Cup feeding is an effective alternative feeding method that can be used to supplement a breastfed baby. It is especially useful for feeding premature babies and when mothers are unable to breastfeed. Cup feeding is not new and has been used for hundreds of years by women around the world.
What is Cup Feeding?
Cup feeding, as the name suggests is a method to feed the baby using a cup. Any cup that can hold milk will do, be it your teacup, the cap that covers the feeding bottle, a shot glass or a plain plastic cup. With the baby seated in an upright position, the cup is filled just enough to let them take sips of the milk comfortably. The World Health Organisation’s recommendation on infant feeding suggests cup feeding to be a better method than feeding on a bottle and teat.
Which Babies Need Cup Feeding?
While cup-feeding is suitable for any baby, it is recommended only in the case that breastfeeding is not possible (because breastfeeding by itself offers a lot of benefits). Consider cup feeding in the following situations:
- Premature, weak or sick babies that do not yet possess the strength to take all their milk from the breast. Cup feeding can be used with excellent results with such babies.
- Babies that have trouble with suckling from the breast for various reasons such as sleepiness, tiredness, inverted nipples, tongue ties, latching problems, etc. Cup feeding gives you an alternative while you work on your breastfeeding problems in such cases.
- When mothers have to give expressed milk to babies within the first 6 weeks or so, and breastfeeding isn’t yet well established.
- Mother is unable to feed as she needs to travel or has soreness from a cracked nipple and offers expressed milk.
Benefits of Cup Feeding Your Infant
Here are some reasons why cup feeding your infant is a good idea (as compared to bottle-feeding):
1. Cup-feeding does not interfere with direct breastfeeding.
One of the biggest advantages of cup feeding is that it avoids nipple confusion in babies. Nipple confusion happens when babies are introduced to artificial teats from bottles. Since artificial teats use a different sucking mechanism that requires less effort when compared to breasts, babies might reject breast and jeopardize the breastfeeding relationship.
2. Cup feeding prevents misalignment of teeth and abnormal development of the jaws.
Feeding bottles are known to alter the way teeth and jaws develop in babies. The different sucking mechanism from artificial teats can cause misalignment of the teeth as the babies grow. This has repercussions in the form of poor performance of oral functions such as speech, eating and breathing. Cup feeding can prevent these misalignments and prevent abnormal development.
3. It is safer and helps reduce dental caries.
All teething babies like to bite and gnaw. The artificial nipples on the bottles are great for gnawing on, and sometimes parents find that their babies would have bitten off a piece of the nipple. This can be dangerous as the piece is a choking hazard. It is also seen that bottle feeding can lead to tooth decay in babies who have their growing teeth soaked on the artificial nipples.
4. Prevents over-feeding of babies.
Although it is easy to learn, cup feeding requires more effort on the part of the baby to get milk. When feeding, you will have to bring the cup to the baby’s mouth and tilt it up until the milk touches the lip and let the baby lap it using their tongue into the mouth. This prevents overfeeding as opposed to bottle feeding which drips milk into the mouth. It is beneficial for the babies as they can better regulate their intake and feed only as much as they need and avoid force-feeding. Some feeding cups are also graduated, so you can measure the exact quantity of milk you want to feed your baby with.
5. Eliminates the need for special cup training in the future.
All babies will eventually have to grow up and learn to use a cup. This is one task that’s no hurdle to cup fed babies as they can effortlessly drink from training or sippy cups.
6. It is affordable.
Feeding on cups eliminates having to buy expensive feeding bottles and teats. Cups are also easy to clean, maintain and carry around.
How to Cup Feed a Baby
Cup feeding is best taught by your healthcare professional through a demonstration, therefore, consult them before you begin. Also, ensure your baby is awake and alert and in an upright position. Never pour milk into their mouth or feed a baby who is lying flat on the back.
Here is how to cup feed a breastfed baby:
- To start with you’ll need a soft-spouted cup that is smooth on the baby’s lips and tongue. A bib is also a must-have to catch any dribbles.
- Half fill the cup with slightly warmed formula or breast milk.
- Ensure the baby is in an upright position in your arms or lap. Wrap them if necessary to prevent them from knocking the cup out of your hands.
- Bring the rim of the cup to the baby’s lower lip or the lower gum ridge.
- Tip the cup gently so that the milk reaches the cup’s rim but doesn’t pour into the baby’s mouth.
- The baby will quickly learn to lap or sip the milk off the rim of the cup with their tongue.
- Keep the pace slow and pause when the baby swallows and let them take more sips.
- Avoid putting pressure on the lower lip or pouring it into the mouth.
- Continue feeding at the baby’s own pace and let them sip how much ever they can.
Disadvantages of Cup Feeding Your Child
Cup feeding newborn also has some disadvantages.
- There is a risk of choking or spitting up if the feeding is done improperly.
- There is more wastage of milk due to spilling compares to bottle, tube or syringe feeding.
- Feeds take longer, and long-term use might develop a preference for it over sucking milk from the breast.
Transitioning from Cup Feeding to Breastfeeding
Transitioning from the cup to breast depends on why you started cup feeding in the first place. Occasional cup feeds between successful breastfeeds is just fine. However, if you’re using the cup because your baby doesn’t take the breast, then you will have to work to breastfeed them. This transitioning might also be necessary for weaker babies (low birth-weight babies, preemies, etc.) who had to start with cup-feeding before they gained the strength to be able to breastfeed. Offer them the breast before every cup feed, and offer it in between the cup feeds (or at any time the baby seems interested). Once they begin taking the breast, cup feeding can be done in case they want a little more milk.
Alternatives to Cup Feeding
If you want to try other methods of feeding your baby, here are some options:
- Syringes are effective and are easier than cups to feed your baby.
- Indian mothers have used a “paladai” for centuries to feed their babies. It’s basically a small spouted cup to feed small quantities of milk at a time and about just as effective as syringes.
- Teaspoons can also be used to feed babies as an alternative. It works well when the baby is calmer and taking milk without much fuss. It’s also useful to feed colostrum in the first few days when you can express it directly into the spoon.
Cup feeding is an excellent alternative to breastfeeding in babies and should be tried by all mothers.