In the early days of your baby’s life you may find that finger feeding is a handy way to prepare your child for breastfeeding if they are initially reluctant to latch on. Finger feeding may be used for a variety of reasons including; the baby is too sleepy to breastfeed, the baby doesn’t seem to be latching on well, or if the mother’s nipples are too sore to breastfeed.
Finger feeding is more similar to breastfeeding than bottle feeding as the baby uses a similar technique to feed. The baby has to keep his tongue down and forward over his gums, his mouth wide and his jaw forward. This will help your baby prepare for latching on if they are having difficulty. It should only be done for a minute or two and should be done just before trying to get the baby to breastfeed.
Before beginning finger feeding, wash your hands and then position you and your baby comfortably. It may be easiest for you if your baby is facing towards you. You will need a lactation aid, made up of a feeding tube and a feeding bottle with a large nipple hole. The bottle should be filled with expressed milk. Line up the tube so it sits on the interior of your thumb, index, or middle finger. The end of the tube should line up with the end of your finger. It is easiest to grip the tube between your index or thumb finger. Use the finger that it holding the tube to gently tickle your baby’s upper lip until she opens her mouth enough to allow your finger to enter. Insert your finger with the tube so the soft part of your finger is facing upwards. Keep your finger as flat as possible which will keep your baby’s tongue flat also. The baby will usually begin sucking on your finger and you should be able to place it quite far in the mouth. If the lower lip is pulled in, gently pull their chin down.
The technique is working if the baby is drinking but if feeding is slow you can try raising the bottle over the baby’s head. Once the baby has settled a little you can try getting her to feed from your breast.
Cup feeding is another technique you may find useful. It can also be used to feed a baby who is not yet taking the breast but it should not be used to supplement a baby who is breastfeeding. To begin, sit the baby comfortably on your lap with head supported while you have one hand behind his shoulders and neck. Use a small shot glass sized cup and place the edge of the cup gently on your baby’s lower lip. Bring the liquid to the lower lip and allow your baby to lap at the milk. Never pour the liquid into their mouth.
If after a few days your baby still isn’t latching on you should contact a lactation consultant or your local health nurse for help.