Paced Bottle Feeding: An Easy 9 Step Technique

Sometimes, the most obvious things in the world don’t seem that way until someone points them out. Paced bottle feeding fits squarely into that category for many people. While it’s quickly growing in popularity, its common sense techniques are not widely practiced.

The next time you feel guilty that you have to resort to bottle feeding your little one just because you can’t physically be right there next to them at the time or have excruciating nipple pain, don’t get too upset.

Here’s where paced bottle feeding can really shine.

What Exactly Is Paced Bottle Feeding? What Does It Mean?

Simply put, paced bottle feeding aims to mimic the methods and experience of breastfeeding as closely as possible, while using bottles instead of the breast.

It’s used by breastfeeding moms who choose to pump instead of directly breastfeed, caregivers of breastfed babies, and also by those employing a formula diet for their little ones.

No matter who’s doing it, the end result is a more relaxed and natural feeding pattern.

As you can obviously tell by the name, it’s also all about giving the infant more control over the feeding pace.

What’s The Difference Between Regular And Paced Bottle Feeding?

There are numerous differences between regular and paced bottle feeding, including:

  • Feeding schedule
  • Bottle position
  • Baby position
  • Nipple type
  • Feeding technique

Typically, regular bottle feeding includes giving baby meals once every two to four hours (depending on the infant’s age), whereas paced feedings are done solely based on when the child shows the telltale signs of hunger.

Rather than keeping to a set time between meals, you would rely on hunger cues such as rooting, sticking out tongues, or putting their hands in their mouth.

Almost every movie you see depicts bottle fed babies eating while on their back, cradled in someone’s arm, with the bottle held upright until it’s empty. This is just not at all how babies who breastfeed normally eat.

When sucking at the breast, they are normally more upright, have to work more to get milk, and take more mini breaks during a feeding. You’ll want to mimic this with the bottle for paced feeding.

If It Ain’t Broke, Why Fix It?

Bottle feeding in general is a relatively new technique for humanity. For most of history, there were no other options besides exclusively breastfeeding for babies.

Now that bottle feeding is so commonplace, we tend to forget the human body is quite accustomed to the way we’ve been feeding babies for millennia. Taken in this light, bottle feeding is what’s new and strange, and we should be doing everything we can to mimic the breastfeeding experience.

So technically speaking, “if it ain’t broke, why fix it?” should be asked about breastfeeding instead of bottles. Bottles clearly filled an important need for society, but our attempts at using them to truly substitute for breastfeeding need to be seriously improved.

So, attempting paced bottle feeding should only be done in cases where breastfeeding directly isn’t a possibility.

What Are The Benefits To Paced Bottle Feeding?

Paced bottle feeding is an easy way to eliminate some traditional problems typically related to bottle feeding, while offering other benefits usually reserved for directly breastfed babies.

1) Reduced Colic

Bottle feeding typically leads to more problems with gas and colic due to the increased amounts of air being swallowed.

When a bottle is held upright enough that the entire nipple is full, your baby has to either swallow continuously or risk choking as gravity and pressure (which is built up inside the bottle) keep the flow going.

With the bottle held more horizontally, your baby will have an easier time taking a break to breathe. This, in turn, greatly reduces the amount of swallowed air and makes for a happier and less gassy baby.

2) No More Overfeeding

Another problem associated with regular bottle feeding is that infants often end up eating much more than they should. This is caused both by a bottle that forces a continuous stream into their mouths, and by well meaning parents (or caregivers) who always make babies finish their whole meal.

Babies will tell you when they’re hungry if you give them the chance and take the time to learn about the cues you can pick up. Just as importantly, they will also tell you when they need a break or when they’re full.

Breastfeeding babies often take multiple mini pauses during a feeding, and this makes a lot of sense. Their tiny body can’t digest a huge meal right away, and forcing it to do so often overrides any chance for the baby to feel full and stop naturally on their own.

Babies should be allowed to eat at their own pace, and not forced to finish every bottle. These tendencies to worry if a baby doesn’t quickly drink each bottle have been linked to similar eating habits later in life.

With obesity, diabetes, and other serious health concerns all affected by overeating habits, paced bottle feeding has never been more important to start implementing.

3) Lower The Volume

Many moms have a hard time expressing enough milk to satisfy their baby while away at work. This, in turn, causes stress, shame, feelings of inadequacy, and often a complete surrender and switch to a full formula diet in despair.

But what if all of that is based on some flawed idea of how much milk your baby actually needs, because of which you’re wrongly convinced that you’re not expressing enough milk? Let your baby decide how much they want to eat!

Note from Michelle Roth, BA, LCCE, IBCLC: “Breastfed babies typically eat an average of 750 ml (25 ounces) of breastmilk per day from age 1 month to age 6 months. So if they’re eating 8 times per day, that is about 90 ml (3 ounces) per bottle.”

Once paced bottle feeding is utilized, you may find that your baby is perfectly happy and healthy with less milk than you’ve been struggling to pump. This means you can pump less, and focus more on bonding with your baby.

Even for full formula diets, paced feeding can be very helpful. It can similarly take the stress and guesswork out of making sure your baby meets some artificial quota of daily feeding amounts.

Not to mention, formula can be expensive! Using even 10% less can add up to some serious savings overtime.

4) Easing The Transition From Breastfeeding

One of the greatest benefits from choosing paced bottle feeding is the improved switch from breastfeeding.

For moms who work and pump to make up for the times they’re away, the similarity to breastfeeding minimizes any nipple confusion and ensures that babies continue to eat normally without any major issues.

