Paced Bottle Feeding - Benefits And How To

By now you have probably heard of this new fad: Paced bottle feeding! Over decades, infants have been bottle fed the same way: Infant is placed on their back, bottle inserted into mouth, bottle held up and infant swallows the milk.

What’s wrong with that?  Never did us any harm, right?

Paced bottle feeding is a method that mimics breastfeeding and can help with reducing some of the disadvantages that bottle feeding brings.  Just as the name suggests, it means pacing the feeding to allow baby to be in control of the feed rather than having to cope with the flow.  Babies learn to recognize when they are full by feeding more slowly and having to work harder to get the milk, like they would if they were breastfed.  The benefits are numerous and undeniable, both in the short and the long term, and many of the more common complaints like spitting up, gassy babies or babies that never seem full can be resolved in this way.

Let’s start from scratch.

Breastfeeding is the biological norm for all babies.  Whether they are in fact breastfed or not, when they are born they are biologically designed to expect being fed from a breast.  If we take this pre-design into account, it’s quite logical why babies do best when we try to mimic this type of feeding with a bottle.

When babies are put on their backs and a bottle that is held vertically put into their mouths, gravity works against them and they have to keep swallowing without a break if they don’t want to choke.  That in itself is stressful for the baby because they are out of control, put into a situation that they do not instinctively know how to handle.  Babies are also very good at knowing how much milk they need to be full and paced bottle feeding helps them to communicate that.  It gives them the opportunity to FEEL full and then not to suck anymore.

With conventional bottle feeding, the milk pours into the infant’s mouth and they often gulp, trying to keep up with the volume coming in.  When they do, they also take a fair amount of air in with it and can then experience excessive gas, colic and other digestive discomforts.  A study has shown that conventional bottle feeding has an impact on the baby’s ability to self regulate, indicating that paced bottle feeding may have positive effects on their health later in life.

There are many reasons why a mother would like her breastfed baby to take a bottle and paced bottle feeding makes it less of a challenge.  The baby is used to a certain flow and that they have to work for the milk, feeding them with a bottle using the same type of feeding can avoid nipple confusion and a preference for bottles due to the quicker flow.  A common complaint with breastfed babies who are given bottles the conventional way is that the mother feels she can’t keep up with the baby’s demand or her supply is low.  Top ups are given and they are off on a slippery slope.  Paced bottle feeding avoids overfeeding the baby and all the problems associated with it.  When the baby can decide just how much milk they need, it is likely that the pumped amount of milk is just what the baby requires.  This can then help you achieve your breastfeeding goal!

And this is how to do it:

  1. Have a bottle with a slow flow teat

  2. Make sure baby is in a semi reclined sitting position as opposed to on their back

  3. Touch baby’s lips with the bottle, teat pointed up towards the roof of baby’s mouth, until they open the mouth wide

  4. Put the teat into baby’s mouth, making sure baby is latched correctly so no air can go in on the sides

  5. Hold the bottle horizontally, let baby suck for a bit without giving milk, imitating the time it takes for milk to let down

  6. Tip the bottle a bit more but not too much, so the milk doesn’t completely fill the teat, and let baby drink for about 30 seconds

  7. Tip the bottle back to horizontal or remove bottle to stop the flow and give baby a break, just like it happens on the breast

  8. Repeat until baby decides they are full and don’t want to feed anymore (usually at least 10-20 minutes).  Cues are slower or no sucking, baby’s concentration going to something else, baby falling asleep, relaxed and open hands.

  9. Remove the teat from baby’s mouth then offer it back.  If baby takes the bottle, let them suck for a little while longer and then repeat, until baby refuses so they can learn to recognise the feeling of being full, thus reducing the risk of overfeeding.

  10. You might want to switch sides once during the feed or feed from alternating sides, just like on the breast, to avoid a side preference and one sided development.

With paced bottle feeding, look for cues for when baby is hungry as you are more likely to feed on demand as opposed to in a certain interval.  Signs include smacking their lips, rooting, opening their mouth when something brushes off their cheek, sucking their fists, fussiness and restlessness.