Feeding newborn baby with 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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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.

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

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.

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.

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.
  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.
  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.

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

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Rohit Garoo did MBA from Osmania University and holds a certificate in Developmental Psychology from The University of Queensland. The zoologist-botanist turned writer-editor has over 8 years of experience in content writing, content marketing, and copywriting. He has also done an MBA in marketing and human resources and worked in the domains of market research and e-commerce. Rohit writes topics...
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Dr. Dur Afshar Agha is a consultant pediatrician with decades of experience in various medical facilities both in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. She has headed the Department of Preventive Pediatrics at the prestigious, Children’s Hospital and Institute of Child Health in Pakistan and is a life member of the Pakistan Paediatric Association. She has also completed her Post Graduate Program...
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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

alternative ways.. Articles to help mom

H Non-bottle supplementation occurs in mothers who want to continue breastfeeding but are forced to supplement with formula or expressed milk for various reasons, for example:

  • Mom needs to go away, and another adult will feed the baby.
  • Mom is ill and is taking medications that are incompatible with GW (breastfeeding).
  • It is necessary to give a medicine diluted in milk.
  • Mom has a severe cracked nipple and breastfeeding is very painful.
  • The baby is not gaining weight, and the pediatrician prescribed supplementary feeding with formula.
  • Any other reason why a baby would need to be supplemented from a non-breastfeed.

The article will be useful to mothers who want to return or maintain breastfeeding after the introduction of supplementary feeding.

Why not a bottle

There is no unequivocal recommendation to give non-bottle supplements. But there is a threat that after the bottle the baby will refuse the breast or stop latching on properly.

For some children, it is enough to kiss the nipple once to start acting up at the breast. After all, milk from the breast does not flow as quickly and not as evenly as from a bottle. It does not mean at all that this will happen to you, but there is such a possibility.

Methods of supplementary feeding by degree of closeness to breastfeeding

Consider the pros and cons of the methods known to us, which are recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) and breastfeeding consultants.

Breast feeding systems

You give your baby a breast and bring a soft catheter to the nipple, through which pumped milk or formula is supplied. At the opposite end of the catheter is a container of milk. It can be a syringe or a bottle, or a glass - which is more convenient for mom. Medela has a ready-to-use breastfeeding system. This option is only suitable for babies who can breastfeed. On the Internet you will find videos on how to build such a system yourself or use a ready-made one. Google it.


The undoubted advantage of the breastfeeding system is that the baby suckles at the breast. He not only receives milk "from the breast", but also stimulates the mammary glands.


You have to get used to using it. The container and catheter will have to be washed or changed frequently, interrupt feeding, or prepare milk in advance for supplementary feeding. You will spend some time learning how to secure the catheter to your chest.

Finger feeding

Very similar to the previous version, only instead of the breast, the child sucks your finger, to which the catheter is attached. Instead of a catheter, you can give milk to the corner of your mouth from a syringe without a needle. Drop by drop. It is better to choose a larger finger, usually the middle or index finger, so that the baby opens his mouth wide.


The baby has skin contact while suckling and feels the warmth of your finger. In the case of using a catheter, you can hold the baby in your arms, as with breastfeeding.


If you are syringe feeding, some of the milk will spill out at first. Stock up on stock. If a stranger is feeding the child, then it is advisable to use a glove or abandon this method so as not to create an additional burden on the intestines with an unfamiliar microflora.

Cup feeding

WHO recommends this method. You pour milk into a small cup. Even a plastic bottle cap will do. Tilt it so that the milk does not spill out, but stands at the edge. And put this edge on the baby's lower lip. He will begin to stick out his tongue and slowly lap up milk. You gradually tilt the cup so that the milk is always available to him. It is important not to pour milk into the child's mouth, otherwise it will choke.

With this method of feeding, you need to keep the baby as upright as possible.


The child eats milk at his own pace. He may take a break from lapping, as well as from breast sucking. At this point, it is important to continue to hold the cup on his lip. The kid will continue when he is ready.


Milk is likely to spill, prepare with a margin.

Spoon feeding

The principle is the same. Instead of a cup, you use a spoon, which you serve with a thin or wide edge - as you like - on the child's lower lip. The difference is that the spoon will have to be refilled more often. Medela has a special feeding spoon. The principle of its application is the same, but it is filled from the attached container with a light touch. Choose what is more convenient.

