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Cup feeding in emergencies

Breastfeeding is the safest way to feed a baby in an emergency situation. However, many babies will be accustomed to feeding from a bottle either with expressed breastmilk or formula.

Feeding bottles and teats can be difficult to clean in emergency situations. A safer option than a bottle is a cup. Babies who are bottle-fed can be taught to drink from a cup.

What sort of cup to use

Open cups are safest and can be cleaned easily. 'Sipper' lids and straws are also hard to keep clean.

For a young baby you can use a small plastic or glass cup (eg a medicine cup).

It’s important to always supervise babies while they are drinking.

How to cup-feed

The following points are designed to help you understand how to cup-feed safely. However, it is good to have someone help you as well, such as another mother, a breastfeeding counsellor or a health professional.

It is important not to lay your baby back because this can cause choking and spluttering, with aspiration (breathing in) of some milk.

  • Cup-feed your baby only when she is fully awake and alert

  • Wrap a small baby to gently restrain her hands, or hold an older baby in a position so that she cannot reach for the cup

  • Sit baby upright in your lap and hold her firmly with your spare arm and hand

  • With the cup about half full, hold it so that it is just touching her mouth and reaches the corners of her mouth, resting it only lightly on her lower lip

  • Start by allowing her just a tiny sip to encourage her

  • Do not pour the milk into her mouth; tip it just enough so that she can lap it herself, bringing her tongue forward to do so

  • Keep the cup in this tilted position

  • Do not take the cup away when she pauses, unless she pulls away

  • Let her start again when she is ready and let her set her own pace

  • Follow her cues. She should be in control of how much milk she takes at a time.

At first cup-feeding may seem slow and messy. However, in a short time the process of cup feeding becomes easier.

© Australian Breastfeeding Association Reviewed May 2016


Cup feeding: a baby not fed at the breast can be fed without a bottle.  Cup feeding can be used from birth. It is suitable for both expressed breastmilk and infant formula. You can use any clean, open cup with a smooth surface.  Babies will suck or sip the milk, or may use their tongue to lap it up.  Cup feeding gives babies freedom to move their tongue in a way that is closer to the 'suckle' reflex used for breastfeeding.  Poster created by and used with the permission of Breastfeeding Advocacy Australia,

Last reviewed: 
May 2016