Paced Bottle Feeding Guide

The conventional method for bottle feeding a baby seems pretty straightforward:

  1. Lay your baby in your arms.
  2. Hold a bottle of milk downwards into your baby’s mouth while they drink.
  3. Remove the empty bottle.

While the traditional method is undoubtedly common, it can also be at the root of several concerns. You may wonder if your baby is getting enough or too much milk, or you could worry that your baby’s gas and colic is due to the fact that they gulp down their whole bottle so quickly.

Paced bottle feeding could help eliminate these and other concerns. This method aims to mimic the natural rhythms of breastfeeding, and it also lets your child take in the amount of milk their body needs at their own pace.

Dad pace feeding baby

Here is a breakdown of what paced bottle feeding looks like, some of the benefits it can give to your baby and how to use this technique.

Difference Between Conventional and Paced Bottle Feeding

With the conventional method, the caregiver typically holds the bottle diagonally with the nipple pointing down. Combined with gravity, this bottle position allows the baby to take in a large amount of milk quickly without having to expend much energy in sucking. Since the feeding usually lasts until the baby finishes all the milk in the bottle, babies often learn to continue eating past their natural fullness cues.

Paced bottle feeding gets its name from the concept of pacing your baby’s meal according to their own natural eating patterns and preferences. The ultimate goal of paced feeding is to provide an experience that is as close as possible to actually nursing from the breast.

Rather than the traditional downward position, the bottle in a paced feeding is nearly horizontal. This position slows down the flow of the milk and also requires your baby to engage more of their sucking muscles.

Paced bottle feeding usually takes more time than the traditional method. However, a longer, slower feeding gives your baby the time they need to take frequent pauses, eat at their own speed and have greater control over their meal.

Benefits of Paced Bottle Feeding

Reduces over- or under-feeding

Feeding charts can provide some helpful guidance, but your baby’s body knows how much milk they need far better than any standardized system. By letting your baby control the pace and duration of the feed, you give them a chance to follow their body’s natural fullness cues and take just the amount of milk they need.

Encourages breastfeeding

Nursing requires a baby to use several muscles and coordinate the different parts of their mouth in order to draw out and swallow milk.

Children are smart. It doesn’t take long for many babies to realize that they would prefer to get a full tummy with less work, and they may start rejecting the breast in favor of the bottle.

Paced bottle feeding requires your baby to work a little bit harder than they would with the conventional method, so there is less chance that your baby will learn to prefer the bottle.

More natural feeding pattern for baby

A mother’s milk does not flow from her breasts in a steady rush. Rather, there are a series of waves, or let-downs, that give the baby plenty of chances to pause and take breaks if they need to.

Paced feeding lets you mimic the breastfeeding pattern by giving your baby a slower overall flow and the opportunity to take frequent breaks.

Decreases chances for gas and colic

When you present your baby with a steady stream of fast-flowing milk, it’s likely that they will probably swallow some air along with their meal.

Since paced feeding uses a slower milk flow, comfortable positioning and allows your baby to set their own speed, This method is less likely to introduce air that could cause some discomfort later on.

Can help turn mealtime into bonding time

Feeding time is about more than just filling up a hungry tummy.

A paced feeding lets you customized your baby’s meal to their needs and preferences. Noticing and responding to your baby’s signals requires you to give your baby your full attention, and the slower pace provides plenty of opportunities to talk to your baby, interact with them and show them your love.

Equipment

Paced bottle feeding doesn’t require any specialized equipment, and all the nipples and bottles you need should be readily available online and at mass retailers.

Nipples

One of the goals of paced feeding is to prevent your baby from getting milk too fast or too easily from the bottle, so always choose a slow-flow nipple.

Don’t let the nipple packaging discourage you. Even if the label says “newborn”, you can still use it for older babies.

Bottles

You can use the paced feeding method with any type of bottle, so feel free to choose the one you prefer.

Keep in mind that a smaller bottle may be easier to handle if you have a very young baby that requires a lot of support to sit comfortably in a correct position. You can always switch to a larger bottle as your baby gets older, stronger and more coordinated.

How to Use the Paced Bottle Feeding Method

Be Attentive to Baby’s Hunger Signs

Most young babies need to eat every two to three hours, and older babies usually get hungry about every four hours. Although this time frame can serve as a good general guideline, feeding your baby whenever they start to show signs of hunger usually meets your baby’s specific needs much better than sticking to a strict schedule.

If your baby is making any of these gestures, they are letting you know that they are ready for a meal.

Early hunger signs

  • Smacking their lips or opening their mouth
  • Sucking on hands, fingers or other objects

Later hunger signs

  • Turning their head towards the caregiver’s body and opening their mouth
  • Fussing, agitation or rapid breathing
  • Distressed crying
  • Turning head rapidly from one side to the other

Try to feed your baby during the early stages of hunger. If your baby has reached the point where they are so hungry that they are crying hard or flailing about, they may be too upset to feed well. Take some time to calm and settle them first, then offer the bottle.

