Cup Feeding and the Breastfed Infant

Cup feeding a baby
Jupiterimages/Getty Images

Cup feeding is an alternative feeding method that is used to provide a supplement to a breastfed baby. If you and your child can be together and your baby is able to latch on well, an alternative feeding method should not be used. When possible, it is always best to breastfeed. However, cup feeding may be a good choice when:

  • You have a premature infant who cannot yet breastfeed
  • Your baby is unable to latch on to your breast
  • You need to be separated from your breastfed child for a short period of time
  • Your baby is not able to breastfeed or bottle-feed due to neurological issues
  • Your baby decides to go on a nursing strike and refuses to take the breast
  • You are weaning your baby and she refuses to take the bottle

Cup feeding is not a new technique. It has been used around the world for centuries, and it's considered a safe way to feed young infants, even when they're premature. By choosing to use a cup to supplement your baby instead of a bottle, you may be able to prevent your child from developing a preference for the bottle or artificial nipples. This may make it easier to transition to breastfeeding once your baby is able to latch on and nurse.

Pros and Cons

  • Helps avoid nipple confusion

  • More sanitary than finger feeding

  • Less time consuming than finger-feeding

  • Can help babies breastfeed longer

  • Does not help with milk supply

  • Less convenient than bottle feeding

  • Does not teach baby to suck

  • For short-term use only


Cup feeding can provide feeding without the use of a bottle. This may help to avoid nipple confusion and the development of a bottle preference. Cup feeding is also more sanitary than finger feeding and it doesn't take as long to do. Cup feeding can lead to more successful breastfeeding and the continuation of breastfeeding for a longer period of time.


Unlike a nursing supplementer device, cup feeding does not provide any stimulation to the breasts to build and maintain a breast milk supply. It also doesn't provide the suck training that finger feeding or a nursing supplementer device encourage. Since it takes some skill to learn, it is not as easy, or as convenient, as bottle feeding. Cup feeding should only be used as a short-term feeding method.

How to Use an Infant Cup

Small cups that have soft, round rims and open tops are used for cup feedings. The one-ounce medicine cups that are found in hospitals can be used for premature infants who are taking small amounts of breast milk at each feeding. For older babies, a larger cup will be needed. However, cups with tops and spouts are not recommended since they are more like bottles.

Cup feeding is not difficult to do, but it is still a skill. As a parent or a caregiver, you must learn how to safely cup feed your baby, and your child must learn how to drink from the cup. It's important that the contents of the cup are not poured into the baby's mouth. Instead, the baby can learn to use his tongue to slowly take the supplement into his mouth and then swallow it. You should not try to cup feed your baby without first talking to your healthcare provider and learning the proper technique.

4 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Flint A, New K, Davies MW. Cup feeding versus other forms of supplemental enteral feeding for newborn infants unable to fully breastfeed. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2016;(8):CD005092. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD005092.pub3

  2. Collins CT, Gillis J, McPhee AJ, Suganuma H, Makrides M. Avoidance of bottles during the establishment of breast feeds in preterm infants. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2016;(10):CD005252. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD005252.pub4

  3. World Health Organization. Guideline: protecting, promoting and supporting breastfeeding in facilities providing maternity and newborn services. 2017.

  4. Penny F, Judge M, Brownell E, Mcgrath JM. Cup feeding as a supplemental, alternative feeding method for preterm breastfed infants: an integrative review. Matern Child Health J. 2018;22(11):1568-1579. doi:10.1007/s10995-018-2632-9

Additional Reading
  • Lawrence RA, Lawrence RM. Breastfeeding: A Guide For The Medical Profession. 7th ed. Mosby; 2011.

  • Riordan J, Wambach K. Breastfeeding and Human Lactation. 4th ed. Jones and Bartlett Learning; 2014.

By Donna Murray, RN, BSN
Donna Murray, RN, BSN has a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Rutgers University and is a current member of Sigma Theta Tau, the Honor Society of Nursing.