Paced bottle feeding is a way to bottle feed a baby that most closely resembles breastfeeding. Learn how to do it, plus all the surprising benefits,
In the ideal world, every mother would have the luxury of staying home with her baby and breastfeeding exclusively with no interruptions. She wouldn’t have to worry about returning to work, paying the bills or caring for older children. Help would magically arrive just when she needs it, and health complications would never interfere with her baby’s feeding schedule. Peace would simply settle over the world while every mother catered to the needs of the little ones.
Unfortunately, we all know that this is far from reality. Breastfeeding mothers have interruptions and complications every day. Some mothers need to return to work before they’re reading to stop breastfeeding, which means supplementing with a bottle while they’re away from the baby. Other mothers have medical issues that prevent them from breastfeeding exclusively, and for some mothers, the bottle is simply a convenience that allows them to enjoy a more fulfilling life.
Whatever the circumstances are for you, there may come a time when you need or just want to supplement with bottle feeding. When that time comes, you should know about paced bottle feeding and the advantages for you, your baby and your family.
What Is Paced Bottle Feeding?
Paced feeding is a strategy that allows a bottle-feeding session to closely mimic the timing of a breastfeeding session. Babies tend to consume more milk in a shorter period of time when they’re fed with a bottle, especially if they’re given a fast-flow nipple. This often results in the baby feeding until the milk is gone rather than feeding until their stomach is full. By paying more attention to the pace of the feeding session, caregivers can deliver the experience of breastfeeding while using a bottle.
This method of feeding works whether you’re using pumped breast milk or formula. While it’s primarily used by breastfeeding mothers who must supplement with bottle feeding, exclusively bottle-fed babies may benefit from this method as well. It requires more attention and time from the caregiver but comes with some powerful benefits for the baby.
The Benefits of Paced Bottle Feeding
Parents may decide to start paced bottle feeding for a number of reasons, and there are many benefits that they will receive in exchange for their effort. Let’s take a quick look at some of the most important benefits:
- When breastfeeding and bottle-feeding sessions deliver the same experience for the baby, there is less risk that the baby will start to prefer the bottle. Feeding in less time and with less effort are the biggest attractions for bottle feeding, and you eliminate those advantages by pacing the experience. There is no guarantee that paced feedings will prevent nipple confusion or preference, but it’s less likely to happen when this strategy is used consistently.
- Paced feeding gives the baby greater control over the feeding experience. Rather than having the milk flood their mouth while they try to keep up, the baby initiates the flow with their own timing.
- The slower feeding pace gives the baby time to register that their belly is full and it’s time to stop feeding. Your baby is less likely to overeat and experience belly aches as a result. This can have long-lasting benefits as your baby learns to listen to his or her body rather than outside cues when it comes to eating.
- Some babies have less gas and experience fewer symptoms of colic when their feedings are paced. Bottle feeding in a reclined position forces the baby to continuously suck in order to keep up with the bottle, and they swallow a lot of air in the process. Pacing the feeding process gives the baby time to rest without filling up with air.
- The upright position used for paced feeding encourages your baby to stay alert and interact with their caregiver. This is useful for daytime feedings if you’re trying to keep your baby on a sleep schedule. It also helps if you don’t want your baby to associate sleep with the bottle.
How to Perform Paced Bottle Feeding Correctly
The biggest difference between a traditional bottle-feeding session and a paced session is the amount of attention that the caregiver must invest in the experience. Rather than sticking a nipple in the baby’s mouth and watching TV until the baby falls asleep or the bottle is empty, the caregiver is actively engaged in every moment of the feeding. This is a great thing because it encourages bonding and gives the baby the attention that he or she deserves.
When the baby is showing signs of hunger, prepare the bottle and follow these steps for a paced feeding session:
1. Get in a comfortable position, and hold the baby in a semi-upright position on your lap. Some mothers place pillows on each side of their lap for greater support and comfort. While you may traditionally place the baby in a reclined position to bottle feed, paced feeding requires a more upright position. Start with the baby sitting straight up, and then recline him or her back just a little.
2. Tease the baby’s lips with the nipple until the baby naturally draws it into their mouth. You want your baby to latch onto the nipple as he or she would your breast rather than simply sucking on the top part of the nipple for fast release of the milk. Some mothers find that their baby latches better with a standard bottle nipple while others prefer nipples designed to mimic the shape of a woman’s natural nipple. What’s most important is that the nipple is a slow-release design, which is easier to find on larger nipples designed to mimic the breast.
