While breastfeeding is the preference of most healthcare providers and moms, it’s not always practical to do. Most moms find that they need to at least supplement with bottle-feeding for convenience’s sake, whether with formula or pre-pumped breastmilk. Paced bottle-feeding can give your baby a feeding experience closer to breastfeeding, which can have a number of benefits.
In this guide, we hope to provide some tips and information to make you feel more confident to try paced bottle-feeding with your baby.
- What Is Paced Bottle-Feeding?
- How to Try the Paced Bottle-Feeding Methods
- How to Know When They’re Finished
- Benefits of Paced Bottle-Feeding
- FAQs About Paced Bottle-Feeding
- Giving Your Baby the Best Feeding Experience
What Is Paced Bottle-Feeding?
Paced bottle-feeding is a way of mimicking the natural flow of breastmilk when feeding your baby. They can suckle, breathe, and swallow at their own natural pace, as they would during traditional breastfeeding. It allows your baby to control how much milk they are getting and how fast they are getting it, which can help prevent things like over-feeding.
Who Should Use Paced Bottle-Feeding?
Any baby can benefit from paced bottle-feeding, but it’s especially valuable in certain circumstances. If you are a mom who likes the freedom to switch between breast and bottle-feeding, paced bottle-feeding helps your baby stay used to the natural rhythm of breastfeeding, so they don’t lose their ability to latch or get frustrated from the slower milk flow of breastfeeding. It can also be beneficial for babies that are exclusively bottle-fed, though.
If your baby has colic, and these symptoms tend to be worse after bottle-feeding, your baby may be experiencing digestive discomfort. Babies tend to vomit up more food after bottle-feeding than breastfeeding, so if your child tends to bring up a lot of milk after eating, the pacing method might help prevent them from eating too much and bringing food back up.
How to Try the Paced Bottle-Feeding Methods
If you’re going down the bottle-feeding route, here as some things to consider to give you and your baby the best possible experience.
Recognizing Signs of Hunger
While many moms will get into a regular schedule of feeding with their baby, as your baby grows, they may need extra nutrition. Of course, the most common way for a baby to tell you they’re hungry is by crying. You’ll gradually start to recognize the different types of cries your baby will make, but most moms and doctors describe hunger cries as being short and low-pitched. Some describe it as sounding like the monosyllable, “neh.”
There can be other signs that your baby is hungry too. They might smack and pucker their lips. They also may seem fussier than usual and start sucking on their fist.
The rooting reflex helps your child latch onto the breast for feeding. A baby will naturally turn their head and open their mouth if they feel their mother’s breast against their cheek. If a baby is feeling hungry, they may attempt to root to anything that touches their face. You can test if your baby is ready to be fed by touching their cheek with your finger. If they open their mouth and try to suck on your finger, that’s a good sign that they want to eat.
When bottle-feeding, it’s important to safely prepare your baby’s bottle. You should always make sure to wash your hands and sterilize both the bottle and the nipple you’ll be using for feeding. You can wash them thoroughly in hot soapy water or even boil them to be certain. You can read our recommendations for the best bottles for breastfed babies here.
If you’re using formula, you should mix it according to the package instructions, only using clean tools. Both formula and stored breastmilk should be warmed up in advance, but always test the temperature on the inside of your wrist to ensure the milk is not too hot. You don’t want to scald the sensitive skin inside your baby’s mouth.
Some parents will hand their child a bottle lying down, but this makes a milk flow that’s too strong and steady and can cause digestive upset and even increase the likelihood of other conditions like ear infections. Instead, position your baby at about a 45-degree angle, so they are somewhat upright. You can prop them up with your arm, but it might be more comfortable for you both of you to use pillows to keep them propped up during feeding. While a standard bottle-feeding session might last only a few minutes, paced bottle-feeding can last up to 20 minutes, like a breastfeeding session.
Since paced bottle-feeding is all about keeping things as natural as possible, you never want to just stick the nipple of the bottle in their mouth. Instead, you want to take advantage of that rooting reflex mentioned above. Touch the nipple to their mouth and let them naturally latch on.
Instead of tilting the bottle down to let gravity pull all the milk into the nipple, keep the bottle horizontal. This will help them feed more slowly, allowing them to recognize when they are full and stop eating when they are ready, rather than eating too much too quickly and bringing it back up.
