Lactation Aids to Supplement Breast Milk

Mother sleeping with newborn baby on bed
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A lactation aid is a device that allows a breastfeeding mother to supplement her baby with expressed breast milk or formula without using an artificial nipple.

The early use of an artificial nipple may result in the baby becoming "bottle spoiled" or "nipple confused" because it interferes with the way a baby latches on to the breast. The better a baby latches on, the easier it is for him to get milk.

If the baby does not get milk well from the breast, he may fall asleep or push away from the breast when the flow of milk slows down. Thus the baby may refuse the breast, be very fussy at the breast, gain weight poorly, lose weight or even become dehydrated. The mother may develop sore nipples.

Why Lactation Aids Might Not Help

Though artificial nipples do not always cause problems, their use when things are already going badly will rarely make things better, and usually, make things worse. The lactation aid is the best way to supplement — if the supplement is truly necessary. (However, proper latching on of the baby usually allows the baby to get more milk, and thus it is often possible to avoid the supplement.)

A lactation aid is better than using a syringe, cup feeding, finger feeding or any other method since the baby is at the breast and breastfeeding. Babies, like adults, learn by doing.

Furthermore, the baby supplemented at the breast is also getting breast milk from the breast. And there is more to breastfeeding than breastmilk.

A lactation aid consists of a container for the supplement—usually a feeding bottle with an enlarged nipple hole—and a long, thin tube leading from this container. Manufactured lactation aids are available and are easier to use in some situations, but not necessarily so. There are several situations where manufactured lactation aids are particularly useful. These include:

  • When a mother needs to supplement twins
  • When the need for a lactation aid will be long term
  • Whenever an improvised lactation aid is difficult to use or not effective

Please note that using a tube with a syringe, with or without a plunger, instead of the setup mentioned above, seems unnecessarily complicated and adds nothing to the effectiveness of the technique. On the contrary, it is more cumbersome.

Weaning the Baby From the Lactation Aid

Here are some tips on weaning your baby from the lactation aid:

  • Maintain contact with your pediatrician or lactation consultant for advice about weaning the baby from the lactation aid.
  • Weaning the baby from the aid may take several weeks or only a short while. Do not be discouraged and do not try to force the weaning. The whole process may take 2 to 8 weeks, although some mothers have used the device only a few days, whereas others have not been able to stop it at all. Rapid improvement sometimes occurs after a long period of little change.
  • Observe the baby's nursing. If you do not know how to know if the baby is drinking, ask. Put the baby onto the breast, allow the baby to nurse as long as he is suckling and drinking, then use breast compression to keep the baby drinking; then repeat the process on the second breast. You can return to the first breast and continue back and forth as long as the baby is drinking. After you have finished feeding on both breasts, insert the tube into the baby's mouth. Allow the baby to nurse until satisfied using the lactation aid.
  • The bottle of the lactation aid can be lowered 6 to 12 inches below the baby's head, but do this only if the baby is drinking very quickly.

By Vincent Iannelli, MD
Vincent Iannelli, MD, is a board-certified pediatrician and fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Dr. Iannelli has cared for children for more than 20 years.