10 Tips For Finger Feeding A Baby

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Finger feeding a baby is a useful technique if the baby can’t suckle on the breast or the mother can’t breastfeed. Generally, breastfeeding is the best source of nourishment for babies. However, sometimes, the mother and baby cannot breastfeed for various reasons. In such cases, you can try this alternative feeding method to keep your baby nourished.

In finger feeding, you feed your baby expressed breast milk using a feeding tube attached to the mother or caregiver’s index finger. The other end of the tube is connected to a feeding syringe that contains the expressed breast milk (1).

Keep reading to learn about when finger feeding is useful, its benefits and potential drawbacks, and the right way to finger-feed a baby.

When Is Finger Feeding Useful?

Finger feeding is useful whenever breastfeeding is not possible. It could be useful in the following scenarios (2).

  • Baby is unable to or refuses to feed from the breast for some reason
  • Mother is unable to breastfeed for some reason
  • Baby has latching issues that cannot be resolved immediately
  • Baby is separated from the mother at birth for a significant time
  • Mother is away from the baby and leaves expressed milk with a caregiver

How To Finger Feed A Baby?

You may speak to a doctor or certified lactation consultant before initiating finger feeding. In many cases, you may still be at the hospital after delivery when trying finger feeding for the first time.

You will need the following items before you begin finger feeding.

  • Adhesive medical tape
  • Infant feeding syringe
  • Infant feeding tube
  • Feeding tube connector

There are several types of feeding syringes and tubes. Speak to a doctor before picking one. Picking a thick feeding tube may cause the baby to gag, while a thin feeding tube may make it difficult for the baby to draw the milk. Once you have all the items, follow the steps below to initiate finger feeding.

  1. Wash your hands thoroughly. Ensure that the feeding tube, syringe, and connector are sterile. You may sterilize them if required as per the manufacturer’s instructions.
  1. Pick a comfortable place and position to feed the baby. You may use a nursing pillow to support the baby during the feeding session.
  1. Draw expressed breast milk into the feeding syringe. Use the tube connector to attach the feeding tube to the tip of the feeding syringe.
  1. Take the end of the feeding tube and hold it along the front of your index finger. The end of the tube should not extend beyond the tip of your finger. Tape the tube to the finger at the third or second bone of the finger.
  1. Press the plunger of the syringe to initiate the flow of the milk into the tube. Gently touch the baby’s lips with your fingertip. Once the baby opens the mouth, gently insert the index finger.
  1. Place the finger such that the pad of the finger touches the palate (roof of the mouth). Adjust the baby’s head if needed.
  1. Gently press the plunger so that some milk flows into the baby’s mouth. Once you feel the baby is making a sucking motion, you need not press the plunger to make the milk flow. The sucking motion will draw the milk on its own.
  1. Hold the syringe in your other hand, or you may take the help of another person. Position the syringe higher than the baby’s head to create adequate pressure for the milk to flow into the baby’s mouth.
  1. Keep a watch on the milk in the syringe. If you sense the milk is not flowing, gently press the syringe’s plunger. Push only 0.2 milliliter of milk at a time. Once the baby is able to draw the milk through the sucking motion, stop pushing the plunger.
  1. You may move the syringe at a level lower than the baby’s head to reduce the milk’s flow when approaching the end of the feeding session. Keep feeding until the baby stops sucking at the finger.

Once done with the feeding session, gently draw out the finger from the baby’s mouth. Discard any milk in the syringe and the tube. Rinse and clean the tube and the syringe with soapy water and leave them to air-dry.

Benefits Of Finger Feeding

Finger feeding may provide the following benefits to the baby and the mother (3) (4) (5).

