What Are The Benefits of Paced Bottle Feeding?

Mother feeding their baby a bottle

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Whether you're feeding your baby 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. Sometimes, it can be difficult to get breastfed babies to take a bottle, and/or you may be concerned about your baby beginning to prefer the bottle over your breast. Even if you are primarily bottle feeding, you want to make sure that the experience is comfortable for your baby, and sets them up for healthy eating habits.

Enter “paced bottle feeding.” This infant feeding method is 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?

Paced bottle feeding is slow and responsive to a baby's sucking and swallowing pace. It ensures that bottle feeding will be as similar to breastfeeding as possible. Paced bottle feeding allows babies to suck and swallow in ways that mimic breastfeeding.

The term “paced bottle feeding” became more popular as lactation consultants and pediatric healthcare providers aimed 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 called paced bottle feeding.

The motivations behind paced bottle feeding include that bottle feeding can sometimes cause “suck confusion” or “nipple confusion” among breastfed babies, causing them to begin to prefer bottles over direct breastfeeding.

This approach also minimizes the chances of a baby over-eating and ensures smoother digestion.

Who Should Use Paced Bottle-Feeding?

Anyone can use paced bottle feeding with their baby. It can be useful if 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 for expressed breast milk or baby formula.

Paced bottle feeding can be especially effective in certain situations, such as when you are transitioning your baby from breast to bottle, and your baby is reluctant to bottle feed. It can also be helpful 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.

Also, 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 the 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 wants to teach their baby to be in touch with their hunger and satiation cues will find paced bottle feeding beneficial.

Benefits of Paced Bottle Feeding

Benefits of this feeding method include avoiding “suck preference” or “nipple confusion," decreasing the likelihood of overeating, and limiting the chances of running out of pumped breastmilk. This approach also provides an opportunity to bond with your baby while feeding by increasing eye contact and physical closeness.

Paced bottle feeding also teaches babies to develop a stronger, more organized suck on the bottle, similar to breastfeeding. It can also help breastfed babies transition to bottles and can decrease gassiness, reflux, and general digestive upset.

Switching sides during feedings allows proper stimulation and development of both sides of your baby’s body. Paced bottle feeding also mimics breastfeeding, which allows your baby to keep up breastfeeding routines even when separated from their breastfeeding parent.

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. But these general guidelines can help.

Paced Bottle Feeding in 10 Steps

You can follow these steps when embarking on paced bottle feeding. But feel free to customize your feeding routine to suit you and your baby.

  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 their mouth 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. Feed your baby slowly and give them periodic breaks. During these breaks, you can assess your baby for signs of fullness while allowing them time to breathe and digest.
  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?

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.

Additionally, 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 a decrease in sucking, unclenching their hands, turning their head away, and sealing their lips. They will likely seem relaxed, peaceful, and drowsy and may fall asleep. They may spontaneously release the bottle nipple and become interested in something else.

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 nipple 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 follow your baby’s cues rather than a schedule or target number of ounces. However, if your goal is to reduce overfeeding and mimic breastfeeding, consider aiming for feeding no more than 2 to 5 ounces of breastmilk or formula per session, and having your baby feed for about 15 to 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

It can feel like there are so many rules for how to feed and care for a baby. 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 want to be in touch with your baby’s hunger cues, paced bottle feeding is a great option to try. You can use it yourself and/or teach it to your baby’s caregivers.

Remember first and foremost that feeding your baby—however you do it—should be about connection, joy, and what works best for you and your baby.

5 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Zimmerman E, Thompson K. Clarifying nipple confusion. J Perinatol. 2015;35(11):895-9. doi:10.1038/jp.2015.83

  2. Kassing D. Bottle-feeding as a tool to reinforce breastfeeding. J Hum Lact. 2002;18(1):56-60. doi:10.1177/089033440201800110

  3. Kotowski J, Fowler C, Hourigan C, Orr F. Bottle-feeding an infant feeding modality: An integrative literature reviewMatern Child Nutr. 2020;16(2):e12939. doi:10.1111/mcn.12939

  4. La Leche League International. Bottles and other tools.

  5. American Academy of Pediatrics. Bottle feeding basics.

Additional Reading

By Wendy Wisner
Wendy Wisner is a lactation consultant and writer covering maternal/child health, parenting, general health and wellness, and mental health. She has worked with breastfeeding parents for over a decade, and is a mom to two boys.