Did you know there is more than one way to feed expressed breastmilk to a baby? In addition to bottles, you can use a syringe, spoon, supplemental nursing system, or a cup. Babies can drink from cups even as newborns – and premmies can drink from cups before they learn how to suck. Cup feeding is a good method to get accustomed with because it’s useful in so many situations, and also useful for your baby to learn before other liquids like water are introduced. Cup feeding can be used if your baby has difficulty latching, or if your baby is refusing a bottle. Here’s what you need to know about cup feeding a newborn breastfed baby.

What are the advantages of cup feeding a newborn breastfed baby?

Learning to drink from a cup is a useful skill for a baby to have, but did you know that it’s actually somewhat instinctual? Newborn babies aren’t able to sip from cups like older babies and people can. When they drink from a cup (or spoon), they actually lap the milk up with their tongues. This is similar to how kittens drink milk from a bowl. Babies actually develop the ability to lap before they learn to suckle – one study found that premature babies as young as 29 gestational weeks were able to drink from a cup. Here are some of the advantages of cup feeding a newborn breastfed baby.

cup feeding a newborn breastfed baby
Image courtesy of Birth & Beyond

Your baby is having difficulty latching

In situations where your breastfed baby is unable to latch it’s possible that your baby can drink expressed breastmilk from a cup. Cup feeding a newborn breastfed baby has been shown to help if the baby has a lip or tongue tie. It’s also useful if the baby is premature and hasn’t learned how to suck yet.

Also, cup feeding a newborn breastfed baby can be useful if your baby is latching, but isn’t transferring enough milk while breastfeeding. You may wish to express milk to relieve engorgement and prevent plugged ducts. You can feed that milk to your baby from a cup. Remember that breastfeeding is a learning process for both mama and baby, so it’s completely normal for some babies and mothers to take longer to get the hang of it.

You’re expressing colostrum for a newborn baby

If you’re feeding colostrum to a newborn, it’s much easier to feed small amounts of colostrum to a newborn using a cup (or a spoon) than it is to use a bottle and teat. Your newborn baby will only need 5-7 mL of breastmilk at each feeding during the first couple days of life. This is just a few drops, and barely enough to fill a teat.

If you have an older baby

Getting situated with using a cup as a newborn can be beneficial as your baby gets older, too. When your baby is older and drinking water, you won’t have to worry about packing a sippy cup or bottle because in most situations you can find a cup for water if you child is thirsty.

cup feeding a newborn breastfed baby can teach a useful skill for later in life
When your baby is old enough to drink water, knowing how to use a cup is a great skill to have.

It could help if your baby is refusing a bottle, as well. If you need to feed your baby expressed breastmilk it can be really stressful when baby refuses a bottle, especially if your baby is relying on expressed breastmilk for some of her meals. Before you try every bottle under the sun, consider getting your baby accustomed to drink breastmilk from a cup.

Additionally, if you’re worried about nipple confusion or about your baby developing a preference for teats and dummies, you could try cup feeding.

What are the disadvantages of cup feeding a newborn breastfed baby?

There are few disadvantages of feeding your baby breastmilk from a cup, however, there are a few things to consider:

  • It’s prone to spillage. Your baby is more likely to leak milk while drinking from a cup, and it can be hard to see so much liquid gold go to waste.
  • Your childcare provider may be unfamiliar with the technique. Some daycares may even insist on a bottle with a teat. If you’re planning on long term cup feeding, you’ll need to round things off with your childcare provider ahead of time.
  • There is a higher risk of choking with this method, so it’s important to learn the proper technique before cup feeding a newborn breastfed baby.
  • Your baby may develop a preference for cups. Nipple confusion and preference for teats is more mainstream, but it’s actually possible for your baby to develop a preference for any feeding method – including cups!

How to cup feed a newborn breastfed baby

Cup feeding a newborn breastfed baby takes practice, and there’s actually a proper technique for doing it safely and keeping spills to the minimum. Here’s how.

What you need

You can use any small, food-grade cup to feed your newborn baby. They make soft spouted cups specifically for feeding newborns, or you can use a medicine cup – or, the cap from your Pumpables breastmilk bottles! You should also grab a bib and a towel to catch any spills, and set up near a table in case you need to set the cup down.

cup feeding a newborn breastfed baby
You can use any food safe cup you like, including the bottle cap that came with your breastmilk bottles.

How to cup feed step-by-step

  1. Make sure your baby is active and alert. You do not want to cup feed a drowsy baby because of the choking danger.
  2. Fill your cup half way with breastmilk.
  3. Sit down and hold your baby on your lap, in an upright, seated position. Try placing your arm over your baby’s arms to prevent her from grabbing at the cup.
  4. Gently bring the cup to your baby’s mouth. It should rest on your baby’s bottom lip and reach the corners of his mouth. Allow your baby to smell the breastmilk for a few seconds.
  5. Tip the cup just enough so that your baby can lap the milk. This is a slight angle so that when your baby sticks her tongue out it dips into the milk. Do not pour milk into your baby’s mouth. 
  6. Let your baby set the pace. Allow your baby pause and start as he wishes. When he pauses, do not remove the cup. Keep the cup in this position for the entire feeding.

Pay attention to hunger cues, and if your baby still seems hungry after finishing the cup, you can fill it (half way) again.

For more information on cup feeding a newborn breastfed baby, view this video on cup feeding by Dr. Jack Newman, visit the Australian Breastfeeding Association help page online, or find a lactation consultant near you.

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