Syringe feeding

Give milk from a syringe without a needle to the baby's cheek. It is important to give it by the cheek and drop by drop so that the child does not choke. Take a syringe of at least 10 ml. Try different manufacturers. The piston should move as easily and without jerks as possible. To make it possible for you to smoothly supply milk, grab the syringe with your little finger and ring finger, and press the plunger with your thumb.


Milk almost does not spill with this method if you are not in a hurry.


The syringe will need to be refilled frequently if the amount of supplementation is significant.


In the minuses of all methods, one important point is deliberately not indicated - such supplementary feeding takes significantly more time than supplementary feeding from a bottle. And this is good. After all, the baby also sucks for a long time. Maybe 20 minutes, maybe an hour. And your supplementation will take the same amount of time. depending on its volume. You have to be ready for this.

You will definitely succeed!

Pipette or syringe feeding:

- position of the child upright or semi-recumbent mothers;

- for feeding use plastic pipettes or syringe;

- pipette tip or a syringe is brought to the child's mouth and administer milk in an amount that depends on gestational age the child and his general condition;

- Not needed extra effort, milk should approach the child slowly pressure.

Tube feeding:

- used by sick newborns who are in serious condition;

- with absence reflexes;

- in newborns with low and extremely low weight body in the first days of life;

- in newborns with congenital malformations;

- with insufficient the amount of milk a mother has or absence, to stimulate and become lactation use feeding through tubule, which is a component part of the device that is near the mother's breast. The device consists from a flask with milk, a tube probe from organosilicon material, fixative - adhesive tape, which attached near the mother's nipple. it the device allows the baby to suck breast and receive pumped at the same time breast milk.

This method use for mothers:

- recovery lactation after a break;

- if necessary feeding near the breast, namely:

- for achievement close psycho-emotional contact mother and child;

- in newborns with perinatal lesions of the central nervous system;

- with premature the birth of a child.

Finger feeding

Newborn fed with supplemental device, but it is fixed to the finger adult, mother or caregiver personnel. The finger is inserted into the mouth baby, while thumb sucking, baby receives milk through a tube a special flask filled with milk.

Which method should I choose?

Feeding with cups, from a cup and from a spoon, from a pipette:

- when a newborn cannot suckle from mother's breast;

- when there are problems with nipple retention;

- when a newborn additional input needed substances;

- when the child weaned from the chest;

- when there are problems the mother, or the mother is absent;

- birth defects developments that make sucking more difficult;

- in inflammatory nipple disease when needed make rest.

Feeding by feeding finger method:

- when a newborn can't breastfeed enough effectively;

- when the child teach proper breastfeeding mother's breasts;

- if the child from the group of "lazy suckers";

- if the child is without a mother;

- if the mother problems with nipples (temporarily).

tongue movements when gripping a finger, similar to those when breastfeeding.

Methods for calculating the amount of food needed for a premature newborn

Depending on the maturity of the newborn and general condition apply 7-10 times feeding regimen. Single and daily the volume of milk is determined individually, taking into account the clinical condition of the child and his tolerance to feeding, and also based on the need providing essential nutrients needs.

Milk volume per feeding in the first 7 days of life for premature babies can be determined by functional capacity of the stomach (under conditions of 7-fold feeding): quantity milk (ml) = 3 x day of life x body weight (kg)

Start to feed premature babies weighing 2,000 – 1500 g with 5-7 ml with gradual increase for 5 ml. In preterm infants weighing 1 500 – 1000 g first feeding volume is 2-4 ml with a gradual increase for 3-5 ml. Children weighing less than 1,000 g start feeding with 1-2 ml and increase gradually volume by 1-2 ml.

With probe feeding children with very low and extremely low body weight 3-hour milk injections are common with one-hour breaks and a 5-hour night break. Thus, per day 5 infusions are carried out. Initial milk infusion rate is 1.5-3 ml/kg for 1 hour. On the 6-7th day she gradually increases to 7-9 ml/kg per 1 hour.

Criteria for determine the timing of the first feeding premature baby are gestational age, body weight at birth, the general condition of the child. AT in the absence of severe pathology you can feed on the first day, depending from maturity by different feeding methods.

Functional mature newborns, gestational who are over 34 weeks old start feeding 2-3 hours after birth.

First feeding - test for tolerance to enteral feeding – conducted distilled water (because what aspiration of glucose causes inflammatory changes in the lungs similar to milk aspiration), then a few injections of 5% glucose solution , after which use breast milk (or milk mixture).

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