Baby food syringe

How To Syringe Feed A Baby? 10 Steps To Follow

The technique is helpful for babies who can’t suck, but doing it properly is important.


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Image: iStock

Feeding a baby with a syringe is an inevitable choice when a baby can’t nurse from the breast. Generally, babies are born with an innate ability to suckle and consume breast milk. However, there may be various reasons why a baby can’t do it. In such instances, feeding a baby with a syringe can help them consume breast milk.

Breast milk is vital for babies as it helps them stay nourished and hydrated. Besides, it provides them antibodies that help against illnesses (1). Hence, syringe feeding is recommended until the baby starts breastfeeding naturally.

Read this post to know about syringe feeding, when it is needed, steps to feed your baby with a syringe, and precautions to observe.

What Is Syringe Feeding?

Syringe feeding allows the baby to consume the mother’s milk through specialized infant feeding syringes. The breast milk is expressed into a sterile vessel and drawn into a feeding syringe. The technique is quite commonly used to feed colostrum, which is very low in volume, to newborns unable to breastfeed.

During syringe feeding, the tip of the syringe is placed on the side of the baby’s mouth to enable feeding. Some syringes have an attached fine feeding tube, which can be inserted into the baby’s mouth. The type of syringe used may vary depending on several factors, including the doctor’s recommendation, your baby’s health, and reasons behind the baby’s inability to breastfeed.

Related: 7 Effective Home Remedies To Prevent Baby’s Mouth Ulcers

When Is Syringe Feeding Done?

Syringe feeding is practiced when breastfeeding is not possible because the baby cannot suckle or the mother cannot breastfeed. Below are certain scenarios where syringe feeding may be considered (2).

  • Preterm babies with poor primitive reflexes
  • Drowsy baby due to labor-inducing drugs
  • Babies recovering from birth interventions
  • Babies born with medical conditions or birth defects, such as cleft lip or cleft palate
  • Baby is unable to latch on the breast temporarily
  • Mother is unable to feed her baby immediately

Related: Lip Tie In Babies: Causes, Signs, Complications & Treatment

How To Feed A Newborn With A Syringe?

Below are the steps involved in feeding a baby with a syringe (3) (4).

  1. Wash your hands with soap and water to ensure hand hygiene.

Image: Shutterstock

  1. Sit in a comfortable position. Express breast milk in a sterile container, vessel, or flask.
  1. Hold and wrap your baby securely while settling into a comfortable position. You may use a pillow to support the baby.

Image: Shutterstock

  1. Take a clean infant feeding syringe recommended by the doctor. Draw the milk, press the plunger to remove the air bubble, and place the syringe aside. Ensure the feeding nozzle/tip does not touch any surface.
  1. Use your little finger to stimulate the baby’s lips and encourage them to open their mouth.

Image: iStock

  1. Put your finger inside the mouth such that the pad of the finger touches the baby’s palate (roof of the mouth). The baby will begin to suck at the finger.
  1. Once you sense the baby sucking at the finger, use the other hand to gently insert the syringe’s tip along the side of the baby’s mouth. Do not push it deep. The syringe should be between the gum and the cheek or between the side of the baby’s tongue and your finger.

Image: Shutterstock

  1. Gently push the plunger so that the milk flows into the baby’s mouth.
  1. Push the plunger again each time the baby completes a sucking motion, that is, swallows the milk. You must push no more than 0.2 milliliters of milk at a time
  1. Stop pushing the milk when the baby stops making the feeding/sucking motion. Resume once the baby begins. Continue feeding until the baby stops.

Quick tip

Splaying fingers and toes, spilling milk from the mouth, turning head away, or pushing the syringe away indicate that the baby has finished feeding and does not need any more milk (8).

In most cases, babies who are syringe-fed may be required to stay in the hospital for extra time. Therefore, the mother may find support from a midwife, nurse, or lactation consultant who can guide and assist her during syringe feeding.

Related: Signs Of Epstein Pearls In Newborn, Causes, And Treatment

Tips And Precautions When Syringe Feeding

Here are some useful tips and precautions to safely syringe-feed your baby (5) (6).

  1. Always use your little finger to open the baby’s mouth. Using another finger may cause some babies to gag.
  1. There are several types of infant feeding syringes with respective accouterments. Most do not hold more than one milliliter of milk. Ask your doctor the precise type of syringe and tubes you may need to feed the baby. Do not pick a syringe without consulting the doctor first.

Point to consider

Syringe feeding is suitable for babies requiring less than 5ml of milk at a time. Once the volume of milk increases, syringe feeding should be replaced with cup feeding if the baby still can’t breastfeed (8) (9).

