Finger Feeding a Baby – Benefits, Drawbacks and Techniques

Finger Feeding a Baby - Benefits, Drawbacks and Techniques

You might be aware of the technique called finger feeding to latch on a baby’s mouth successfully. The initial stages following childbirth can be tough for a child to immediately use his reflexes and muscles to feed off the breast successfully. Rather than let him go hungry or use a bottle, there is an alternative that is closer to the actual breastfeeding action.



What is Finger Feeding?

There is a specific technique where a feeding tube attached to a finger can be used to deliver breastmilk or formula to the child. Termed as finger feeding, it allows the baby to suck on the finger like a breast and learn to feed the natural way.





When is Finger Feeding Useful?

Finger feeding may not seem like the most natural or convenient way to feed a child. However, there are a few scenarios where opting to go ahead with finger feeding might be useful for the baby in the first place.

  • Current lifestyles might make it necessary for the baby to stay apart from the mother for extended durations. This could cause the baby to feel anxious and refuse to accept a bottle as a replacement. A few babies might accept a sipper cup or feed a bit with a syringe, but if a child is more responsive to the touch of your finger, then finger feeding might be the right way to proceed ahead.
  • Breastfeeding often has to be done without a break, with your baby needing a feed every couple of hours. This, and the numerous changes a woman’s body goes through after childbirth could cause the nipples to be extra sensitive, causing them to be sore or even develop cracks. In these cases, they need a break and need to rest a bit. Rather than develop a tendency to accept a bottle, finger feeding might be a better option. This can allow the baby to return back to the breast easily as well.
  • At times, the baby might take time to develop the strength to breastfeed successfully or the mother might need some time to recover properly. In such scenarios, opting for a bottle may introduce a confusion in the baby’s senses pertaining to the feeling of the nipple, making him difficult to accept a natural breast. Fingers are much closer to actual human skin and finger feeding can prevent such problems.
  • Babies need to understand how to use their tongue to latch on to the breast and suck it properly. The initial rush of hunger can make it difficult for them to feed and learn it at the same time. Finger feeding can help them practice that act while being fed properly.
  • Newborn babies tend to be sleepy and their hunger can frustrate them. This can also lead in a behaviour where a child simply refuses to latch on to the breast properly. Finger feeding can help cut down that frustration so that the latching can take its own pace to develop effectively.

Benefits of Finger Feeding

Whether using a finger feeding syringe or resorting to any other technique, there are a bunch of benefits that finger feeding brings to a child compared to other feeding techniques.




  • Finger feeding allows the baby to practice his sucking skills to latch properly.
  • Compared to other techniques, finger feeding keeps the skin to skin contact going strong.
  • There are rarely any refusals to finger feeding, as compared to refusing a bottle.
  • A baby does not develop any confusion between a rubber nipple and a real one.
  • Compared to using a sipper cup or a bottle, finger feeding allows sticking to the natural action of sucking, making it easier to return to breastfeeding.

Baby finger feeding

Drawbacks of Finger Feeding

No technique is absolutely fool-proof and can definitely not be used as a replacement for the real one. Even with finger feeding, there are a few shortcomings as well as issues that can make things difficult for the child than they actually are.

  • The difference between a nipple and a finger is quite evident. Furthermore, the breast tissue also plays a major part in making the baby comfortable and used to the mother. There are very real dangers of the fingers entering too far into the throat, or the tube touching the back of the mouth, causing the baby to gag or throw up, resisting the feed altogether.
  • The position of the feeding tube between the fingers needs to be appropriate. Holding it above the fingers can cause it to brush with the roof of the mouth repeatedly, resulting in a soreness and pain.
  • When a baby breastfeeds, he pretty much has a good control over the flow of milk, allowing him to adjust it as he needs. With finger feeding, the flow might tend to be slow causing the baby to suck harder. If it is too fast, it can either lead him to choke on it or cause overfeeding.
  • Some mothers might opt for using homemade finger feeding systems. These may not always function properly, causing a mess with milk leaking around. Furthermore, cleaning the tubes and other apparatus can be a repetitive chore.
  • Finger feeding is generally not deemed as an appropriate way to feed every child. If a child suddenly gets aware of the tube, he might refuse any kind of feeding mechanism, leading to a calorie loss.

