How To Cup Feed Your Baby

If you’re having latching difficulties or your baby is unable to nurse at the breast, you can use cup feeding rather than giving a bottle.  Using a bottle can interfere with breastfeeding.  Read on to learn more…  

Advantages of Cup Feeding:

You are less likely to overfeed your baby and have milk supply issues if you’re cup feeding.  Newborn babies have limited ability to signal or stop when they have consumed enough milk owing to their sucking reflex, especially when they feed too quickly.  Bottle-feeding increases the likelihood your baby will swallow more milk than her stomach can hold or more than her immature digestive system can adequately digest.  The symptoms associated with overfeeding are commonly mistakenly attributed to colic, reflux, milk protein allergy or intolerance, or lactose intolerance.

Also, it takes time for our brain to register that our stomach is full.  With breastfeeding, baby’s brain has time to process that the belly is full because it takes longer to feed.  

Misinterpreting baby’s desire to suck as hunger can also lead to overfeeding.  Babies are in an oral stage of development. In addition to wanting to suck when hungry they also like to suck when they are tired, bored, uncomfortable, upset and simply because they love to suck.  When at the breast, baby can control the flow of milk much the same way they can with cup feeding.  

Another concern is nipple confusion. Nipple confusion is where the baby mixes up the mouth actions needed for bottle feeding with those needed for breastfeeding, when switching between the two.  This confusion can make latching challenges worse.  Cup feeding uses similar tongue motions as breastfeeding.  

Cup feeding can be especially helpful with a premature baby.  During cup-feedings, premature babies are more physiologically stable, with lower heart rates, higher oxygen saturations, and less desaturations, than during bottle-feedings. 

How To Cup Feed:

In order to cup feed, your baby has to be able to swallow without coughing, choking, or turning blue.  Check with your healthcare provider to make sure your baby is able to cup feed.  Premature babies and babies with developmental or physical concerns may not be able to cup feed.  Cup feeding does take a bit of practice and patience, but has many benefits outlined above.  Use the following steps for cup feeding your baby:

  • Watch for hunger cues.
  • Wash hands and use a clean, sterile cup.  A small cup, like a shot glass or the ones used for dosing medications work well.  You may also use a spoon, which is especially helpful when baby is hours or days old.  
  • Put a biologically appropriate amount of milk or formula into the cup.
  • Swaddle baby and hold him nearly upright, with your hand supporting his head and neck.  Do not cup or spoon feed a baby that is lying down.
  • Lightly rest the cup on your baby’s lower lip.  Be careful not to apply too much pressure to your baby’s lower lip with the cup or spoon.  
  • Tilt the cup until the milk reaches the rim of the cup and baby can reach the milk with her tongue.  
  • Your baby will set the pace with bursts of “lapping” the milk followed by a pause for swallowing.  
  • Keep the milk at the rim of the cup with the edge of the cup resting on baby’s lip.
  • Look for signs baby has had enough milk.  Some signs include open hands, arms falling when picked up and dropped, falling asleep, closing mouth, etc.  


  • Check with your baby’s healthcare provider to make sure cup or spoon feeding is appropriate.  
  • Be careful not to apply too much pressure to the lower lip with the cup or spoon.
  • Do not put the cup too far into baby’s mouth.
  • Never pour milk into the baby’s mouth.  
  • Do not cup or spoon feed a sleeping baby.
  • Make sure baby is in an upright position.  Do not cup or spoon feed a baby when he/she is lying down.  

This video does a great job demonstrating how to cup feed a baby: 

Please click here if your browser is unable to play the video or for closed captioning.

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