Finger Feeding And The Breastfed Infant

An Alternative Feeding Method For Supplementing A Breastfed Baby

185063038 Christian Wheatley Getty Images
Finger feeding a premature baby can help prevent a bottle preference. Christian Wheatley/Getty Images

What is Finger Feeding?

Finger feeding is one of the alternative feeding options for supplementing a breastfed baby. Finger feeding may be helpful if:

Finger feeding is similar to using a nursing supplementer device at the breast. In fact, you can even use the bottle and tubing from a nursing supplementer set to finger feed your baby.

When you use a nursing supplementer device at the breast, you place your breast milk or another type of supplement into the device's bottle. The bottle is then connected to a feeding tube which is attached to your nipple. As your baby sucks at the breast, the milk flows from the bottle, through the tube, and into your child's mouth.

With finger feeding, your finger acts as your nipple. So, instead of taping the end of the tube to your nipple, the end of the tubing is secured at the tip of your finger. Then, as your baby sucks on your finger, he can draw the milk through the device, and into his mouth.

If you do not have a nursing supplementer set, you can use a syringe and a small feeding tube.

With a syringe set-up, the tubing goes from the syringe to the tip of your finger. As your baby sucks on your finger, you can gently press down on the plunger of the syringe so that a small amount of the feeding is pushed through the tubing and into your baby's mouth.

Finger Feeding As Suck Training

Suck training may be helpful for babies who have difficulty learning to suck.

By placing your finger into your baby's mouth to finger feed, it stimulates your baby's tongue and the sucking reflex. The goal of suck training is to get your baby ready to latch on to your breast and nurse.

Finger feeding can also be used to start a feeding for a baby who has difficulty latching on. If the baby is sucking well after a minute or two of finger feeding, she can be switched over to the breast.

Finger Feeding Is A Skill

Before you decide to try finger feeding, consult your baby's doctor.  Do not try to finger feed your baby or make a homemade finger feeding device on your own.  Finger feeding is a skill, so it's important to learn how to set up and perform this technique correctly. Your doctor, your baby's doctor, or a lactation professional can help determine if finger feeding is the right feeding method for your child.  Your health practitioner can also demonstrate this procedure, and provide you with the necessary equipment that you need. 

See Also: Cup Feeding The Breastfed Infant


Lawrence, Ruth A., MD, Lawrence, Robert M., MD. Breastfeeding A Guide For The Medical Profession Seventh Edition.  Mosby. 2011.

Newman, Jack, MD, Pitman, Theresa. The Ultimate Breastfeeding Book of Answers. Three Rivers Press. New York. 2006.

Riordan, J., and Wambach, K. Breastfeeding and Human Lactation Fourth Edition. Jones and Bartlett Learning. 2014.

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