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When you are unable to directly breastfeed…

There are some situations in which your baby/toddler may not be able to feed directly from your breasts. If this is the case, you can choose to feed her/him your breastmilk using another method.

Depending on your individual circumstances, other feeding methods may include use of a bottle, breastfeeding supplementer, spoon, syringe, finger etc. A breastfeeding counsellor or lactation consultant can help you work out what method may work best for you and your baby.


One feeding method is cup-feeding. Cup-feeding may be particularly useful when small volumes of breastmilk/colostrum are being given and during emergency situations.

Joy Anderson cup-feeding

Why cup-feed

For a full-term baby, cup-feeding can be used when:

  • You and your baby are separated for a period of time.

  • You need to give your nipples time to heal.

  • Your baby is refusing to breastfeed

  • Your baby has a minor cleft of lip and/or palate

  • To provide top-ups of expressed breastmilk or formula if required

Nipple confusion

If faced with any of the above situations, some mothers may wish to cup feed (and avoid bottle use) due to a concern about nipple confusion. Nipple confusion is where the baby is said to develop a preference for bottle feeding and is fussy or refuses to breastfeed as a result. There is limited documented evidence about nipple confusion. 

How to cup-feed

When you start out, it’s a good idea to ask a child health nurse or lactation consultant to watch you to help ensure you learn how to cup-feed safely. Below is a description of the basic cup-feeding procedure, and a link to a Dr Jack Newman’s video clip, to help point you in the right direction. Although it may feel awkward at first, cup-feeding usually improves with practice.

Basic cup-feeding procedure:

  1. Start by setting up the following

    • a small soft-spouted cup or medicine glass

    • a bib, to catch any dribbles of milk

    • a well-supported chair

    • a table.

  2. Half-fill the cup and place the cup and any extra milk (with which to top up the cup) on the table.

  3. Place the chair beside the table.

  4. Make sure your baby is fully awake, calm and alert.

  5. Put the bib on your baby and sit on the chair, with your baby on your lap.

  6. Hold your baby in an upright position, with one of your hands supporting her/his shoulders and neck, or support your baby in the crook of your arm.

  7. Gently wrap your arm around your baby’s middle, to keep her/his hands down and away from the cup.

  8. Hold the cup so that it just touches your baby's mouth. It should reach the corners of her/his mouth and rest lightly on her/his bottom lip.

  9. Start by allowing her/him just a tiny sip, to encourage drinking.

  10. DO NOT pour the milk into her/his mouth; tip the cup just enough so that she/he can lap up the milk herself/himself, bringing her/his tongue forward to do it.

  11. Keep the cup in this tilted position.

  12. DO NOT take the cup away when your baby pauses, unless she/he pulls away.

  13. Allow her/him to start again when she/he is ready.

Follow your baby's cues and let her/him set the pace.

Click here to see videos on cup-feeding.

Older babies and toddlers

Many older babies or toddlers accept expressed breastmilk from a cup. Many different sizes and types of cups are available, for example, sippy cups, no-spill cups and cups with a straw (or with a built-in straw). You can experiment to see what works best for you and your baby/toddler.

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.



expressing and storing breastmilk

Breastfeeding: expressing and storing breastmilk booklet

Breastfeeding: Expressing and Storing Breastmilk covers all aspects of expressing and storage of breastmilk including hand/pump expressing, when to hire/buy a pump, long term milk expression, and correct storage and handling of breastmilk.

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© Australian Breastfeeding Association Reviewed October 2020


Last reviewed: 
Oct 2020