What Are The Benefits of Paced Bottle Feeding?

Benefits of Paced Bottle Feeding

Ariel Skelley.
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However you feed your baby — whether by breastfeeding, formula feeding, or a combination of both — you are likely going to use a bottle at some point. Most of us don’t really think twice about bottle feeding. After all, it’s not that complicated, right? Put the milk in the bottle, put the bottle nipple in your baby’s mouth, and you’re ready to go.

But if you’re breastfeeding your baby and bottle feeding part-time or transitioning to bottles, it may not be that simple. It can sometimes be difficult to get breastfed babies to take a bottle, and you may be concerned about your baby beginning to prefer the bottle over your breast. Even if you are exclusively bottle feeding, you want to make sure that the experience is comfortable for you baby, and sets them up for a healthy and hearty start in life.

Enter “paced bottle feeding.”

Paced bottle feeding is a term used by lactation professionals and other pediatric healthcare providers to describe a kind of bottle feeding that emphasizes a slow, steady, responsive approach where parents and caregivers become more in tune with their baby’s hunger cues.

What Is Paced Bottle Feeding?

The term “paced bottle feeding” became more popularized in the past decade or so as more lactation consultants were looking to help breastfed babies bottle feed in a way that would not interfere with breastfeeding. In a 2002 article published in the Journal of Human Lactation, lactation consultant Dee Kassing describes a method similar to what is now usually referred to as paced bottle feeding.

The reasons behind paced bottle feeding, as outlined in Kassing’s paper and also emphasized today, include:

  • Bottle feeding can sometimes cause “suck confusion” or “nipple confusion” among breastfed babies, causing them to begin to prefer bottles over direct breastfeeding.
  • Bottle feeding that is slow and responsive ensures that bottle feeding will be as similar to breastfeeding as possible, minimizing confusion or preference for breastfed babies.
  • Paced bottle feeding allows babies to suck and swallow in ways that mimic breastfeeding.
  • Paced bottle feeding minimizes the chances of a baby overeating, and ensures smoother digestion.

Who Should Use Paced Bottle Feeding?

Anyone can use paced bottle feeding with their baby, whether you pump exclusively, only on occasion, or just when you are separated from your baby for work or other obligations. You can use paced bottle feeding even if you are formula feeding your baby.

Paced bottle feeding can be a lifesaver in certain situations, such as:

  • When you are transitioning your baby from breast to bottle, and your baby is reluctant to bottle feed.
  • When you are trying to balance breastfeeding and bottle feeding and you don’t want your baby to begin to prefer bottle feeding over breastfeeding.
  • Your baby’s caregiver can use paced bottle feeding in your absence so that they will be encouraged to bond with your baby during feedings, not overfeed your baby, and minimize the chances of wasting precious pumped breastmilk.
  • If your baby is experiencing digestive issues while bottle feeding like gas or colic, pacing the feedings helps them take smaller, more frequent amounts, which can make digestion more comfortable.
  • If your baby seems overwhelmed by the fast flow of milk from a bottle, paced bottle feeding can be helpful. Signs of distress may include: pulling away from the bottle, milk dripping out of the sides of mouth while feeding, stiff legs and arms, flared nostrils, and a look of discomfort.
  • Any parent who is looking to make feeding more of a bonding experience and who want to teach their baby to be in touch with their hunger and satiation cues will find paced bottle feeding beneficial.

10 Benefits of Paced Bottle Feeding

There are so many benefits to paced bottle feeding, whether you do it for every feeding or only occasionally. Benefits include:

  1. Avoiding “suck preference” or “nipple confusion
  2. Decreasing the likelihood of overeating
  3. Bonding with baby while feeding
  4. Teaching babies to develop a stronger, more organized suck on the bottle, similar to breastfeeding
  5. Helping breastfed babies transition to bottles
  6. Decreasing gassiness, reflux, and general digestive upset
  7. Decreasing chances of running out of pumped breastmilk
  8. Increasing eye contact during feeding
  9. “Switching sides” during feedings allows proper stimulation and development of both sides of your baby’s body
  10. Mimics breastfeeding; allows baby to keep up breastfeeding routines even when separated from mom