  1. Make sure you decide the place and your position to hold the baby securely before you begin. It is especially necessary when you are feeding the baby alone.

Image: Shutterstock

  1. Do not place the baby flat in your lap since it may cause them to choke. Instead, place them in a partially upright position.

Related: Baby Choking On Breastmilk: Why Does It Happen And What To Do

  1. Always use a sterile container to collect the expressed milk. Thaw any frozen milk before drawing it into a syringe.
  1. Avoid using the syringe to feed medicines since the drug may react with traces of milk inside the syringe. Maintain a separate feeding syringe to administer medicines to the baby.
  1. Flush the syringe and tubing with warm water after use. Clean it with soapy water and let it air dry. Thorough washing with soap and water is often sufficient to sterilize certain infant feeding syringes.
  1. Some syringes are only meant for a fixed number of feeds. Check it on the packaging or ask your doctor about it.
  1. Purchase sealed infant feeding syringes and tubes that are pre-sterilized. If they are not pre-sterilized, look for information on the packaging or contact the manufacturer to learn about appropriate sterilization techniques.
  1. Some syringes could be dishwasher-safe. You may sterilize them in a dishwasher. If the manufacturer recommends it, you may disassemble parts of the syringe, place them in a pot of water, and boil for five minutes to sterilize it.

Be watchful

Do not syringe feed a baby who is asleep or crying. Instead, feed them when they are awake, alert, and calm to prevent choking (8).

1. Is a syringe feeding better than a bottle?

Syringe feeding could be better than bottle-feeding for preterm infants as it possesses less risk of infections. Feeding preterm infants through syringes might also avoid nipple confusion, a common occurrence in bottle-fed preterm infants. Syringe feeding also requires more parental involvement, which might benefit the infant (7).

2. Can I syringe feed formula?

The syringe feeding method is a versatile technique not just limited to delivering breast milk to babies. It can also be used to feed formula to infants. But care must be taken that the formula is dissolved and does not block the syringe nozzle.

3. What are alternative feeding techniques?

Alternative feeding techniques are used when the baby cannot consume milk directly from the breasts. These methods include syringe feeding, hand feeding, bottle feeding, cup feeding, and spoon feeding. Alternative feeding techniques are used until the baby starts to breastfeed successfully (8).

Feeding a baby with a syringe may become a necessity if they have latching issues, congenital facial abnormalities, or if the mother is not in a condition to breastfeed. This technique requires sterilized extraction equipment and syringes. It is recommended to consult a medical professional or a lactation consultant to learn the procedure of syringe feeding. They will also help you determine the right syringe feeding type for your baby. Ensure to maintain proper personal hygiene, position yourself and your baby comfortably, and start and stop feeding your baby based on their sucking reflex cues. Also, remember to clean the equipment after the feeding and replace them if needed.

Key Pointers

  • Syringe feeding employs specialized infant feeding syringes to feed the mother’s milk to the baby.
  • It is considered in preterm births and other conditions when the baby cannot suckle or the mother cannot nurse.
  • Always use a sterile container and a separate feeding syringe to collect and administer expressed breast milk.
  • After each use, flush the syringe and tubing with warm water and sterilize it.


MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.

1. Breastfeeding; World Health Organization
2. Syringe feeding your baby; St Vincent’s Private Hospital
3. Breastfeeding: Finger feeding using a fine tube or syringe; King Edward Memorial Hospital
4. Syringe and cup feeding your baby; NHS UK
5. Using a Syringe to Feed Your Child Formula or Breastmilk; Seattle Children’s Hospital
6. How to Clean, Sanitize, and Store Infant Feeding Items; CDC
7. Birgül Say et al; Evaluation of Syringe Feeding Compared to Bottle Feeding for the Transition from Gavage Feeding to Oral Feeding in Preterm Infants; The Journal of Pediatric Research.
8. Alternative methods of feeding your baby: syringe, spoon, cup and bottle feeding; NHS University Hospital Southampton
9. Cup and Syringe Feeding Guideline for Neonates; NHS Foundation Trust

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How to Syringe Feed a Breastfed Baby?

Once your little baby arrives in the world, you will be more than excited to breastfeed him and take care of him. However, there might be conditions that might not make it easy for the baby to be breastfed. At times, you may require additional time to recover or your breasts may be too sensitive or sore and may require rest, thus, preventing you from breastfeeding your baby. This is where feeding a baby with a syringe might need to be undertaken.

What is Syringe Feeding?

