Syringe feeding newborn baby

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.

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.

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.
  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.

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.


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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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. nine0008
  • 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. nine0005

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. nine0005


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. nine0005

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. nine0005


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. nine0005

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. nine0005


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. nine0005

You will definitely succeed!

Finger feeding as a safe way to supplement, Mom's Milk Center 99-76-60

04/07/2017 Hits: 19464.

Olga Grigoryeva , Breastfeeding consultant, midwife Rodzala:

Sometimes mothers (and consultants) are faced with the fact that it is given to the fact that it is given to the breast navigation (temporarily !!!) the child is supplemented with expressed milk, and in the case of a consultant with a lack of milk in the mother, with an artificial mixture. nine0138


Of course, a bottle with a nipple is a more familiar and, unfortunately, widespread means of feeding an infant. But, despite the popularity of the method, this method of supplementation is the only wrong one.

If you want to breastfeed your baby, then you do not need to use a pacifier (pacifier, bottle). This method threatens your breastfeeding. Practice shows that when using bottle feeding, children often refuse to breastfeed, the breast latch deteriorates and other problems appear (see article on pacifiers). nine0005

One safe and convenient way to supplement is to supplement with a syringe and thumb suck. It is very well suited for the introduction of large volumes of supplementary feeding, it is an easy and cheap way.

All you need for this method of supplementation is a disposable syringe (no needle) and clean hands (the counselor uses sterile gloves). Instead of a syringe, you can use a thin probe (sold in pharmacies)

But the main purpose of the finger feeding method is to help teach the child to take the breast, which the child, for various reasons, cannot (cannot) suck or sucks inefficiently.

Finger feeding can be used if:

  • Baby refuses to breastfeed
  • Weak sucking reflex
  • If the baby is too sleepy at the breast, sluggish suckling ( a very good way to wake up a sleepy baby in the first days of life)
  • The baby appears to be unable to latch on properly and therefore cannot suckle milk well.
  • When switching from bottle feeding to breastfeeding.
  • Mother and child are separated from each other for some reason.
  • Breastfeeding had to be temporarily interrupted (although there are very LITTLE reasons why breastfeeding should be interrupted). nine0138

But often, when offering such a method of feeding, lactation consultants have to see the negative reaction of mothers: unphysiological, unhygienic, not accepted, unusual, etc.

I want to dispel these myths. Even in utero, on ultrasound, we can see how the child entertains himself by sucking his thumb. Also, by sucking fingers and fists, a child can show us that he is hungry. that is, thumb sucking is a completely physiological phenomenon. nine0005

Also, finger feeding is LIKE breastfeeding, unlike bottle feeding.

To suck a finger, the child must lower and protrude the tongue over the lower gum, keep the mouth wide open (the larger the finger used, the better), and the lower jaw slightly forward (which does not happen at all when sucking a bottle). Moreover, the movements of the tongue and lower jaw are similar to those that a baby does when suckling at the breast . Therefore, finger feeding works best to prepare a baby who refuses to breastfeed for attachment.

As a specialist in speech therapy massage, I can say with confidence that thumb sucking during feeding or before attachment to the breast (in case of refusal, ineffective sucking) is similar to massage of the tongue by a speech therapist in older children with speech disorders. Finger feeding an infant (as well as speech therapy massage) results in better tongue function and reduced sucking problems (more effective sucking) in the same way that tongue massage helps to solve speech problems in children with speech disorders. nine0138

During breastfeeding, the mother regulates the degree of pressure on the tongue with her finger, controls the correct position of the tongue during sucking, the degree of suction of the tongue to the finger (vacuum).

Moms have doubts about hygiene and rejection of this method, but! firstly, the mother thoroughly washes her hands before feeding, her nails should be cut short, and secondly, this area of ​​skin on the finger is practically no different from the area of ​​skin on the chest in terms of the amount of bacteria on it. nine0005

As for what is stupid, funny, embarrassing, unusual - these are nothing more than unfounded prejudices and stereotypes that need to be disposed of by prioritizing in favor of breastfeeding.

Finger Feeding Technique (it is best learned by living example by watching and doing)

You will need a disposable syringe without a needle (5 ml, 10 ml or 20 ml)

1. Draw up expressed breast milk (mixture) into the syringe

2. Place the baby reclining, at a 45 degree angle (you can use a pillow)

3. Let the baby suck his clean finger with the pad up (usually the baby sucks the finger very deeply

4. Gently press the back of your finger on the child's lower gum, making sure that the lower lip is not turned inward. tongue between the lower gum and mom's finger. nine0005

5. Put the spout (tube) of the syringe on the side surface of your finger and move the syringe along it, gently inserting the tube into the corner of the child's mouth.

6. Baby begins to suck on his thumb and mother (or counselor) slowly squirts milk after every 1-2 sucking movements of the baby.

To feed a baby with a probe, we only need a tube, everything else needs to be cut off. We place one end of the probe in any container, glass or bottle of milk. We place the other end of the tube parallel to the index finger, so that it runs along its pad, but the tip of the probe should not protrude beyond the finger.

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