Finger feeding is a technique which allows you to feed the baby
without giving the baby an artificial nipple. Finger feeding is
also a method which helps train the baby to take the breast. If
you want to breastfeed successfully, it is better to avoid the use
of artificial nipples before your milk supply is well established.
Finger feeding may be used if:
- The baby refuses the breast for whatever reason, or if the
baby is too sleepy at the breast to nurse well. It is also a very
good way to wake up a sleepy baby.
- The baby does not seem to be able to latch on to the breast
properly, and thus does not get milk well. (If a lactation aid
can be used at the breast, why use finger feeding?).
- The baby is separated from the mother, for whatever reason.
However, in such a situation, a cup is probably a better method
of feeding the baby.
- Breastfeeding is stopped temporarily (there are very few legitimate
reasons to stop breastfeeding. See handout #9 You Can Still Breastfeed).
- Your nipples are so sore that you cannot put the baby to the
breast. Finger feeding for several days may allow your nipples
to heal without causing more problems by getting the baby used
to an artificial nipple. Cup feeding is also more appropriate
in this situation and takes less time. This is only a last resort.
Proper positioning and a good latch help sore nipples far more
frequently than finger feeding (Handout #3 Sore Nipples).
Finger feeding is much more similar to breastfeeding than bottle
feeding is. In order to finger feed, the baby must keep his tongue
down and forward over the gums, the mouth wide open (the larger
the finger used, the better), and the jaw forward. Furthermore,
the motion of the tongue and jaw is similar to what the baby does
while feeding at the breast. Finger feeding is best used to prepare
the baby to take the breast. Cup feeding is usually easier and faster
when the mother is not present to feed the baby.
Please Note: If the baby is taking the breast, it is better by
far to use the lactation at the breast, if supplementation is truly
necessary (Handout #5 Using a Lactation Aid).
Finger Feeding (best learned by watching and doing)
- Wash your hands. It is better if the finger nail on the finger
you will use has been cut short, but this is not necessary.
- It is best to position yourself and the baby comfortably. The
baby's head should be supported with one hand behind his shoulders
and neck, the baby should be on your lap, half seated, and facing
you. Any position which is comfortable, however, will do.
- You will need a lactation aid, made up of a feeding tube (#5F,
36" long), and a feeding bottle with expressed breast milk, sugar
water, or, if necessary, formula, depending on the circumstances.
The feeding tube is passed through the enlarged nipple hole into
- Line up the tube so that it sits on the soft part of your index
(or other) finger. The end of the tube should line up no further
than the end of your finger. It is easiest to grip the tube, about
where it makes a gentle curve, between your thumb and middle finger
and then position your index finger under the tube. If this is
done properly, there is no need to tape the tube to your finger.
- Using the finger with the tube, tickle the baby's lips lightly,
until the baby opens up his mouth enough to allow your finger
to enter. If the baby is very sleepy, but needs to be fed, the
finger may be gently insinuated into his mouth. Generally, the
baby will begin to suckle even if asleep, and receiving liquids
will then awaken him.
- Insert your finger with the tube so that the soft part of your
finger remains upwards. Keep your finger as flat as possible.
Usually the baby will begin sucking on the finger, and allow the
finger to enter quite far. The baby will not usually gag on your
finger even if it is in his mouth quite far, unless the baby is
full or used to bottles.
- Pull down the baby's chin, if his lower lip is sucked in.
- The technique is working if the baby is drinking. If feeding
is very slow, you may raise the bottle above the baby's head.
Try to keep your finger straight, flattening the baby's tongue.
Try not to point your finger up, but keep it flat, thus keeping
down the baby's tongue, and working the lower jaw forward.
- The use of finger feeding with a syringe to push milk into
the baby's mouth, is, in my opinion, too difficult and definitely
not more effective than simply using a bottle with the nipple
hole enlarged and the tube coming from it.
If you are having trouble getting the baby to latch on to or to
suckle at the breast, remember that a ravenous baby can make the
going very difficult. Take the edge of his hunger by using the finger
feeding technique for a minute or so. Once the baby has settled
a little, and sucks well on your finger (usually only a minute or
so), try offering the breast again. If you still encounter difficulty,
do not be discouraged. Go back to finger feeding and try again later
in the feed or next feeding. This technique usually works. Sometimes
several days, or on occasion a week or more, of finger feeding are
If you are leaving the hospital finger feeding the baby, make
an appointment with the clinic within a day or so of discharge.
The earlier the better.
Once the baby is taking the breast, he may still require the lactation
aid to supplement for a period of time. Although the baby may take
the breast, the latch can still be less than ideal, and the suckle
may still not be efficient enough to ensure adequate intake.
Handout #8. Finger Feeding. Revised January 1998
Written by Jack Newman, MD, FRCPC
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