Cup-feeding is a way to provide breast milk or formula to a baby who is unwilling or unable to breastfeed or drink from a bottle. If you do breastfeed, you can also use cup-feeding instead of bottle-feeding if your baby needs supplementation for a few days.
Many babies with special needs can easily learn how to cup-feed. This feeding technique can promote the physical bond between the parent and baby when breastfeeding or bottle-feeding isn't possible.
To cup-feed your baby, you want your baby to slurp or sip the milk. Do not pour the milk into his or her mouth. To do this:
- Fill a medicine cup to about 1 fl oz (30 mL) with breast milk or formula.
- Support your baby in an upright position.
- Wrap or swaddle your baby 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.
- Make sure your baby is alert.
- Stimulate your baby's rooting reflex (as you would when you breastfeed).
Tap 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.
Leave the cup in this position, even as your baby takes breaks.
- Make sure your baby swallows after slurping or sipping the milk.
- Stop for occasional burping.
The feeding should last no more than about 30 minutes. Follow your baby's cues about when to stop.
Current as of: March 1, 2023
Author: Healthwise Staff
Sarah Marshall MD - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
John Pope MD - Pediatrics