What is finger feeding?
Finger feeding is a temporary way to feed your baby. To finger feed, tape a feeding tube on the soft side of your finger or thumb and put your finger or thumb in your baby's mouth. Try to use the largest finger or thumb that you are comfortable using and that fits into the baby's mouth. Your baby will suck on your finger or thumb and the feeding tube, in much the same way that he would suck on your breast. Fathers and other caregivers can feed the baby this way too.
Why finger feed?
- A mother is not able to breastfeed for a short time. For example, the mother is sick.
- A baby refuses or is too sleepy to breastfeed
- A baby is being trained to breastfeed
Finger feeding is more like breastfeeding than bottle-feeding. If your baby has a weak or lazy suck, finger feeding can train your baby to suck properly.
Finger feeding can replace a full feeding if you are not able to breastfeed your baby. When your baby is learning to breastfeed, you can finger feed your baby between tries to get your baby to latch (attach) onto the breast.
Finger feeding is not always easy to do. You will need practice and advice from your nurse.
Supplies you need to finger feed your baby
- A number 5 French feeding tube that is 36 inches long.
- A baby bottle or a syringe without a needle that will hold 30 to 60 ml of liquid. A syringe is a hollow tube that has a plunger and holds liquids.
- Adhesive or clear medical tape.
- An elastic band and a safety pin, if you are using a syringe.
- A clean hand or a hospital glove, if you want to cover your hand.
- A feeding supplement such as milk taken from your breast or formula. Milk taken from your breast is called expressed breast milk. Sometimes, a liquid or powder is added to breast milk or formula if your baby needs extra calories.
- A plastic bag that you can seal to store the feeding tube.
These supplies may be available at your local hospital. Some drugstores and medical supply stores may carry these supplies as well. If you are unable to get these supplies at your location, they can be ordered in person, on the phone or online from the Specialty Food Shop at the SickKids Hospital in Toronto.
For details, go to: http://www.specialtyfoodshop.ca/specialtyfoodshop/ or call 1-800-737-7976. The Specialty Food Shop may be able to ship these supplies directly to your home.
How to finger feed your baby
You can use two different containers to finger feed your baby:
- a syringe without a needle with the plunger removed
- a bottle
To finger feed your baby, follow these steps:
Wash your hands thoroughly. Parents can use their bare finger or thumb, or you can cover your hand with a hospital glove. Healthcare professions will wear a glove if they finger feed your baby. Make sure the nail on the finger or thumb that you will use is cut short so that you do not hurt your baby's mouth.
If you are using a syringe, attach the wide end of the feeding tube to the tip of the syringe. Pour the feeding supplement into the syringe. Place the elastic band around the top of the syringe. Then put a safety pin through the end of the elastic. Pin the syringe to your clothing so the bottom of the syringe is at the same level with your baby's head.
If you are using a bottle, pour the feeding supplement into the bottle. Put the wide end of the feeding tube into the feeding supplement. Put the small end of the feeding tube through the enlarged nipple hole, leaving the large end of the tube touching the bottom of the bottle. Place the bottle on a flat surface close to you so the fluid is at the same level as your baby's head.
Sit comfortably with your baby on your lap. Your baby should be facing you. Your baby should be sitting almost upright, but at a little bit of an angle.
Hold your finger or thumb soft side up. Place the thin end of the feeding tube on your finger so that the end of the feeding tube is at the end of your finger. Tape the feeding tube in place behind the second joint of your finger or the first joint of your thumb.
Tickle your baby's lip so that the baby will open his mouth wide. Put the finger with the feeding tube, soft side up, in your baby's mouth.
Move your finger back and forth slightly along the baby's tongue if you need to encourage your baby to suck.
Let your fingertip move to the back of the baby's mouth with each suck. Your finger should just touch the ridge at the top of the mouth where the hard part of the mouth becomes soft. Your finger will be in your baby's mouth up to between the first and second knuckle.
Make sure your baby is getting enough feeding supplement. The feeding supplement should flow when the baby sucks and stop when the baby stops sucking. Your baby is getting enough feeding supplement if you can hear him or her swallowing with each suck.
If your baby is not getting enough feeding supplement, try the following things:
- Check for bends or kinks in the feeding tube.
- Check the position of the feeding tube in your baby's mouth.
- Raise the bottle or syringe higher above the level of your baby's head.
If your baby is getting the feeding supplement too fast, lower the bottle or syringe so it is below the level of your baby's head.
Knowing how much and how long to finger feed
It is important that you understand why you are finger feeding your baby. If you cannot breastfeed your baby a few times a day, or even for a whole day, your baby can still get enough milk to satisfy his hunger if he is finger fed properly.
Finger feeding should not take longer than any other method of feeding. Thirty to 40 minutes is usually long enough.
Ask your baby's nurse or dietitian how much feeding supplement your baby should be getting at each feeding and how often he should be fed. This information will give you an idea of how much breast milk or formula to prepare and how often your baby might want to eat.
Breast milk empties from the stomach very easily and faster than formula. For this reason, babies may eat more often when they are having breast milk than when they are having formula.
Giving a supplement by finger feeding when breastfeeding
If you are using finger feeding to give a feeding supplement to your baby who is already feeding at the breast, you should ask the dietitian about the following things:
- How much feeding supplement to give your baby.
- How often you should feed your baby.
- How to make the feeding supplement.
- How to wean your baby off the feeding supplement.
Cleaning your finger feeding supplies is easy
You can use your finger feeding supplies at home as long as you clean the supplies thoroughly right after you feed your baby. Follow these steps to clean the supplies:
Wash your finger-feeding supplies with warm soapy water.
Rinse the supplies well with warm clean water. Make sure there is no dry feeding supplement left in the feeding supplies.
Keep the feeding supplies wrapped in a clean towel or in a sealed plastic bag after you wash them.
The feeding tube can generally be used for 7 days or until it becomes hard.
Note: You should not boil the feeding supplies because boiling will make the plastic hard too quickly.
Ask you doctor how long the finger feedings should continue
Your doctor or health care worker who has special training in how to breastfeed babies will tell you how long you should continue to finger feed your baby. See your family doctor 3 days after your baby leaves the hospital. After that, take your baby to the doctor for a regular check-up every week.
When you visit the doctor, she will weigh your baby and ask you about how you feed your baby. The doctor will tell you how well your baby is gaining weight and if you still need to give your baby a feeding supplement.
These are important signs that your baby is feeding well:
Your baby is gaining weight.
Your baby has at least 6 to 8 soaking wet diapers every 24 hours.
Your baby has 2 or more bowel movements (poos) every 24 hours in the first month of life.
After a month, your baby may not have as many bowel movements but should still have 6 to 8 soaking wet diapers every 24 hours.
Once your baby is gaining weight and latching on well to the breast, you may not need to give your baby extra feeding supplement any longer.
If you have any concerns about your baby at any time, talk to your doctor.
If you have concerns about the supplement you are feeding your baby, call your health care worker.
Finger feeding is a temporary method of feeding your baby using your finger or thumb and a small tube.
- Finger feeding can be a supplement or a replacement for breastfeeding.
- Finger feeding can help your baby learn to suck to help with breastfeeding.
Fingerfeeding needs to be supervised by a breastfeeding specialist or doctor once you are discharged from the hospital.