  • Finger feeding simulates feeding from the nipple. It may make it easier for the baby to feed from the breast nipple later and prevent nipple confusion.
  • Finger feeding could make it easier for babies to exercise their sucking reflex due to the convenient shape of the finger.
  • Adequate stimulation of the sucking reflex through finger feeding could make it easier to establish breastfeeding in babies with poor reflexes, such as preterm babies.
  • It provides an opportunity for the mother to bond with the baby through skin-to-skin contact.
  • Finger feeding could provide the mother a fine control on the milk flow. It may help prevent conditions such as gagging.
  • Research indicates that babies who are finger-fed display less feeding-related stress and better weight gain. Adequate skin-to-skin contact and fine control of milk flow may be the reasons behind it.

Drawbacks Of Finger Feeding

Finger feeding may have the following disadvantages (6).

  • The most common finger-feeding technique involves the use of a thin tube. However, cleaning the tube after each feed could be challenging. A poorly cleaned tube may contain bacteria, increasing the risk of infections in the baby.
  • The use of an incorrect syringe, tube, and connector combination may cause the baby to receive too much or too little milk, increasing the risk of malnutrition.

You may avoid the aforementioned issues by speaking to a doctor and choosing the right supplies for finger feeding. It is also good to make a prior check on the recommended cleaning and sterilization methods recommended for the equipment.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. How long should I finger feed my baby?

You may feed a baby as long as they keep drawing milk in a single finger feeding session. The total span of finger feeding may vary among babies. You may stop finger feeding once the baby is able to latch to the breast and feed. Speak to a pediatrician to learn the ideal time to stop finger feeding your baby.

2. How does one clean the finger feeding supplies?

You may clean the feeding tube, syringe, connector, and other supplies with soapy water. Leave them to air-dry. You may check any specific instructions of the manufacturer before cleaning and sterilizing the finger feeding supplies.

3. Is finger feeding better than bottle feeding?

When feeding breastmilk to your baby, finger feeding is better than bottle feeding. Feeding your baby expressed breast milk with the finger feeding method is considered a type of breastfeeding and may be beneficial in transitioning babies to breastfeeding and helping them latch in the long run (2).

Finger feeding allows you to feed your baby expressed breast milk using a feeding tube attached to your index finger. It might be an excellent approach to feeding your infant if nursing is not possible. You can start by following the advice of a doctor or lactation consultant before you finger-feed the baby. Once your infant has acquired strong feeding skills, you can breastfeed. However, before finger feeding babies, clean the feeding tube and thoroughly wash your hands.

Key Pointers

  • Finger feeding is advisable for babies who have difficulties breastfeeding or formula feeding.
  • You must practice good hand hygiene and choose a comfortable position and place to feed the baby.
  • Pick the right feeding tube and follow proper techniques to reap the benefits of this feeding method.

References:

MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
1. Ban Al-Sahab et al., Which method of breastfeeding supplementation is best?; U.S. National Library of Medicine
2. Finger and Cup Feeding; Canadian Breastfeeding Foundation
3. Anne Eglash, Finger Feeding Vs Syringe Feeding in the NICU; Institute for the Advancement of Breastfeeding & Lactation Education
4. Emel Buldur et al., Comparison of the Finger Feeding Method Versus Syringe Feeding Method in Supporting Sucking Skills of Preterm Babies; U.S. National Library of Medicine
5. Alternative feeding methods; NHS UK
6. Finger feeding to supplement newborns; The Fed is Best Foundation
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Swati Patwal

Swati Patwal is a clinical nutritionist, a Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE) and a toddler mom with over eight years of experience in diverse fields of nutrition. She started her career as a CSR project coordinator for a healthy eating and active lifestyle project catering to school children. Then she worked as a nutrition faculty and clinical nutrition coach in different... more

Dr. Rana Chanchal

(MD, DCH, PGPN)
Dr. Rana Chanchal is currently working as a senior consultant and head of the Department of Pediatrics and Neonatology at Charak Hospital and Research Center, Lucknow. He has completed under graduation and post-graduation in Pediatrics from King George's Medical University, Lucknow following which he completed a two-year fellowship in Neonatology from Manchester, UK. Dr. Rana has also done DCH from... more

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