The benefits of paced bottle feeding

Paced bottle feeding is a method that is designed to mimic the flow of milk from the breast. Whether you’re exclusively expressing, combining breast and bottle feeding, or formula feeding, you will find some surprising benefits of this technique. It can make bottle feeding more comfortable for both you (or your baby’s caregiver) and your baby, so you might want to consider trying it.

The surprising benefits of paced bottle feeding

If the caregiver is in charge of when and how much a baby eats, the baby may not be getting the correct amount. As the name implies, paced bottle feeding allows your baby to be in control of the flow of the milk, and to stop or pause when they recognise their own feelings of fullness.

Similar to breastfeeding, your baby will feed more slowly, calmly, and at their own pace. When babies are lying down for bottle feeds, it can be stressful for them as they gulp quickly to avoid choking.

Because your baby isn’t ingesting as much wind as they would when conventionally bottle feeding due to the slower pace, it helps to reduce wind, colic-like symptoms, and discomfort.

If you’re breastfeeding, using this technique can help to reduce nipple confusion. Some babies decide they prefer a bottle because they don’t have to work as hard, but that’s not often the case with paced bottle feeding. It’s all down to the technique, which is outlined below.

How to give your baby a paced bottle feed

1. Look for your baby’s hungry cues

Crying is a late sign of hunger, so try to avoid waiting until then as it can make feeding more challenging. Babies show several cues that they’re ready to feed, and ideally you want to prepare a bottle and respond to these early signs, which include:

  • Rooting (your baby is turning their head with their mouth wide open toward any object that touches their cheek)
  • Sucking fists
  • Clicking or sucking their tongue
  • Starting to act fussy or restless
  • Smacking their lips

2. Get them into an upright position

Make yourself comfortable with cushions on either side of you to support your arms. Hold your baby in an upright position closely against your chest, so that you can still benefit from some lovely skin-to-skin time if you like, and also enjoy making eye contact. Being upright allows your baby to control the flow of milk, rather than having it poured into their mouth as they would when lying down. You will need to support their head and neck gently with one hand.

3. Offer the bottle horizontally

Stroke your baby’s lip with the teat to stimulate a rooting response. Allow your baby to draw the teat into their mouth, and ‘latch on’ as they would a nipple, rather than pushing it in. Once your baby is latched, keep the bottle horizontal. Because your baby is in control, they won’t be gulping down a bottle in five minutes.

4. Pause when your baby signals to

Breastfed babies will pause and take breaks about every 20-30 seconds throughout a feed, so it’s a great idea to encourage it with bottle feeding as well. If your baby starts gulping quickly, slow it down by leaning your baby forward slightly so that the milk flows away from the teat. If your baby pauses naturally, you can lower the base of the bottle slightly so that the milk no longer fills the teat. The teat can stay in your baby’s mouth, and as they begin to suck again you can raise the bottle back to a horizontal position.

5. Switch sides halfway through

Swapping sides halfway through the feed is a great way to ensure that your baby avoids a preference for one side, and it provides more visual and cognitive stimulation. It also makes it more comfortable for you to alternate positions.

6. End the feeding when your baby lets you know

If your baby nods off and releases the teat, it signals the end of the feed (newborns may be the exception here, and possibly require gently rousing for more of the bottle in the first few days). Otherwise, look for your baby’s fullness cues, including:

  • Slower sucking
  • Eyes wandering
  • Hands are open and relaxed

There’s no need to coerce your baby into finishing the last of the bottle. If you think they’re becoming full, remove the teat gently, offer a few more sucks, and repeat until they refuse. A typical paced bottle feed will take about 20-30 minutes, similar to a breastfeed. This is by no means the ‘right’ way to bottle feed, it’s just another option that you might like to try. If you do give it a go, we’d love to hear about your experience over in our bottle feeding mummas support Facebook group.

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