Newborn infants who are cup-fed as at least part of their feeding regime, are more likely to be exclusively breast-fed when they leave hospital, but are no more likely to be breast-fed three or six months later, a team of Cochrane researchers have found. Moreover, cup-fed babies stay an average of 10 days longer in hospital. The lack of clear benefit, combined with the additional cost of the extended hospital, stay means that cup feeding cannot be recommended.
The optimal milk for newborn infants is their mother's breast milk, and the best way for them to get this is to suckle on the breast. There are, however, many situations where this optimum cannot be achieved and an alternative, or a supplement, is required. Ways of giving the supplement include gastric tube feeding, bottle-feeding and cup-feeding.
Cup-feeding has been suggested because the equipment is simple, inexpensive and easy to keep clean. There are also suggestions that infants who learn to lap milk from a cup will still be able to learn to breast feed in the future, while infants who learn to feed from a bottle often do not manage to switch to the breast. On the other hand, parents often find that cup feeding is very slow and difficult to manage.
Cochrane Researchers set out to see whether there was evidence for or against cup-feeding, and they drew their finding from four trials that met inclusion criteria.
"Cup-feeding cannot be recommended over bottle-feeding as a supplement to breast feeding, because it confers no benefit in maintaining breast feeding beyond hospital discharge, and may carry the unacceptable consequence of a longer stay in hospital," says lead researcher Anndrea Flint, who works at the Royal Women's Hospital in Brisbane, Australia.
"Studies have indicated that when parents and practitioners try cup-feeding there is a high rate of non-compliance, suggest that there is little point in trying to do further research in this area," says Flint.