We all know that a baby should be breastfed for the first six months, but in certain scenarios, it may not be possible for a mother to breastfeed her baby. Therefore, a baby may need to be fed expressed breast milk or formula directly in his mouth through a syringe without a needle. Such a feeding technique is termed syringe feeding.

How to Feed a Newborn With a Syringe

Before going ahead with using a syringe to feed your newborn baby, it is important that you follow a few steps. Breastmilk can usually be given directly with the syringe. However, when preparing formula milk, do stick to the instructions on the package but make sure it is fluid enough to pass through the syringe.

  • Prepare the formula or breastmilk in a cup or a bowl.
  • Using a sterile or clean syringe, pull the plunger to fill the syringe with milk.
  • Position your baby appropriately on your lap. Make sure he is slightly inclined in an upright position.
  • Gently nudge the baby to open his mouth with the tip of the syringe. When he does, insert the tip of the syringe inwards.
  • The baby will latch on to the tip. Once he does, start pushing the plunger in a gradual way, staying in sync with his sucking action.

It might take a few tries to get it right. In case you continue to face problems feeding your baby the right way or he doesn’t seem to drink enough milk, get in touch with your doctor or any consultant for help.

Tips and Precautions for Syringe Feeding a Breastfed Baby

At times, your baby might be feeding off your breast but not in the quantities he should. In order to supplement his nutrition, you can make use of syringe feeding by either using your expressed breastmilk or formula. However, it is important to keep the amount in tandem with breastfeeding. If your baby starts feeding on the breast for a longer duration, ask your doctor for the right time to cut down on the supplemental feeding.

If the tip of the syringe is uncomfortable for the child, you can attach a fine tube to the tip of it. This can be slid into the baby’s mouth, which he can suck on easily. Hospital personnel can help you with that. If this fails as well, it is best to resort to bottle feeding or a cup to keep his nutritional intake on the right path.

For most women, especially first-time mothers, the act of feeding breast milk with a syringe can feel weird and even saddening. The experience of having your baby feed on your breast is what constitutes the very experience of motherhood. However, prioritising your baby’s safety and needs is important. Over time, you might find an opportunity to get him back onto your breast.

Also Read: Cup Feeding Your Baby

Types of medical syringes: classification, purpose, structure


A syringe is a medical instrument used for injections, diagnostic procedures, punctures, suction of fluids from cavities.

Syringes vary:

  • volume;
  • purpose;
  • design features.

By volume

By volume, syringes are divided into low-volume, standard and large-volume syringes. nine0003

Small Volume Syringes (0.3, 0.5 and 1 ml) - used for accurate drug administration, eg insulin syringe, tuberculin syringe, as well as for vaccination and sampling in allergology.

Syringes standard volume (2, 5, 10, 20, 30 ml) are very common, as they are used everywhere for all types of injections (subcutaneous, intramuscular, intravenous).

Syringes large volume (50 , 60 , 100 , 150 ml) are not used for injection directly, they are necessary for dosed administration of drugs, for washing cavities, suctioning liquids, for feeding through a tube, etc.


Insulin Syringe - used to administer insulin (a hormone produced by the pancreas) in diabetes mellitus.

insulin syringe

Tuberculin syringe - for tuberculin tests (Mantoux tests).

tuberculin syringe

Janet syringe - has a large volume (100, 150, 200, 250, 500 ml), is used for washing the patient's cavities, for enteral nutrition, for introducing drugs through the catheter probe, for infusions, for suctioning various liquids, etc. .

Syringe jane

Carpool Syringe - used in dentistry to inject anesthetics. nine0003

Carpool syringe

Syringe gun - provides independent, without the participation of specialists, injections at a professional level.

Syringe gun

Dart Syringe - designed to immobilize animals by remote administration of a drug that provides the appropriate effect.

syringe dart

nine0007 Self-locking (self-destructive) syringes - their distinguishing feature: the presence of a self-destruction mechanism integrated into the syringe. After activating the mechanism, it is impossible to reuse the syringe. The use of these syringes will lead to a reduction in infection.

Auto-disable syringes


According to their structure, syringes are divided into two-component and three-component.

Two-component syringes consist of 2 parts: barrel and plunger.

Three-piece consists of 3 parts: cylinder, piston and plunger (seal) of the piston.

Two-component syringe

Three-component syringe

Type of needle insertion

"Luer slip" - the needle is simply put on.

"Luer lock" - the needle is screwed directly onto the thread that goes inside the needle head nine0003

In this embodiment, the needle is better attached to the cylinder and does not fly off.

"Luer Lok"

"Luer slip"

Syringe tip position

The position of the syringe tip can be centered (coaxial with the barrel) or sideways (eccentric).

Center - for syringes < 5 ml.