Keep in mind that babies go through periods of rapid growth several times during their first year of life. During these growth spurts, your baby may be ready for a meal much sooner than they normally would.

Hold Baby Semi-Upright

Position your baby on your lap in a mostly-upright stance, and support your baby’s body with your forearm and hand. Sitting in a relaxed upright position with plenty of support takes advantage of gravity and puts your baby in the best position to suck and swallow efficiently.

Avoid laying your baby flat or reclined. Positioning your baby like this can make it harder for them to swallow properly and could lead to coughing, gagging or choking episodes.

Allow Baby to Start the Feed Independently

Rather than trying to force the nipple into your baby’s mouth, gently let your baby know their bottle is ready, and allow them to start the feed on their own.

Nursing mothers often find that stroking the baby’s cheek or lips with their nipple causes the baby to reflexively turn towards the breast, open their mouth wide and accept the nipple.

Use the same technique with the bottle’s nipple to let your baby latch on and start sucking when they are ready.

Hold the Bottle in a Horizontal Position

Instead of pointing the bottle almost vertically with the nipple down, hold the bottle in a nearly horizontal position that just keeps milk in the nipple.

This bottle position is ideal for a few reasons:

  • It is much closer to what your baby would experience at the breast.
  • It lets your baby have better control of the milk flow.
  • It requires your baby to use more oral and neck muscles to draw out the milk.

Let Baby Control the Pace of the Feed

Paced bottle feeding takes more time than a traditional approach, so plan to spend up to 20 minutes for each feed. Let your baby be your guide in taking as many small breaks as they desire.

Use this time to look your baby in the eyes, talk to them and snuggle.

Your goal is not to rush through a feed just to fill your baby’s tummy, but to use feeding time as a chance to connect with your baby.

Let Baby Feed on Both Sides

Just as a breastfeeding mother gives her baby the chance to nurse on both sides, hold your baby with one arm at the start of the feed, and then switch to the other arm about halfway through the bottle.

This action mimics breastfeeding and gives your baby the chance to look at objects around the room from different angles.

Be Attentive for Fullness Cues to End the Feed

Your baby’s behavior can let you know when they are hungry, and your baby will also give you signals that they are ready to end the feed.

Watch for these signs that your baby is feeling full and satisfied:

  • Sucking slows down
  • Longer or more frequent pauses
  • Drifting off to sleep
  • Relaxed hands and body
  • Letting go of the nipple

Even if there is some milk left in the bottle, always end the feeding when your baby is ready. Rather than just administering a predetermined number of ounces, make it your goal to give your baby the chance to listen to their own body and take the amount of milk they need.

Watch for Signs of Trouble

If you see any of these signs, immediately tip the bottle bottom-down to give your baby a break. Let your baby have the time they need to relax and resume the feed only when they are ready.

Panicked expression or eyes wide open

As opposed to the active, alert look that your baby may have at the beginning of the feed, this facial expression looks more worried and may be accompanied by a wrinkled forehead.

Pulling off bottle

This is a natural protective reaction to get away from a stressful situation.

Fingers splayed

Your baby’s hands can be a good gauge of their emotional state.

Young babies typically hold their hands in a closed fist, and they tend to relax their hands into a semi-open position as their full tummies make them feel drowsy. However, a wide-open hand position can be a sign of distress.

Gulping

A baby’s typical eating pattern is two to four sucks followed by a swallow. If you see your baby gulping after each suck, the flow is probably too fast.

Milk running out of the mouth’s corners

Your baby should be able to comfortably swallow the amount of milk they draw out of the bottle. If any milk starts to run out of the corners of your baby’s mouth, they are probably struggling to keep up with the milk flow.

Suddenly falling asleep

Most babies slowly drift off to sleep as they near the end of a feed, but an overwhelmed baby may try to escape stress by suddenly turning away and going to sleep.

Blue lips

A bluish tint around the mouth is a sign that your baby isn’t getting enough oxygen.

Particularly if your baby is having any breathing trouble, call for emergency help immediately.

Even if your baby returns to their normal color in a few seconds and shows no other signs of distress, call your healthcare provider right away and follow their instructions.

Conclusion

Paced bottle feeding can be a great way to give your baby control over their meal, provide an experience that is closer to nursing, help reduce gas or colic symptoms and give your baby the chance to listen to their body’s natural hunger and fullness cues.

Additionally, paced bottle feeding can help turn mealtime into bonding time. Since the baby drinks milk at a slower rate and you must give your baby their undivided attention during the meal, this method can provide a sweet opportunity to fully engage with your baby and nourish them emotionally as well as physically.

Have you ever tried paced bottle feeding? What was your experience like? We’d love to hear about it in the comments!

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