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Making It Work

Cup Feeding and Child Care: How does it work?

From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 25, No. 1, January-February 2008, pp. 34-35

"Making It Work" is a regular feature of the magazine NEW BEGINNINGS, published bimonthly by La Leche League International. In this column, suggestions are offered by readers of NEW BEGINNINGS to help mothers who wish to combine breastfeeding and working. Various points of view are presented. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's lifestyle. This information is general in nature, and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise.

Mother's Situation

I plan to return to work when my son is around five months old. I was thinking of giving him a cup instead of a bottle for times when I’m not with him. Does anyone have any experience with this? How did it work for your baby and the baby’s care provider?

Mother's Response

I introduced my youngest son to a cup at around six months when he wouldn't take a bottle and I wanted others to be able to feed him. He's currently 11 months old and switches from nursing to the cup without any problems.

Our oldest son took a bottle for a while, but also became a fantastic cup drinker at a young age. At just over a year, he was also drinking from water bottles.

It took both boys about a month to learn. We kept offering the cup and showing by example. Expect it to be very messy (you'll likely go through a bib and a t-shirt every feeding), and for there to be a bit of coughing and sputtering as your baby learns.

I've had the most success with rimless, lidless plastic cups. Also, we have a firm "use two hands and sit on your bum" rule that has helped with spills.

Most people are surprised at our cup-drinking children, but it really wasn't that hard and is well worth the effort!

Sheila Graham
Edmonton AB Canada

Mother's Response

At the urging of my pediatrician, I tried cup feeding with both of my girls. My oldest would have no part of it and became disgusted when I suggested such a thing. She actually refused the cup until she was well over a year old.

My younger daughter is the exact opposite -- she loves using a cup. Her sitter is all for it and was willing to try just about anything. I think it all depends on the child. Give it a try and see how she responds. If it is a failure, follow her lead and try again in a few months. It's worth a shot!

Kate Munoz
Omaha NE USA

Mother's Response

I am guessing you are interested in cup feeding as a way to avoid nipple confusion or bottle preference and to support long-term breastfeeding. It is good to plan ahead and keep an open mind when trying new things. Your success with cup feeding instead of bottles will depend on your baby, your caregiver, and how much time you are away from the baby each day.

Many children are not able to manage using a cup by themselves until closer to 12 months, but I would expect a small baby could possibly be taught how to cup feed with the caregiver holding and guiding the cup. Be mindful to control the flow out of the cup and allow for extra time for feedings. You will want to begin practicing many weeks before going back to work to see how baby does. It is very common for breastfeeding babies to refuse bottles from their mother, so it's possible your baby may refuse cup feedings from you. Perhaps your husband or a friend would be willing to teach your baby?

The research on cup feeding for newborn or premature babies shows that quite a bit is spilled and I would caution you to be aware of how much gets absorbed by the baby's bib before assuming baby can take full feedings this way.

The real issue with any type of non-breastfeedings is how much is given and do those feedings replace or lower the amount of nursing being done when mom and baby are together? For long-term breastfeeding success, the goal is to have most feedings directly from the breast, fewer feedings by cup or bottle (and small amounts), and then pumping when missing feedings.

A common scenario is when the baby receives most of his/her daily caloric requirement by bottle while at daycare when mom works full-time. Then the baby refuses to nurse at home and mom is not to be able to pump enough to feed only her milk. Ask your caregiver to give smaller feedings more often and to limit the amount given over the course of your separation to about 12 to 16 ounces (depending on the age and size of your baby, and how long you'll be separated).

Nursing more when with baby and feeding less when away from baby is called "reverse cycle feeding." This technique has the baby eating more in the hours with mom, say right after work, several times before bed, once or twice in the night, and once or twice in the morning before work. If you can nurse during your lunchtime, this helps cut down on bottle feedings, too. Pump every three hours from the last breastfeeding or pumping when you are away from the baby. Use the best quality double electric pump you can buy or a rental machine. Best of luck to you!

Kathy Eng
Houston TX USA

Mother's Response

I stayed at home with my son but, when he was about three months old, I wanted to have a little time each week to myself (about five to six hours on Saturdays). That meant giving him a bottle, which he refused. I talked with my doctor, who suggested trying a sippy cup. We tried several brands, and he took wonderfully to the soft spout kind (with help holding it, of course). I don't know how your daycare provider will respond to cup feeding, but it can't hurt to discuss the possibility. It worked wonderfully for my husband and son.

Courtney Shumac
North East PA USA

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