If your baby cannot feed directly at the breast, there a variety of methods to feeding a new-born expressed breast milk. Bottle feeding is the most common method, but depending on your situation or concerns, this may not be the most suitable. Your baby may have difficulty suckling, or you may not want to risk nipple/teat confusion if baby can nurse at the breast.
The right method for feeding a newborn expressed milk should be:
- Safe and suitable for baby
- Easy to use
- Help baby continue or learn to breastfeed
4 Alternative Methods for Feeding a Newborn
1. Cup Feeding (or Bowl Feeding)
A small (shot sized) cup or bowl is used to introduce the breast milk to baby’s mouth. There is technique involved with this method, and you should never pour the milk into baby’s mouth like an adult drinking from a cup. The milk is tilted to the edge of the cup and your baby will sip or lap the milk, similar to a cat drinking milk. It is important you are supervised by a professional whilst cup feeding until you feel confident enough, to minimize the risk of baby choking.
This a very popular method with new-born and premature babies and is well known to help continue breastfeeding. You can use cup feeding with larger volumes of milk so can be used longer term.
Depending on how long you will be cup feeding a baby will decide how much you should invest in cup feeding equipment.
Small disposable medicine cups are perfect for cup feeding babies for a short time. This is what hospitals will use, as they have small measurements markings on the side to make it easier to see how much baby has taken. They cups offer enough flexibility without being soft and collapsing whilst baby is drinking. These cups will need sterilized after each use, and although they can be washed and reused they are cheap enough to dispose of after each feed.
Flexi Cut Cup
These cups are perfect for cup feeding babies in the long term. If you are cup feeding you new-born due to prematurity or difficulties with sucking (cleft palate, motor disorders) check these out. They come in three sizes which will grow with your baby. The cut out allows your baby to drink upright with room for nose and cheeks, and lets you see how much is left in the cup.
2. Spoon Feeding
Using a clean sterile spoon this method is similar to cup feeding but with smaller volumes. This method is often used when moms are not confident cup feeding baby directly from the cup. Simply pick up a small amount of milk on the tip of the spoon and slowly drop into baby’s mouth.
Spoon feeding encourages babies to stick the tongue forward like they do when breastfeeding. As the motion is similar it helps encourage baby to go to the breast easier than bottle feeding.
You don’t need to purchase special spoons to spoon feed a baby. We do recommend using the disposable plastic type are flexible and can be sterilized to re-use. We recommend using small plastic spoon which come with baby medicine.
If you want to spoon feed over a longer period of time check out the Medela Soft feeder. It can hold up to 80ml liquid so is suitable for longer term use. The spoon shaped tip sits at you baby’s lip for more control over the milk and less milk spills. It also has measurements up the side so you can see how much milk baby has had during the feed.
3. Syringe Feeding (or Dropper Feeding)
This method is intended for small volumes of milk for short term use (3-4 days). Used in a similar style to the previous two methods, milk is introduced into baby’s mouth one drop at a time. This method can be very time consuming for parents which recommended in the used short term.
Droppers use the same method but require gentle pressure from baby’s mouth to release the milk. These methods are highly recommended for babies who have a weak suck including preemies, babies with oral or facial problems.
Oral Medical Syringe
Simple medical syringes are great for this method, make sure you use the oral type which has a slight tip of the end. These syringes can easily suck up colostrum and mature milk and give you great control over the rate. Again with measurements on the side you can see how much baby has consumed during a feed.
These have been designed by Medela specifically for babies with special feeding needs, such as cleft palate or oral motor issues. Although it can be used by any baby who refuses a bottle, to help them build up facial muscles to feed at the breast. You can rotate the nipple in baby’s mouth which gives you three different flow rates, depending on your baby’s needs. The plastic is nice and soft to drip feed easily.
4. Finger Feeding (Supplemental Nursing System)
This method is not recommended for casual use or as a short term method, we recommend you explore the other feeding options first. Usually SNS is used when baby is premature or has great difficulty feeding.
The system itself is usually a bottle or bag with two long thin tubes. One tube is used to control airflow in the system by creating or release the vacuum. The other tube is attached to mom’s index finger and milk is released as baby sucks. You can also tape the tube to attach to the breast so that baby is attached to the nipple but milk is released from the SNS. This way baby mimics breastfeeding so you nipple adjust to suckling which in turn stimulates moms milk supply.
There is a concern that using an SNS is similar to bottle feeding as baby’s can become too attached to the constant steady flow of milk. It is also the most expensive method and requires more equipment to maintain.
Medela Supplemental Nursing System
This is one of the most cost effective SNS on the market. Its simple design will help you give baby breast milk, at the breast, whilst continuing to encourage baby to latch and suck. It also comes available in a cheaper ‘starter’ set which is a combination of syringe and SNS feeding. The sides are marked with volume measures to keep track of what baby is taking in. It also as a convenient lanyard to attach to your top or bra when feeding, making the system hands free for you.
Demonstration of Alternative Methods
It is advised that you regularly consult with a professional lactation adviser to ensure correct technique and progress is made with baby. If baby’s feeding technique is not improving over time consult with baby’s pediatrician for further advice on how to proceed.