Many parents bottle feed their babies, but not everyone used paced bottle feeding. But this technique, which offers a number of benefits for babies, is an important one for all parents to know
Bottle feeding can be part of breastfeeding—don’t let anyone tell you differently. But how do you do it to keep your nursing relationship strong, your baby satisfied, and everyone happy? The answer: Paced bottle feeding.
We give lots of shoutouts to how amazing breasts are when we talk about breastfeeding. And it’s true! They produce and supply milk that nourishes our babies, protects them from illnesses, and even supports our well-being. It’s pretty amazing.
But you know what we don’t talk about nearly as much? How important bottle feeding can be to a good breastfeeding relationship.
Bottle feeding can be a meaningful—and valid—part of breastfeeding. It helps make breastfeeding accessible for premature babies, babies with health issues, or latching problems. It allows the non-breastfeeding parent and other caregivers to participate in feeding. And it gives the breastfeeding parent the flexibility to return to work, take care of other responsibilities, or simply get a moment to themselves.
Bottle feeding comes with challenges, though. If you don’t use the proper technique, you can end up with lots of spit-up, a fussy baby, and wasted breast milk.
That’s where paced bottle feeding comes in.
What is paced bottle feeding?
Paced bottle feeding is a technique for feeding babies modeled on how babies nurse at the breast. It takes positioning, latching, and feeding pace into account, giving the baby greater control over milk flow and intake, which leads to a more comfortable and satisfying feeding.
Who should use paced bottle feeding?
The short answer? Anyone who is feeding a baby via bottle. However, we can get more specific than that:
Families with premature babies
Babies that struggle with latching or tongue or lip-tie
Families where the breastfeeding parent needs to return to work
Concern about milk supply*
Parents experiencing breastfeeding pain during nursing
Families with multiples
Parents who don’t want to nurse but are interested in pumping
*This isn’t always the case—read below for why!
Benefits of paced bottle feeding
The most basic reason to use paced bottle feeding is that it’s more comfortable for your baby! But there are a lot of other benefits to consider, too.
Giving your baby the right amount of milk
We often hear parents say that they want to bottle feed, so they know exactly how much milk their baby is getting. This is a bottle-feeding myth—for a lot of reasons:
Your baby might drink too much milk when fed in the typical bottle feeding positions because the milk flows too quickly.
Caretakers might not put enough milk in the bottle.
If your baby has reflux, whether caused by overfeeding or by GERD, they might not be able to keep milk down.
Reducing the risks of choking and colic
All parents want feeding to be comfortable for their babies, but when babies are placed on their backs to drink, they’re forced to gulp their milk. And gulping isn’t good.
Here’s why: It’s the result of drinking too much to avoid choking. It’s stressful and uncomfortable. Paced bottle feeding helps avoid this.
It also helps prevent colic, defined as prolonged intense distress, crying, or fussiness in an otherwise healthy baby. Colic isn’t fully understood, but one contributor is thought to be excess air intake during feeding.
Maintains a breastfeeding relationship
Bottle-feeding babies is less work for babies. They get a lot of milk from the bottle and quickly. Nursing, on the other hand, requires exertion to make the milk come.
Some babies prefer the easier route to their food, resulting in bottle preference.
However, paced bottle feeding sidesteps this problem by slowing down the milk flow to mimic how milk comes out of the breast. As a result, it’s easier to switch between bottle feeding and nursing.
Supports lifelong healthy eating
How you feed your child when they’re a baby has long-term implications for their health. One of the big benefits of breastfeeding is that babies are less inclined to overeat. Traditional bottle feeding, on the other hand, can easily lead to overeating.
Why? Milk flows so quickly from the bottle that they don’t realize when they are full. But when you use paced bottle feeding, your baby has the time to recognize when they’re full. Knowing this from an early age can help them understand their internal cues for hunger and fullness, which can help them develop healthy eating habits.
How to use paced bottle feeding
Follow these steps to slow the flow of milk from the bottle into the nipple. This technique will help your baby eat more slowly and comfortably, taking breaks as needed.
Hold your baby at a 45-degree angle or semi-upright.
Why? Leaning back in a reclining position makes it hard for them to control the flow of milk.
Tickle the baby’s upper lip with the bottle nipple to encourage them to open their mouth widely. When their mouth is open wide, let them bring the bottle nipple in.
Why? You want your baby to get a deep latch on the bottle, so they continue having good latches during breastfeeding. Otherwise, you could suffer from sore nipples when you’re nursing.
Keep the bottle horizontal while your baby is nursing.
Why? A horizontal position keeps too much milk from flowing into the nipple and makes it easier for your baby to take breaths between swallows.
Let your baby drink for 15-20 seconds (or 3-5 continuous swallows) before lowering the end of the bottle. When your baby starts to suck again, lift the bottle back up. If you’re concerned about your baby swallowing air, you can pause to burp them during the feeding.
Why? Lowering the end of the bottle gives your baby a little break and lets them be in control of the pace of their feeding.
Your baby will continue sucking until they’re done. Once you notice that their sucking has become slowed and lazy or they’ve stopped sucking entirely, end the feed. Don’t try to get them to keep eating once they’re done—the whole reason behind paced feeding is to let them control their intake.
Choosing the right bottle
Any parent who has bottle-fed knows the challenge of picking the right bottle! There’s a seemingly infinite number of options on the market, and they all have their benefits.
Some babies aren’t choosey, but it’s pretty common to need to test out a few before landing on the right one for your baby. However, keep these following tips in mind when bottle shopping.
Go with a slow flow nipple
Always choose a slow-flow nipple for paced bottle feeding. Slow flow nipples and preemie nipples are the best options for mimicking milk flow during a nursing session.
Use small bottles
Most babies who breastfeed take smaller volumes during each feed, but when you use a bigger bottle, the temptation to fill it up is strong. Use smaller bottles to provide the right amount of milk to your baby—and avoid wasting your liquid gold.
Help for breastfeeding when you need it
Want more tips on how to pace bottle feed your baby? We want all parents to feel confident about feeding their baby. We’re here to answer your questions and help you find solutions.
Let’s start by saying that every family is different. There are lots of situations where babies need to take a bottle during their first weeks. No parent should feel bad about doing what’s necessary for their child.
That being said, for families who want to focus on nursing first, introducing a bottle around 3-4 weeks is ideal. It allows the mom to establish her supply and for the baby to develop good nursing habits before learning how to bottle feed.
How much milk should I put in the bottle?
It depends! No two babies are the same, so depending on their size, appetite, growth curve, and other factors, the amount of milk they need per feed will vary, sometimes dramatically. That being said, the average baby between 1-6 months old drinks about 25 oz. of breast milk each day. To figure out how much you need to provide per feed, you would:
Estimate the number of feeds in 24 hours
Divide 25 oz. by the number of feeds
This number is the approximate amount of milk per feed. Here’s an example: If baby nurses ten times a day, they would need 2.5 oz per nursing session.
What is the safest way to store breast milk?
When bottle-feeding your baby, it’s crucial to keep your breast milk stored safely both before, during, and after feeding. But what is “safe” when it comes to storing breast milk? Here’s an overview of best practices.
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