It’s also an excellent way to allow any caregivers or other family members an opportunity to give a more authentic feeding.

The more frequent breaks result in a longer feeding session, usually lasting for around ten to fifteen minutes, which also closely matches a breastfeeding experience. This lets the person providing the bottle enjoy more bonding time with baby.

How To Properly Use Paced Bottle Feeding

Okay, enough with the reasons why paced bottle feeding is so beneficial for your baby. How do you actually do this method of feeding? What steps are there to follow?

The following steps are not exactly difficult, but it may take some practice (and a bit of trial and error) for you and your baby to get used to them.

1) Positioning You And Your Baby

This first step is arguably the most important one, since it differs from typical bottle feeding and is vital to doing paced feeding correctly.

Hold your baby upright in your lap, hold their bottle with one hand and use your non-occupied hand to support their neck and back.

With newborns, a slight recline will help stabilize them during feeding. Also, in order to stay comfortable during the longer feedings characteristic of paced feeding, it helps to get some pillows ready to support your arms.

2) Using The Correct Nipple

Choosing the best nipple to use can take some trial and error, but there are some general tips to help you out.

Remember, your goal is to replicate breastfeeding as closely as possible, so try to choose a bottle nipple that most resembles your own in shape and size.

Typically, paced bottle feeding is done using a flatter, wider based nipple with a slow flow rate.

Note from Michelle Roth, BA, LCCE, IBCLC: “Make sure the nipple you’re using is marked ‘slow flow’ – though different manufacturers use different labeling for them.”

3) Getting The Bottle Right

Once you’re ready to begin, position the bottle horizontally.

Make sure the tip of the nipple is full, but only barely. This ensures that your baby will have to use their facial muscles more in order to suck the milk out, as opposed to it streaming out due to gravity and a faster flowing nipple.

4) Beginning The Feeding

Just as in direct breastfeeding, your baby will be coaxed by brushing or tapping the nipple gently on their lips.

If hungry, your baby will open wide and accept the bottle. You want your baby to choose to eat, not have a bottle force fed to them.

5) Ensure A Good Latch

For a proper seal which prevents air from getting swallowed, have your baby latch onto the base of the nipple.

Again, trial and error will teach you how far is best without gagging them. Sometimes, a different nipple will be necessary for a proper fit.

Note from Michelle Roth, BA, LCCE, IBCLC: “The latch should look the same as it would at the breast.”

6) Learn To Pause

Besides being upright, taking frequent pauses is the signature of paced bottle feeding.

Your child will have to work slightly harder sucking on the nipple to get the milk or formula flowing, so every five sucks or so you should take the bottle out of their mouth if they don’t do so themselves.

They will reach out and take the nipple back into their mouth when and if they’re ready for more.

7) Don’t Forget To Burp

In addition to the frequent mini-breaks, incorporate times to burp your baby.

This lowers the chance of trapped air causing discomfort, but also gives your baby time to digest and see whether or not they’re still hungry.

8) Switch It Up

Switch sides throughout each feeding, more than once if you prefer.

If you breastfeed in addition to paced bottle feeding, then switch sides the same number of times as you normally do.

When babies switch positions, they are exposed to more sensations and tend to look at their surroundings more. Side preference can be avoided this way, and the increased awareness leads to more bonding experiences as your baby looks up at you.

9) Know When Enough Is Enough

The main goal of paced feeding is to let your baby take more control over their meals.

When they’re given more time to digest their food, their bodies are able to feel full and send a signal to their brains that says “alright, you can stop eating now”.

If this happens before the bottle is empty, so be it. That doesn’t mean they didn’t get all they need for the time being.

Keep An Eye Out For Warning Signs

As with all bottle feedings – when trying out paced bottle feeding, there are a few cues to look for that will tell you when you should stop.

Some are simply letting you know your baby is full and ready to end the meal. These signals include:

  • Pushing the nipple out with their tongue
  • Turning their head away from the bottle
  • Spitting out breastmilk or formula
  • Arching their back to get away from the bottle
  • Disinterest in continuing to suck
  • Relaxation of the baby’s hands, no more fists
  • Falling asleep while eating

Other signs to watch out for are more serious, and relate to when your baby is having difficulties swallowing or breathing. Some of these are:

  • Gagging, choking, or coughing
  • Milk or formula overflowing the mouth
  • Spit ups larger than their current mouthful
  • Stiffening of the limbs
  • Eyes opening wide suddenly
  • Nostrils flaring
  • Any facial discoloration

Wrapping It Up

Now that you know all about paced bottle feeding, you may wonder why you were never taught about it earlier.

The truth is, the practice of bottle feeding is still being perfected. Each country, society and culture has its own ways of doing things which may or may not clash with other methods.

For most countries, women have only been a large part of the workforce for less than 100 years. When cheap plastics and improved formula made bottle feeding widely used, the ease of feeding often outweighed the goal of mimicking breastfeeding.

However, when you stop and think about it, it only makes sense that feeding a baby should resemble breastfeeding as closely as possible.

Obvious, right?

Consider making paced bottle feeding your new go-to method, and let us know how it works out for you! We’d love to hear about any successes or setbacks in your attempt to switch feeding styles.

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Medically Reviewed By: Michelle Roth, BA, LCCE, IBCLC

Medically Reviewed By: Michelle Roth, BA, LCCE, IBCLC

Michelle Roth, BA, LCCE, IBCLC is a board-certified lactation consultant for two busy pediatric practices. She is a former La Leche League Leader, Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator, and Certified Infant Massage Instructor. She has taught classes ranging from healthy pregnancy, to childbirth preparation, to parenting, and more.

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