the constant taping, as it ends up in roughly the same spot over and over. You also can’t reuse the tape between feeds so it’s like applying and ripping off a bandaid at least 10 times a day in the same spot for months on end! Feeds can also take a long time and people do look at you a bit funny if you are using a supply line in public (mostly because they have no idea what it is).
The upside is that you can still breastfeed when otherwise you would probably have ended up moving to bottles and full time formula, and the baby still gets some breastmilk and the experience of breastfeeding. It isn’t for everyone though. The lactation consultants and clinic nurses we’ve spoken to have said most people only manage one for a couple of weeks as they are a lot of work and very fiddly. Once you get used to it though it becomes pretty normal. It certainly lacks the convenience of normal breastfeeding as you have to have the right equipment with you at all times and there is a delay in getting it set up.
After all the dramas with Astrid’s feeding my midwives were all fairly confident things would go better second time around. We thought it was probably a case of everything that could go wrong going wrong with Astrid, and this time it would be better. Soren’s birth was very straight forward and quite quick. He didn’t get stuck at all and he came out very healthy and happy. It took us hours and hours to get Astrid to try and latch after she was born (she was busy screaming her lungs out for the first 3 hours of her life) but Soren took to it straight away and had a great suck. Things were looking good. Sadly, he also had a bad tongue tie but we didn’t think it was going to cause too many issues. It turns out (again) that it was quite severe and it ended up being fixed at 2 weeks old but it did affect my supply in the meantime. None of the other issues occurred this time around, but my supply was still low, despite being proactive and doing all the things like starting expressing, the fenugreek and medication earlier. It was much better than what I had with Astrid though, and I managed to feed him for the first six or so weeks with the help of formula top-ups in bottles as he again lost a lot of weight and wasn’t gaining quickly enough.
Eventually though my supply wasn’t keeping up with him and he was fussing too much. I had tried the supply line with him early on and he wasn’t having a bar of it. I tried it again periodically and he still wasn’t keen. It looked like we would have to swap to full time formula from bottles as he was refusing to breastfeed any more but then one day he got the hang of the supply line and we have been using it since 6 or 7 weeks of age.
He is now great with the supply line but yet another downside is that once they get used to it they are not keen to feed without it they become very used to the higher milk flow. This can be a bit of a pain but I”m pretty used to the annoyance of feeding with a supply line after doing it for so long with Astrid. I’m not sure we will make it to 14 months this time around. It is much harder when you have a toddler to look after as well, and it’s hard to manage when we are out and about, which is most days when factoring in toddler activities! I have used the supply line in shopping centres, airports, on planes, parks, yoga and lots of other places but it isn’t ideal. I’m kind of used to people giving me funny looks and I’m always happy to explain what it is and why I use it.
I thought I’d write this post and include some photos so others can see what a supply line is and how and why it’s used. It’s not something most people have seen, but plenty of people out there use them and they are just another way to feed your baby. Not the easiest way but it works for us!