When a baby needs to receive additional milk, whether breastmilk or artificial milk, we always think of a bottle as the only way to do it. And of course, you can offer milk in a bottle, you just need to know the advantages and disadvantages of each supplementing method. In this post, we will explain the finger-syringe technique.
What advantages does it have over other methods?
The finger-syringe method is ideal for training babies’ suckling motions. It allows your baby to place the tongue in a position similar to what it would do when breastfeeding at the breast. This method allows the milk to be given as the baby is suckling, which ensures that the baby is getting the amount of milk she needs. It is also ideal for very sleepy babies, as they do not need to be awake to be able to suck.
What do I need to buy?
To perform this technique you only need a syringe without a needle. There are different types of syringes that can be used, from normal syringes to curved syringes.
Curved syringes can be a little more complicated to find, as you might have to order them online, but they ensure a more precise administration of milk. The main difficulty is that they have a very limited capacity (12ml) so you have to refill the syringe often if the baby is hungrier.
Common syringes are easy to find and cheap. There are different sizes, which can make supplementing simpler in the event that the baby drinks larger amounts of milk.
These common syringes can also be fitted with a soft silicone adapter that makes the experience more pleasant for your baby as the milk comes out from a further point inside her mouth, getting closer to the point where the nipple reaches when the baby suckles at the breast.
Can I offer my baby milk with a syringe only?
No, you should put your finger into your baby’s mouth at the same time. The finger resembles the nipple and lets the baby know that she has to swallow the milk. Without the finger in the mouth, there is more risk of choking or that the baby does not know how to perform the sucking motions.
When should the finger-syringe technique be used?
This technique is great during the baby’s first few days when she or he is still drinking small amounts of breastmilk. It is also perfect for babies who need supplementing because they are too sleepy or have little force when sucking.
Although this method is recommended for this first stage, it can be used for babies of any age. Many families choose this method when the mother returns to (paid) work and the baby does not accept other methods of supplementing milk.
How do I do this?
Thoroughly wash your hands and trim the fingernail of the finger you are going to use to give the milk as short and clean as possible.
Prepare the milk and syringe, and sit with your legs elevated at an angle, so the baby sits inclined on your lap and is face-to-face with you.
If you don’t feel comfortable in this position, you can use a baby rocking chair, someone else can hold your baby, or you can even put pillows under the baby’s back.
The baby should remain in a seated, almost upright position, with its head higher than the bottom.
- Carefully, with the palm of the hand facing upwards, insert your little finger (or the one that most closely resembles the diameter of the nipple) into your baby’s mouth.
- Try to touch the upper part of the palate, as touching this point activates the baby’s sucking reflex.
- We place the syringe at the corner of the baby’s mouth, or in the case of a curved syringe, we put it into the baby’s mouth by placing it on the finger.
- The tongue will be placed down, and so apply a little force so that the baby does not close its mouth too much.
- When the baby starts with sucking motions (you will notice the movements of the tongue from the nail to the second phalanx) squeeze a little so that the milk comes out.
- You will see your baby suckling and resting, but always follow her rhythm and pauses at all times so that she can drink the amount of milk she needs.
- If the syringe is finished, fill up more milk until the baby no longer wants any more.
Should I do this as the mother, or is it better if someone else does it?
It doesn’t matter if you want to do this yourself or if you prefer your partner or another family member to do it. There is no problem either way, and your baby won’t get confused if you give the milk in this way as the breastfeeding mother. If you feel like doing this or you’re alone, go ahead. If your baby is awake, look for eye contact with her while you give her the milk and tell her what you are doing so that she stays relaxed and calm.
Are there any risks of this technique?
The main risks may be:
- Risk of harming the baby: This can be avoided if your fingernail is cut very well and you are very careful when you put your finger into your baby’s mouth. Also, the syringe needs to be carefully placed in the corner of the baby’s mouth.
- Getting used to it: if the milk is given slowly and you always try to offer your breast first, the baby should not get used to the syringe. If your baby gets used to it, you can offer the breast with the syringe close to your breast, supplementing while breastfeeding, which will encourage your baby to breastfeed at your breast.
Please also see this video, as it is always easier to learn with images.