How To Do Paced Bottle Feeding

There is no one perfect way to use paced bottle feeding with your baby. Go with your gut, and do what feels right for you and your baby. You can keep these main ideas in mind as a general guideline:

  • Feed your baby slowly, allowing them to take breaks to breathe and digest
  • Stop feeding them when they show signs of fullness
  • Make a general point to try to stay connected and in tune with them while they feed

Paced Bottle Feeding in 10 Steps

  1. Hold your baby upright, or tilted back only slightly.
  2. Your baby can rest in your lap; for younger babies, you can cradle their head and neck with your arm and hand.
  3. Have them face you at eye level.
  4. Tickle your baby’s lips with the bottle nipple and wait until they open wide and “latch” onto the bottle nipple themselves.
  5. Encourage your baby to open wide while sucking on the bottle nipple
  6. While feeding, hold the bottle horizontally rather than vertically.
  7. Try to keep the bottle nipple half full most of the time, so that the flow is slower and milk doesn’t get “dumped” into your baby’s mouth.
  8. Give your baby periodic breaks while feeding; during these breaks, you can access your baby for signs of fullness.
  9. Switch which side of your body you hold your baby on, to mimic “switching sides” during breastfeeding.
  10. Maintain eye contact with your baby whenever possible; make the experience about connection and love.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Paced Bottle Feeding Only for Breastfed Babies?

No! Paced bottle feeding is all about being “in tune” with your baby while they eat, and you can do this whether you are breastfeeding or not. If you were to use paced bottle feeding while feeding your baby formula, you would:

  • Feed “on demand” rather than on a strict schedule
  • Pay attention to signs that your baby is full rather than strictly counting the number of ounces consumed
  • Emphasize slower feedings with plenty of eye contact
  • Rather than holding the bottle vertically and allowing gravity to push the milk out of the nipple, hold it horizontally, which requires your baby to employ a stronger suck, and allows your baby to be more in control of the feeding

How Do I Know That My Baby Has Had Enough?

Signs of satiety in babies include:

  • Baby’s hands become unclenched
  • Baby seems relaxed and drowsy
  • Baby may fall asleep after a feeding
  • Sucking decreases
  • The bottle nipple may be spontaneously released by baby
  • Baby turns their head away
  • Baby seals their lips closed
  • Baby becomes interested in something else
  • Baby seems more peaceful than when feeding started

Do I Need to Use Any Special Kind of Bottles?

You don’t need any special kind of bottles to do paced bottle feeding with your baby. However, if your aim is to encourage slow, responsive feeding, using a "slow flow" bottle nipple is best. Consider a bottle with a wide base as well, to encourage a wide, open mouth and a deep latch.

How Many Ounces Should I Feed Baby and for How Long?

With paced bottle feeding, you want to go by baby’s cues rather than a schedule. However, if your goal is to reduce overfeeding and mimic breastfeeding, consider aiming for feeding no more than 2-5 ounces of breastmilk per session, and having your baby feeding for about 15-20 minutes each time. Again, these are only estimates. Sometimes babies will be less hungry; other times they will be having a growth spurt, so amounts and feeding lengths really do vary. Use your baby’s responses to feeding as a guide.

A Word from Verywell

As a parent to a little one, it can feel like there are so many rules out there for how to do things. Remember that although paced bottle feeding does have its own set of guidelines, these are not hard and fast rules. Take what works for you and leave the rest behind.

However, if you are struggling with bottle feeding, are concerned about the transition from breast to bottle, have a baby who is having trouble bottle feeding, or just generally want to be sure to be in touch with your baby’s hunger cues, paced bottle feeding is a great option to try. You can use it yourself or teach it to your baby’s caregivers.

We all want what is best and healthiest for our babies and paced bottle feeding is just one of many ways to accomplish that. Remember first and foremost that feeding your baby — however you do it — should be about connection and joy.

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