Topic Overview

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 a mother wants
to breastfeed, 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 breastfeed) 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
  • 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 breastfeeding or bottle-feeding is not possible.


ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Sarah Marshall, MD – Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer John Pope, MD – Pediatrics

Current as ofMay 4, 2017