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Cup-Feeding Baby With Breast Milk or Formula - Topic Overview

Cup-feeding is a way to provide breast milk or formula to a baby who is unwilling or unable to breast-feed or drink from a bottle. If a mother wants to breast-feed, cup-feeding is also sometimes used as an alternative to bottle-feeding for a baby who needs supplementation for a few days.

To cup-feed your baby, fill a medicine cup to about 1 fl oz (30 mL) with breast milk or formula. Make sure your baby is supported in an upright position and is wrapped or swaddled to keep his or her hands from getting in the way and spilling the cup. When you swaddle your baby, keep the blanket loose around the hips and legs. If the legs are wrapped tightly or straight, hip problems may develop. Your baby should also be alert.

You want your baby to slurp or sip the milk. Do not pour the milk into his or her mouth. To do this:

  • Stimulate your baby's rooting reflex (as you would when you breast-feed) by tapping the baby's lower lip with the cup. This signals that it's time to eat.
  • Rest the brim of the cup lightly on your baby's lower lip, with the brim placed on the outer corners of the upper lip. The tongue should be able to move freely to the cup's lower edge.
  • Tip the cup so the milk comes to the edge of your baby's lower lip. Make sure your baby swallows after slurping or sipping the milk. Leave the cup in this position, even as your baby takes breaks. You will need to stop for occasional burping.

The feeding should last no more than about 30 minutes. Follow your baby's cues about when to stop.

Many babies with special needs can easily learn how to cup-feed. This feeding technique can promote the physical bond between the mother and baby when breast-feeding or bottle-feeding is not possible.

    WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

    Last Updated: January 14, 2014
    This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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