If you’ve made the decision to bottle feed your baby (whether full time or supplemental), it’s a great idea to get familiar with the concept of paced bottle feeding. If you didn’t realize there was more to bottle feeding than simply giving your baby a bottle, welcome to the club!
There’s a wealth of information about bottle feeding available, including how you can make sure your baby gets the appropriate amount of formula or milk each feed, how you can transition your baby to a bottle from the breast, and how you can ensure your baby doesn’t get so gassy after feedings.
Paced bottle feeding is a great way to introduce your baby to the bottle initially, whether you start with a bottle or transition from breastfeeding (or go back and forth). It’s easy to learn, simple to practice, and usually results in happier, less fussy feeds.
We asked Sally Johnson, Registered Nurse and International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (and mom) for her advice on paced feeding, how it mimics breastfeeding, how to build a strong paced feeding routine, and why paced feeding is advantageous.
What is Paced Bottle Feeding?
“Paced bottle feeding is a style of feeding that mimics breastfeeding, and lets your baby have control of their feed,” says Johnson, “it makes feeding less stressful for you baby!”
Paced bottle feeding is a great way to establish a bottle feeding routine for a baby who will be both breastfed and bottle fed, as it allows the baby to control the flow of milk and or formula much like they do at the breast.
The basics of paced bottle feeding demand that the feeding remain slow, focused, and include breaks. There are also some techniques for holding the baby and delivering the bottle that are important for paced feeding.
Do I Need Special Nipples or Bottles for Paced Bottle Feeding?
Johnson does not recommend a specific nipple for your baby’s bottle that will make paced bottle feeding more or less successful. Although they are available, no one nipple is going to make a huge difference in terms of paced bottle feeding.
As such, use whichever nipple works best for your baby. Every baby is different, and your baby may prefer one nipple over another.
Key Steps to Paced Bottle Feeding
What sets paced bottle feeding apart from other forms of bottle feeding is that the baby, not the caregiver, is in control of the feeding.
“Remember,” says Johnson, “your baby should be in control of this feeding, not you!”
She also advises that caregivers shouldn’t worry if they see “air bubbles,” as this is not a sign that the baby is getting too much air in their stomach. Burp your baby frequently and thoroughly to help eliminate trapped air and cut down on gas.
To begin a paced bottle feed, you will tickle your baby’s lips with the nipple of the bottle, moving in an up and down motion, to allow the baby to draw the nipple into their mouth. This is done instead of forcing or pushing the bottle nipple into your baby’s mouth.
Here’s how to pace feed the right way.
Set Your Baby in an Upright Position Versus a Lying Position
It’s always a better idea to feed your baby in a more upright position as opposed to lying down as this can cut down on spitting up and gassiness. However, for paced bottle feeding, it’s absolutely crucial to keep your baby positioned slightly upright.
“Bottle feed in a breastfeeding position to facilitate transition. Many moms find this easier to transition between breast and bottle,” Johnson says.
This is beneficial in helping your baby understand that this position equates to meal time, which can assist in transitioning back and forth between breast and bottle.
Be sure you support your baby well during their feeding. Although you’d never intentionally allow it to happen, it’s easy to relax during your baby’s feeding and let them slide down or end up in an awkward position.
Hold the Bottle Horizontally Instead of Downward-Sloping
One of the most important factors of paced bottle feeding is the position of the bottle. The goal is to hold your baby’s bottle horizontally.
“Simply holding the milk horizontally in the bottle will slow the rate of milk transfer and pace your baby. Elevating the bottle can increase the rate of flow and overwhelm your baby.”
If the flow of milk or formula is coming out too quickly, it can cause your baby to gulp or force them to drink too quickly.
Take Occasional “Breaks”
When a baby feeds at the breast, they will naturally take breaks on their own to rest. These pauses are natural and, and paced bottle feeding attempts to mimic these pauses by creating small “breaks” during the feeding process.
To create a successful break, never pull the nipple from your baby’s mouth. If you do so, you will have to start the feeding over and this can be confusing to your baby.
“Instead of removing the bottle to pace which can cause the baby to suck harder on the nipple and swallow too much too fast, slowly drop the level of milk in the nipple to empty.
“When your baby is re-organized and ready to continue feeding gently lift the bottle and allow the milk or formula to flow once more,” says Johnson.
Switch Sides During Feeding To Mimic Breastfeeding
During the course of your paced feeding, switch your baby to the other side. This not only provides new visual stimulation for them, it will help keep a baby who is also breastfed from preferring one side over another, which can create a major issue for the breastfeeding mother.
Signs That Your Baby is Full
Because paced feeding is controlled by the baby, you won’t stop the feed until the baby is finished. How can you know when your baby is done?
Johnson says there are signs your baby is getting full:
- When your baby starts to fall asleep at the bottle
- Baby is sucking more slowly
- Baby’s eyes are wandering
When your baby is done, gently remove the nipple from their mouth by twisting. If your baby objects and wants to feed more, try burping first, then re-offer the bottle again if they are showing feeding cues.
“Do this until they deny the bottle,” says Johnson, “this lets your baby learn the feeling of being full and content.”
Benefits of Paced Bottle Feeding
Paced bottle feeding is beneficial over regular bottle feeding, and the majority of the benefits are directly related to the fact your baby is in charge. Bottle feeding methods that are controlled by the caregiver can be stressful on the baby, last too long or too end too quickly, and can cause gastrointestinal discomfort like gassiness and/or spit-up.
Paced bottle feeding benefits include:
- Allowing your baby to control the feed, just as they are when they are breastfed.
- Allows your baby to learn when they are full so they don’t learn to overeat.
- Less stress on your baby.
- Less choking and gulping.
- Can help minimize colic symptoms.
- Helps caregivers and family members support a breastfeeding mother.
Paced bottle feeding is beneficial to both caregiver and baby, and mastering the art of the paced feed can mean happier, more successful feeds for you and your baby.
Is There Anyone in Particular That Paced Bottle Feeding Can Benefit?
While every baby can benefit from the baby-led feeding method of paced bottle feeding, there are also special scenarios when paced bottle feeding can be somewhat of a lifesaver.
Johnson says the following situations are perfect for introducing paced bottle feeding.
- Babies that need help organizing their suck/swallow pattern.
- Babies that tend to gulp down feedings too fast.
- Babies that are generally stressed during feedings.
- Babies that are transitioning from breast to bottle whether daily or permanently.
- Breastfed babies that are transitioning to a bottle while the breastfeeding mom returns to work.
Paced bottle feeding can be a great way to bond with your baby and ensure they’re being fed in a stress-free way that supports their needs most. If you’re still a bit nervous you’ll get it wrong, Johnson suggests watching videos from reputable sites to get a better visual on how to pace feed.
She also advises to never rush when feeding your baby, as they can sense your stress. Always take cues from your baby’s feeding, and let them control the entire feed.
If you still have questions, reach out to your pediatrician or lactation consultant for help. A little extra guidance may make all the difference in successfully pace bottle feeding your baby.