Paced Bottle Feeding: How to Do It and Why You’d Want To

If you’re planning to go back to work after baby, you’ve probably started pumpingstoring milk, and have chosen a good bottle for breastfed babies. Now, you need to know how to properly feed baby with a bottle. Paced bottle feeding is the answer.

Paced bottle feeding can help reduce some of the drawbacks of bottle feeding and keep baby and mama happy and healthy.

What is paced bottle feeding?

Paced bottle feeding is a method of feeding your baby that mimics breastfeeding. As the name suggests, it involves pacing your feedings to allow baby to be in “control” of, process, and recognize his own “satiety,” or feeling of fullness. Baby is going to eat more slowly and work harder to get the milk (like he would with breast-feeding) as opposed to typical bottle feeding.

Video of paced bottle feeding

The best way to really “describe” paced bottle feeding is to show you how it’s done…

In this video by Emerald Doulas you’ll notice that the:

  1. Baby is sitting more upright
  2. Caregiver tickles baby’s lips with bottle
  3. Nipple is then put into baby’s mouth
  4. The bottle is held horizontally, which slows the flow significantly
  5. After 20–30 seconds of feeding, the bottle is tipped downward or removed from baby’s mouth to stop the flow of milk (creating a similar pattern as in breastfeeding)

How to bottle feed the breast-fed baby: Paced bottle feeding

These tips are designed to replicate breast-feeding for breast-fed babies while mom’s away, but they can absolutely be helpful for formula-fed babies too!

When should baby be fed?

Whenever baby is hungry. 😊  A schedule can be helpful as a loose guideline (for example, feeding baby every 2–3 hours), but look for feeding cues first and foremost instead of going by the clock.

Some signs baby is hungry include:

  • Smaking lips
  • Sucking fists
  • Rooting (baby turning with mouth wide open toward any object that touches her cheek)
  • Acting fussy or restless

Baby position

Hold baby in an upright position, as opposed to laying down. This helps baby to control the flow of milk better. He doesn’t have to be at an uncomfortable 90-degree angle, but only slightly reclined so that the bottle isn’t pouring down into baby’s mouth.

Offer the bottle horizontally

Lay the bottle nipple across baby’s lips (nipple pointed up) when baby starts rooting and opening his mouth. Let baby draw the nipple into his mouth and close his lips on the base of the nipple. Baby essentially is going to “latch” on the bottle nipple like he would a breast.

Once he’s latched on, keep the bottle horizontal. This allows baby to control the flow of milk better. This also helps the bottle to last the entire length of a normal feeding, usually 10–20 minutes, rather than baby gulping a bottle down in 5 minutes.

Baby learns to recognize when he’s full because he is not filling his belly before the signals of satiety can reach his brain.

You may also consider not allowing the milk to reach the nipple of the bottle for a few minutes while baby sucks. This mimics the letdown of breast-feeding and can help reduce the chances of nipple preference.

One caveat would be if you have a really fast letdown. If your baby only nurses for 5 minutes per feeding, holding bottle at a horizontal angle is not quite as important. And frankly, paced bottle feeding probably won’t be a necessity for you since your baby is already used to a fast flow.

Pausing

Babies at the breast will pause and take breaks often throughout a feeding. Baby’s caregiver should encourage pausing while bottle-feeding as well. If baby gets tense or starts gulping, lean him forward to allow the milk to flow away from the nipple to give him a break. If he pauses on his own, great!

Switch sides

Just as mom does while breast-feeding, move baby from one side to the other halfway through the feeding. This helps baby avoid a side preference, and allows for new views and eye contact, which is excellent for his development.

Ending the feeding

One big drawback of bottle feeding is the risk of over-feeding. Look for cues that baby may be getting full, such as:

  • Slower sucking
  • Eyes wandering
  • Falling asleep
  • Hands are open and relaxed

When you think baby’s getting close to being full, remove the nipple from his mouth by gently twisting. Offer it again, and if he accepts, give him about 10 sucks, and repeat until he refuses. This will help teach him the feelings of satiety and reduce the chance of over-feeding.

Likewise, don’t coerce baby into drinking the last few drops of milk in the bottle. If he falls asleep, he is finished (an exception being newborns who may need to be awakened in the first few days to feed).

Benefits of paced bottle feeding

Breast-feeding is the biological design, so it makes sense that we would want to recreate this dynamic as best we can when bottle feeding. Paced bottle feeding has many benefits, which will help your child both in the short and long-term.

Baby avoids being under- or over-fed

If the caregiver is in charge of when and how much baby eats, baby is not likely to get the correct amount of milk. Paced bottle feeding helps baby be in charge, just like when he’s at the breast.