After your child has fed for about 30 seconds or swallowed 3-5 times, you’ll want to tip the bottle down (with the nipple still in their mouth) to pause the milk flow for a few seconds. This mimics the natural flow of breastmilk and helps them process what they’ve already eaten to recognize whether they are full or not. If they are still hungry, they will start trying to suckle again even before there is milk present in the nipple. Once they start sucking, you can resume feeding again, taking frequent breaks at the same 30-second interval.
Just like with breastfeeding, you will also want to switch which side of your body that your baby is on during feeding. Simply pause and reposition them on the other side about halfway through the session.
How to Know When They’re Finished
There are several ways to tell that your baby is full and finished with feeding. They might stop sucking on the bottle during one of those feeding pauses or start sucking much more slowly. They also might just start to seem disinterested in their bottle, looking around and getting distracted. If this is the case, gently remove the nipple from their mouth and end the feeding session.
While newborns might fall asleep mid-feeding and need to be woken up to finish, after a baby is a few weeks old, you don’t need to wake them up to keep eating. Falling asleep while feeding is a good indication that they are full.
Benefits of Paced Bottle-Feeding
By using the paced bottle-feeding, you are to giving your child a healthier start in life. Early on, you’re teaching your child how to recognize their own satiety by eating slowly. This is something even adults can struggle with. Being mindfully connected to their body and avoiding overeating can help them be healthier adults if they continue these positive habits.
Of course, as mentioned above, the paced method can also help reduce the risk of digestive issues and reduce how much food they bring back up after a feeding session. But, there are other benefits too.
Breastfeeding helps a baby bond with their mother in a quiet and calm atmosphere. And when a mother switches nursing side during a session, it helps engage their baby’s eyesight more evenly. By using paced bottle-feeding, that quiet bonding can occur as you control the bottle’s milk flow and switch sides halfway through the session.
It’s also a less stressful method of feeding for your baby. If you are using the more traditional bottle-feeding method of laying them down and sticking a bottle in their mouth, it doesn’t allow the baby to have any control. The feeding session starts when you push the nipple into their mouth and finishes when they empty the bottle. When they are lying down, gravity also draws a continuous stream of milk down, meaning they must keep swallowing without being able to pause, or they can choke on the excess milk filling their mouth.
FAQs About Paced Bottle-Feeding
Now that you understand the mechanics of paced bottle-feeding, you still might have a few questions about implementing it with your baby. We hope to address those questions here.
Will It Make My Baby Gassier?
Due to the pauses you take during paced bottle-feeding, your baby might suck in some air during the feeding process. For adults, swallowing air is a common cause of gas, but that’s not what typically causes it in infants. Babies tend to be gassy because their nervous system and digestive tract are still maturing and getting used to foods. Remember, babies can breathe and swallow at the same time, so they won’t necessarily swallow that extra air.
There’s no evidence of paced bottle-feeding causing extra gas, but there are plenty of digestive benefits to using this method.
Can You Do Paced Bottle-Feeding With Formula?
Yes. While breastmilk is the best choice, it’s not the only choice. If you need to supplement with formula or even depend on it entirely, your doctor can recommend which brand will be best for your child’s nutritional needs.
Even if you don’t breastfeed your baby, you should still consider paced bottle-feeding for its healthier, more natural feeding rhythm. There are plenty of benefits beyond helping them breastfeed better.
Will Paced Bottle-Feeding Affect My Milk Supply?
Many moms worry that they won’t produce enough milk for their babies. It’s true that using formula can reduce the amount of milk you produce, but if you pump at regular intervals, your body will keep up the supply. Experts recommend using primarily breastmilk, even when bottle-feeding, and then supplement with formula if your supply is too low.
By using the paced method, you might also realize that the amount you think your baby needs is more than they will actually comfortably eat in one session. This can help reduce the amount of milk that they spit up and prevent milk waste.
Giving Your Baby the Best Feeding Experience
Most moms would like to breastfeed their baby 100% of the time for its benefits to the immune system as well as the bonding you can experience with your child while feeding. However, that’s not always practical or even possible. Some women simply can’t produce enough milk (if any) for their children. Besides that, many of us live busy lives, which means we can’t be with our children 24 hours a day. This means that at least some of their feeding must be done by bottle, sometimes by other caregivers.
Bottle-feeding isn’t a sign of failure. It’s simply a way of ensuring your child is nourished, which is most important. By adopting a paced bottle-feeding method with your child and encouraging all the caregivers in their life to do so, you can give them the best possible feeding experience. After all, it’s not just the food you’re giving them but the way you give it that can affect their health and well-being.
We hope that this article has demystified the paced method and helped you see how you can incorporate it into your baby’s feeding sessions.