What Supplies Do You Need for Finger Feeding Your Child?

When deciding to go ahead with finger feeding your baby, it is necessary to put together a few apparatus and objects that can help you achieve the same. These could be locally sourced or might have to be procured from an online store.





  • A feeding tube of the number 5 of a length of at least 90 cm.
  • A needle-less syringe with about 60ml of volume.
  • Transparent medical tape.
  • Elastic band
  • Clean sterile gloves (optional)
  • Hand sanitizer
  • The feed, either in the form of formula or stored breastmilk.
  • A bag or a container to store all the items safely.

How to Finger Feed a Baby

Before proceeding to start finger feeding your baby, go through the following steps to know the right procedure, helping you keep your baby safe at all times.

  • Make sure your hands are absolutely clean and do not have sharp fingernails.
  • Position your baby comfortably.
  • Tape the feeding tube on the side of your finger, keeping its end just where your finger ends.
  • Dip the opposite end of the tube in the milk securely.
  • Encourage your baby to open his mouth and place your soft finger on the roof of his mouth. Don’t venture too far inside and stop when he naturally latches onto your finger. Your fingernail should be touching his tongue.
  • Make sure his lips are folded outward and maintain your finger position within. Gently touch his tongue to make him start sucking the way he would on the breast.
  • The initial feeding times would be longer as your baby gets used to the feeding mechanism. The milk will drain from the container intermittently, as your baby takes multiple breaks while feeding. Remove your fingers when you feel your baby rejecting them from within.

Mother finger feeding baby

How Can Finger Feeding Be Used as a Suck Training Exercise?

There is a good chance that finger feeding techniques can be used to help provide your baby with suck training. However, these should be done only if recommended by your doctor and in the way suggested to you. Latching on the breast and sucking the nipple to get the milk is a function of the lips as well as the tongue. These together play a vital role in controlling the flow of the milk, especially with the tongue roaming over the ridge of the gums, closer to the roof of the mouth. The right tongue movement not only makes breastfeeding easier for the child, but it is also less taxing on the breast of the mother.




FAQs

Parents wonder if they should use a finger feeding tube or go with a syringe instead. These are just a few questions amongst many others, which might arise when deciding to go ahead with finger feeding.

1. How much and how long should I finger feed my baby?

The amount and duration of finger feeding depend primarily on the reason why you are opting for finger feeding in the first place. These factors change if you can breastfeed at certain periods or cannot do so at all. Your doctor can be a better judge of the same but a general finger feeding session should last anywhere around half an hour to 45 minutes. The sessions might have to be repeated more frequently if breastmilk is being used since it tends to digest faster than formula.





2. How does one clean the finger feeding supplies?

Don’t go the typical way and boil the feeding tube the way you would for a bottle. The tube can get hard and make it difficult for the baby to feed properly. Use warm water with some mild soap, rinsing it properly and removing any feed present in it. Dry them and store in a towel or a sealed sterile container.

3. Is finger feeding the same as breastfeeding?

Definitely not. Finger feeding should have opted only if breastfeeding doesn’t seem to be an option permanently or a minor time period. It is not a permanent fixture.




4. What if my baby is not getting enough supplement by finger feeding?

A baby with uncontrollable hunger can make it difficult to finger feed properly. In such a case, make use of a syringe or a bottle to make sure his nutrition is intact. Later, introduce finger feeding again when he is in a calmer state of mind.

Finger feeding a newborn can be quite tricky in the beginning but you will get the hang of it over time. Breastfeeding is irreplaceable and should be returned to as soon as possible. Until then, finger feeding is the way to go in the appropriate manner.





Also Read: Baby Feeding Tips – Birth to 4 Months