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Cup feeding your baby

The World Health Organisation (WHO) and UNICEF (1989) recommend that when there is a medical reason for supplementation, this should be given by way of oral or naso-gastric tube, cup, spoon or finger feed; in preparation for the time that breastfeeding may be resumed.

Mater Health actively protects, promotes and supports breastfeeding via the implementation of the principles and practices contained within The ten steps to successful breastfeeding – the global criteria of the WHO and UNICEF’s Baby Friendly Health Initiative.

When you are not available to breastfeed, or your baby is unable to breastfeed for any reason, cup feeding provides another way to feed your baby. Cup feeding may be a choice for you and your baby if your baby was delivered prematurely, or is unwell, and is transitioning to breastfeeds (when baby is tolerating oral feeds, is clinically stable, over 35 weeks gestation and not requiring supplemental oxygen). Discuss cup feeding with the nurse or midwife caring for baby to help decide is this is appropriate for you. They will show you how to cup feed your baby safely and with confidence.

For healthy term breastfed babies, it is recommended that bottles and teats be avoided in the first month of breastfeeding. Bottles and teats have been shown to reduce exclusive breastfeeding rates, compared to cup feeding, at discharge, three and six months.

Cup feeding may also be a valuable option if your baby has difficulty taking a bottle and teat such as when your baby weans, you return to work, leave baby with a carer, or introduce other fluids or medicines. 

Advantages of cup feeding

  • Avoids changes in sucking techniques that may arise from the use of artificial teats.
  • Allows baby to control the volume and time it takes to feed.
  • Assists babies to stimulate tongue and jaw movements
  • An alternative method of providing feeds during separation, especially when baby refuses, or is not tolerating, a bottle and teat. 

Cup feeding

What you will need

  • Medicine cup, small container or feeding cup – with a smooth rim.
  • Small cloth/bib to catch spills.
  • Expressed breast milk (EBM) or age-appropriate formula

How to cup feed your baby

  • Wash your hands before commencing the feed.
  • Ensure your baby is calm and alert.
  • Wrap your baby securely to prevent their hands knocking the cup. Place a cloth or bib under your baby’s chin.
  • Position yourself comfortably with your baby on your lap facing you, slightly reclined and supported with a hand behind their shoulders.
  • The EBM of formula should be a room temperature.
  • The cup should be at least half full.
  • Tip the cup so that it is just touching your baby’s lower lip.
  • Do not pour milk into your baby’s mouth.
  • Direct the rim of the cup towards the upper lips and gums while it remains gently resting on the lower lip. Do not apply pressure to the lower lip.
  • Leave the cup in this position throughout the feed even when your baby stops drinking. This allows your baby to regulate the rate of the feed.
  • Your baby’s tongue will initially lap the milk and then a sipping technique will follow.
  • Refill the cup with EBM or formula until the feed volume is completed or baby is satisfied.

Cleaning equipment

  • When using a cup to give EBM, they do not require special brushes, boiling or decontamination. Wash the cup in hot soapy water with a soft cloth and rinse thoroughly in clean water. Allow to air dry on a clean surface and then store in a clean airtight container.
  • When using a cup to give infant formula, wash in hot soapy water with a soft cloth and rinse thoroughly in clean water. The cup will also need to be decontaminated with a steam steriliser, along with your other feeding equipment, by following the manufacturer’s recommendations.
  • In hospital, single use, disposable medicine cups are available and should be discarded after each feed.
Mater acknowledges consumer consultation in the development of this patient information.
Mater Doc Num: PI-CLN-430181
Last modified 05/7/2017.
Consumers were consulted in the development of this patient information.
Last consumer engagement date: 21/7/2016
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