It’s widely accepted in the breastfeeding community that offering bottles early on can negatively impact the baby’s ability to breastfeed (this is often called nipple confusion and there is evidence to support it.) In order to avoid this, other methods of feeding new babies have been explored and recommended, such as finger and cup feeding. Research supporting finger feeding is limited (we haven’t seen any which found it harmful or proved it to be ineffective- it’s just that there are not many studies examining or proving it’s effectiveness).
Still, many lactation experts find it clinically useful and we agree that you can do more pacing compared to bottle feeds. Very slow, paced feeding can mimics breastfeeding in those first 3 days before your milk is in when you’re only producing very small volumes of colostrum. That practice can be important to learning to eat and preventing bottle preference in those early days, especially if mom isn’t available for some reason (like her own health complications) to bring baby to breast or if mom is in such excruciating pain that she just can’t bring baby to breast but baby needs to eat.
We like that it can be done by either parent and can help baby practice sucking and swallowing while also taking a little extra volume. In Kim’s case- this was useful the day after Maeve was born, before her milk “came in” when she was having trouble getting her colostrum out.)
Finger feeding should be a very short term intervention bc you want as much stimulation as possible on mom’s breasts. We recommend working closely with a lactation consultant if you think finger feeding might be helpful to you!
We use finger feeding and recommend it once in a while but it’s important to know about the research supporting this intervention (it’s lacking!)
There are still many reasons why we might use an intervention even when there isn’t sufficient evidence currently to support it. The main one for us is clinical experience and reasoning!
Finger feeding can be paced and can provide the feeder a high level of control over whether the milk is expressed fast, slow, or not at all (yes there are actually bottles that do this too!) But in the limited research that does exist on finger feeding, it out performs bottles in terms of helping a mom get to exclusive breastfeeding. We also like to pair it for some babies with resistance exercises and stimulation to the tongue for improved cupping.
No, it’s not the only tool in our toolbox and it’s not one we use super often, but it is good to know about and use occasionally!