Newborn babies must be breastfed from the moment they are born. The mother’s milk contains vital antibodies that help build the baby’s immunity against common childhood diseases (1). Though babies have an innate tendency to suckle,it may not be possible for some babies due to various reasons. In such cases, the mother’s milk may be expressed and fed to the infant through a syringe.
Syringe feeding is recommended until the baby can naturally breastfeed. Read this post to learn about syringe feeding, when it is required, its process, and precautions to observe when syringe feeding the baby.
What Is Syringe Feeding?
Syringe feeding allows the baby to consume the mother’s milk through specialized infant feeding syringes. The breast milk is expressed into a sterile vessel and drawn into a feeding syringe. The technique is quite commonly used to feed colostrum, which is very low in volume, to newborns unable to breastfeed.
During syringe feeding, the tip of the syringe is placed on the side of the baby’s mouth to enable feeding. Some syringes have an attached fine feeding tube, which can be inserted into the baby’s mouth. The type of syringe used may vary depending on several factors, including the doctor’s recommendation, your baby’s health, and reasons behind the baby’s inability to breastfeed.
When Is Syringe Feeding Done?
Syringe feeding is practiced when breastfeeding is not possible because the baby cannot suckle or the mother cannot breastfeed. Below are certain scenarios where syringe feeding may be considered (2).
- Preterm babies with poor primitive reflexes
- Drowsy baby due to labor-inducing drugs
- Babies recovering from birth interventions
- Babies born with medical conditions or birth defects, such as cleft lip or cleft palate
- Baby is unable to latch on the breast temporarily
- Mother is unable to feed her baby immediately
How To Feed A Newborn With A Syringe?
- Wash your hands with soap and water to ensure hand hygiene.
- Sit in a comfortable position. Express breast milk in a sterile container, vessel, or flask.
- Hold and wrap your baby securely while settling into a comfortable position. You may use a pillow to support the baby.
- Take a clean infant feeding syringe recommended by the doctor. Draw the milk, press the plunger to remove the air bubble, and place the syringe aside. Ensure the feeding nozzle/tip does not touch any surface.
- Use your little finger to stimulate the baby’s lips and encourage them to open their mouth.
- Put your finger inside the mouth such that the pad of the finger touches the baby’s palate (roof of the mouth). The baby will begin to suck at the finger.
- Once you sense the baby sucking at the finger, use the other hand to gently insert the syringe’s tip along the side of the baby’s mouth. Do not push it deep. The syringe should be between the gum and the cheek or between the side of the baby’s tongue and your finger.
- Gently push the plunger so that the milk flows into the baby’s mouth.
- Push the plunger again each time the baby completes a sucking motion, that is, swallows the milk. You must push no more than 0.2 milliliters of milk at a time
- Stop pushing the milk when the baby stops making the feeding/sucking motion. Resume once the baby begins. Continue feeding until the baby stops.
In most cases, babies who are syringe-fed may be required to stay in the hospital for extra time. Therefore, the mother may find support from a midwife, nurse, or lactation consultant who can guide and assist her during syringe feeding.
Tips And Precautions When Syringe Feeding
- Always use your little finger to open the baby’s mouth. Using another finger may cause some babies to gag.
- There are several types of infant feeding syringes with respective accouterments. Most do not hold more than one milliliter of milk. Ask your doctor the precise type of syringe and tubes you may need to feed the baby. Do not pick a syringe without consulting the doctor first.
- Make sure you decide the place and your position to hold the baby securely before you begin. It is especially necessary when you are feeding the baby alone.
- Do not place the baby flat in your lap since it may cause them to choke. Instead, place them in a partially upright position.
- Always use a sterile container to collect the expressed milk. Thaw any frozen milk before drawing it into a syringe.
- Avoid using the syringe to feed medicines since the drug may react with traces of milk inside the syringe. Maintain a separate feeding syringe to administer medicines to the baby.
- Flush the syringe and tubing with warm water after use. Clean it with soapy water and let it air dry. Thorough washing with soap and water is often sufficient to sterilize certain infant feeding syringes.
- Some syringes are only meant for a fixed number of feeds. Check it on the packaging or ask your doctor about it.
- Purchase sealed infant feeding syringes and tubes that are pre-sterilized. If they are not pre-sterilized, look for information on the packaging or contact the manufacturer to learn about appropriate sterilization techniques.
- Some syringes could be dishwasher-safe. You may sterilize them in a dishwasher. If the manufacturer recommends it, you may disassemble parts of the syringe, place them in a pot of water, and boil for five minutes to sterilize it.
Syringe feeding could be a helpful alternative to breastfeeding and bottle-feeding, especially for newborns who need colostrum. In most cases, the baby may be able to breastfeed eventually. If breastfeeding is inhibited due to a problem, the rectification of it could be necessary. Speak to your doctor about it and check for the best infant feeding syringe suitable for your baby.
2. Syringe feeding your baby; St Vincent’s Private Hospital
3. Breastfeeding: Finger feeding using a fine tube or syringe; King Edward Memorial Hospital
4. Syringe and cup feeding your baby; NHS UK
5. Using a Syringe to Feed Your Child Formula or Breastmilk; Seattle Children’s Hospital
6. How to Clean, Sanitize, and Store Infant Feeding Items; CDC