3. Once your baby latches, hold the bottle horizontal to your baby rather than tipping it up high. This gives the baby more control over the milk rather than it flooding into the baby’s mouth. Your baby will have to work a little harder to get the milk through the nipple, which mimics the breastfeeding experience.
4. Allow the baby to feed for about 30 seconds, and then tip the bottle down. This pulls the nipple out of the baby’s mouth a little, stopping the feeding. Some mothers prefer to twist the nipple completely out of the baby’s mouth, but the feeding session will more closely mimic a breastfeeding session if the nipple remains in contact with the baby’s lips. This also saves time because the baby won’t have to re-latch repeatedly.
5. If the nipple is still resting between the baby’s lips, wait for him or her to start sucking or trying to pull it back into their mouth. This is a signal that they are still hungry and are ready for another round of feeding. Tip the bottle back up into a horizontal position, and allow the baby to feed for another 30 seconds before pulling the bottle down once again. If you took the bottle completely out of your baby’s mouth, you can put it back and allow your baby to latch in order to continue the feeding session.
6. Continue allowing your baby to feed in 30-second increments until he or she stops trying to pull the nipple back into the mouth. When they fall asleep, start paying more attention to you or something else, they are signaling that their belly is full and they are done feeding.
You may decide to switch your baby from one arm to the other in the middle of the feeding session. This mimics what most breastfeeding mothers do when they switch breasts to ensure both sides are emptied equally. The length of the feeding is entirely up to your baby, so you will have to guess when he or she is about halfway full. This will get easier as you gain experience with paced bottle feeding, but it also helps to remember that most breastfeeding sessions last no more than 20 minutes.
This video does a good job of demonstrating the method:
Tips for Paced Feeding Success
At first, it may seem strange to continuously pull the bottle out of your baby’s mouth while feeding. Keep in mind the reasons that you are using a paced feeding strategy and remember that your baby will benefit just as much as you and his or her other caregivers. To help you succeed with as little hassle as possible, we put together some success tips:
- Don’t stress out over timing each segment of a feeding session. If your baby feeds for a little less or a bit more than 30 seconds, it won’t hurt. Remember that breastfeeding sessions are timed to perfection either.
- Allow your baby to take control of the feeding session. When given the chance, a baby will naturally start and stop suckling when it feels most natural for their body. It’s not as easy to turn a bottle nipple off as it is to stop the flow from a breast, but you can allow your baby to resume suckling on demand while you control the breaks along the way. This is a tag-team effort, but the baby is in charge.
- Resist the urge to push the nipple back into your baby’s mouth when they stop actively sucking. You may notice that there is just a little milk left in the bottle or worry that your baby isn’t consuming as much milk as you expected, but trust that they have had their fill. You’re teaching your baby to listen to his or her body rather than eating more because the bottle has more to offer.
- If you’re bottle feeding pumped breast milk, make sure that your caregiver has enough to get through the day and/or night. Bottle fed babies often consume more milk than breastfed babies, but your baby should consume less when paced feeding is actively used. You still want to supply a bit more milk than you expect your baby to consume just in case an extra feeding session is needed or your baby does consume a bit more than they would during a breastfeeding session. It will get easier to anticipate the needs of your baby the longer you feed at a set pace.
Should You Try Paced Bottle Feeding?
This is a personal decision that every breastfeeding mother must make on behalf of her child and her family. There are many reasons that you may want to give paced feeding with a bottle a try, including:
- You need to go back to work but aren’t ready to give up breastfeeding. Your child will naturally spend more time with other caregivers, and paced bottle feeding will mimic the breastfeeding experience while you’re away. This reduces the chance that your baby will prefer the bottle and start rejecting the breast. They receive the same amount of milk in the same period of time either way.
- Your spouse or other loved ones want a more active role in caring for the baby. You can pump milk and allow them to pace feed with a bottle when it’s their turn.
- You’re experiencing postpartum depression or are overwhelmed and simply need more time to yourself. Exclusive breastfeeding is demanding on your body and of your time, and it’s natural to request help from your loved ones. The great thing about paced bottle feeding is that it frees you to delegate the task of feeding to others while you enjoy a nap, take a shower, clean the house or go out to lunch with a friend.
- You have health issues that may make exclusive breastfeeding more difficult. Paced bottle feeding allows you to breastfeed when you can while nourishing your baby with a bottle at other times.
Paced bottle feeding simple gives breastfeeding mothers more flexibility. It soothes some of the fears that a baby will reject the breast in favor of the bottle and provides a more consistent and predictable feeding experience for the baby. Even if you have the luxury of staying home with your baby and structuring your life around your baby’s feeding schedule, this is a skill that you should master. You never know when you may need to incorporate bottle feeding into your daily life.
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