Cup feeding in emergencies

Babies who are bottle-fed may be taught to drink from a cup if bottle-feeding equipment cannot be safely cleaned

If your baby will breastfeed, this is the safest option in an emergency situation. However, many babies will be accustomed to feeding from a bottle either with expressed breastmilk or artificial baby milk.

As feeding bottles and teats can be difficult to clean in emergency situations, a safer option is to feed your baby by cup.

What sort of cup to use

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

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

Older babies can also be taught to drink from a cup rather than a bottle. Use a small unbreakable cup, preferably without a lid, but any clean cup will do in an emergency. 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 he is fully awake and alert
  • Wrap a small baby to gently restrain his hands, or hold an older baby in a position so that he cannot reach for the cup
  • Sit baby upright in your lap and hold him firmly with your spare arm and hand
  • With the cup about half-full, hold it so that it is just touching the baby's mouth and reaches the corners of his mouth, resting it only lightly on his lower lip
  • Start by allowing him just a tiny sip to encourage him
  • Do not pour the milk into his mouth; tip it just enough so that he can lap it himself, bringing his tongue forward to do it
  • Keep the cup in this tilted position
  • Do not take the cup away when the baby pauses, unless he pulls away
  • Let him start again when he is ready and let him set his own pace
  • Follow baby's cues. He should be in control of how much milk he takes at a time.

Adapted from 'Cup Feeding' by Virginia Thorley OAM, MA, IBCLC.

© Australian Breastfeeding Association Reviewed October 2012