Side or center - for syringes with a nominal capacity > 5 ml. nine0003


Side or center

Your child's gastric or gastrojejunal tube: syringe feeding

Your child has been discharged from the hospital to go home with a gastric tube (GZ) or gastrojejunal tube (GTU) for feeding. GZ goes to the stomach through the wall of the abdomen (abdominal wall). Through this tube, liquid food enters directly into the stomach. This information leaflet will help you feed your baby by gravity through a syringe in the HC. nine0003

The GEZ is placed in the stomach through the abdominal wall and leads to a part of the small intestine called the jejunum. Through it, liquid food enters directly into the jejunum. The tube will have a capped opening (inlet) to send liquid food, liquids, and drugs to the stomach (GI) and another inlet that goes to the jejunum (JI). If your baby needs to feed directly into the jejunum through the E3 inlet, you will be shown how to feed him or her with a pump. Follow exactly your child's healthcare team's instructions for pump feeding in E3. nine0003

We draw your attention to the fact that there are many types of GZ and GZ, syringes and food items. Your child's probe and items needed may differ from those listed and described here. Some types of probe have a special connector that allows you to attach or insert a syringe into the HZ or HZ. Other types have a screw-on safety connector. A screw-on connector means that you must use a specific type of syringe that screws into your child's HZ or HZ. Follow your pediatrician's or home health nurse's instructions. nine0003


Ensure that the probe does not pose a choking hazard to your child. Follow your healthcare professional's instructions on how to securely attach the probe.

Contact information to always have at hand

Ask your child's care team for phone numbers to call if you need help. You must also have the phone number of the medical supply company. You may need additional items to care for your child in the future. Write down all these phone numbers below:

Attending physician: _________________________________

Home Care Nurse: ______________________________________

Medical supply company: __________________________________

Metered feeding

Metered feeding is the amount of liquid food given in one meal by tube several times a day. Metered feeding is carried out through a syringe at GZ leading to the stomach. Your child's doctor or home health nurse will tell you how much liquid food to use at each feed. You will also be told how often to feed your baby.

For dosed feeding, fill in the blanks below:

Feed your baby on the following schedule: ____________________________________________

At each feeding, give the following amount of food: ______________________________________________

Gravity feeding

You will need:

Perform the following steps:

  • Wash hands with soap and clean running water.

  • Check liquid food label and expiration date. Do not use a nutrition jar or sachet if it has passed its expiration date. Instead, take a new jar or sachet of nutrition. nine0003

  • Open the cap of the power port on the GB or GEZ.

  • Connect the extension tube to the GM or GE supply port.

  • Not all probes have clips. If the probe has a clip, make sure it is closed.

  • nine0011

    Remove the plunger from the feeding syringe.

  • Connect the feeding syringe to the other end of the extension tube.

  • Pour liquid nutrition into the feeding syringe. Fill the syringe exactly as prescribed by your child's doctor.

  • nine0002 Open the clamp on the extension tube.

  • Hold the feeding syringe straight. This allows power to flow through the GEZ or GEZ under the force of gravity. Vary the angle of the feeding syringe to control the rate of feeding flow.

  • If the feed flows slowly or does not flow at all, place the plunger in the syringe. Gently push down on the piston. This will help prevent clogging or clogging of the NGZ. Do not press the syringe plunger all the way or with force. nine0003

  • Refill the syringe with nutrition if necessary. Repeat these steps until the child receives the prescribed amount of food.

  • After feeding, rinse the tube with water as instructed in the hospital.

  • Disconnect the syringe from the extension tube. nine0003

  • Disconnect the extension tube from the GZ or GZ.

  • Close the cap on the power port on the GB or GEZ.

Additional instructions: _______________________________________________




When to contact your doctor

Call your doctor immediately if you experience the following symptoms:

  • You see blood around the tube, in the child's stool, or in the contents of his or her stomach. Depending on the volume of blood, you can be told call 911 .

  • The handset is held too loose or is falling out.

  • The hole through which the tube comes out from under the skin has become larger.

  • Red, rough tissue forms around the exit of the tube from under the skin.

  • nine0011

    The probe is clogged or clogged and cannot be cleaned.

  • Redness, swelling, discharge or sores on the skin around the probe.

  • While feeding, the baby coughs, chokes, or vomits.

  • The child's abdomen looks swollen or hard to the touch. nine0003

  • Your child has diarrhea or constipation.

  • Your child has a temperature of 40°C (100.4°F) or more, regardless of the child's age or as directed by a healthcare professional.

Call 911

Call 911 for the following:

© 2000-2022 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions. nine0003

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