Less stressful for baby

Babies can become very stressed when laid on their backs to eat from a bottle. When baby swallows milk from a bottle, the negative pressure forces more milk out of the bottle. Baby has to keep gulping to avoid choking. Paced feeding gives baby the time and space to eat at his or her own pace.

Avoid colic

Proper feeding techniques and a good bottle can minimize colic-like symptoms. When milk pours into baby’s mouth, as happens with conventional bottle feeding, baby gulps to keep up, ingesting air in the process, which can cause gas.

Easier pumping for mom

If baby is being over-fed, mom needs to continually pump extra milk to replace the milk that’s being fed. Sometimes this leads to mama believing she has low milk supply. When baby is in charge, it’s much more likely that the amount mom pumps is exactly what baby needs.

Supports breast-feeding relationship

Using a feeding technique that resembles breast-feeding is a great way to support the breast-feeding relationship and avoid a bottle preference. We are learning that babies don’t struggle as much with “nipple confusion” as with “flow preference.” If you are consistently giving a breast-fed baby fast-flowing bottles, they will probably prefer that easier, faster milk versus the breast.

May improve health later in life

One reason that breast-feeding is so great is that it allows baby to eat at his own pace, allowing him to learn his body’s cues for satiety. Studies have found that bottle feeding plays a large part in teaching overeating. Therefore, paced bottle feeding may contribute to healthier eating habits in the future.

Which is the best bottle to use?

Some lactation consultants like a narrower nipple found in traditional bottles versus the more breast-like nipples on some bottles. They prefer this style because baby can “latch” deeply on the narrower nipple, like with a breast. Other lactation consultants say it isn’t the bottle that matters as much as the pace of milk flow.

I like the breast-shaped nippled bottles because they are almost always a slow-flow bottle and the baby has to work for the milk, regardless of how you hold it (horizontal or vertical). Here’s our post on the best bottles for breastfed babies.

Will paced bottle feeding make my baby gassy?

When I first saw demos of this feeding method, I instantly thought of baby getting gassier. However, many lactation consultants say that air isn’t what causes gas. It’s more due to baby’s immature nervous and digestive systems.

If you notice an increase in gas, switch to a breast-shaped nipple bottle, which is slow flow. Also, try holding the bottle more horizontally so that less air interferes with the feeding.

Final word on paced bottle feeding

Whether you’re going back to work full-time, part-time, are exclusively pumping, or feed formula, paced bottle feeding can be a great way to support yourself, and especially, your baby.

How about you?

Have you tried paced feeding? How has it helped your baby?

References

  • https://www.llli.org/docs/0000000000000001WAB/WAB_Tear_sheet_Toolkit/22_bfabreastfedbaby.pdf
  • http://santabarbaralactation.com/blog/paced-bottle-feeding-breastfed-baby
  • http://www.emeralddoulas.com/
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6 Comments

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  1. Poorly written article repeats positioning the bottle horizontal, meaning parallel to the ground. Milk does not flow uphill magically from the bottle.

  2. I love this. I’m starting to combine feed my 8 month old as I’m going to be studying and my first was fed til 2 but my second is 8mths. I am unsure if i will stick to it or go back to full breast but its mainly also so hes able to take bottle for my partner if it is needed as i struggle to pump anf my milk doesnt freeze it goes off i dnt knw why. this time around he is a biter also haha and is relentless with biting hard. So maybe we will see how we go with weaning slowly. This is a huge help thank you for making this info available to me. From jaimie in new Zealand. I life be your work

  3. Thanks for sharing this informations with your readers! This method really does help to prevent babies from forming a bottle preference.

  4. Hey, I have 2 kids both of them breastfed and both I pumped with. I just wanted to share another side incase it’s the case for other moms. With both my babies, having the bottle that let the milk out super slow didn’t work for them. I 100% Believe in mimicking mom’s flow. .but my flow and let down is very fast. Both my babies would actually get frustrated with the nipple that would require them to suck hard to get the milk because they were used to my quick and heavy flow. .my husband and I actually poke holes in the nipple to let the milk come faster and at that point both babies took the bottle. .just some insight because in fact it may make it hard for baby to bottle feed if they’re used to a fast let down then they have to deal with a bottle where they have to sick soo hard to get the milk. .it could be confusing

    • Haha! (Love the poking holes in bottles!) Yes, I mention this in the post… that if you have a super fast letdown, you don’t have to worry too much about doing this. However, a slower pace of drinking CAN help babies with digestion.

  5. Very interesting! I had never heard of this.

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