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How to Pace Bottle Feed Your Breastfed Baby

How to Pace Bottle Feed Your Breastfed Baby

Posted by Krystal Duhaney, RN, BSN, IBCLC on May 27th 2021

Have you ever heard the term, “paced bottle feeding?”

Better yet, did you know that they are different ways to bottle feed a baby?

If you’re a first time, or even seasoned parent, you might not realize that there are different ways to approach bottle feeding your baby. We’ve all seen the classic hold with the bottle tipped almost completely over in a baby’s mouth, so finding out there are other ways to feed your baby might seem crazy.

But the truth is that paced bottle feeding has multiple reasons why it’s a great way to feed your baby whether they are formula fed or breast fed.

What is paced bottle feeding?

Simply put, paced bottle feeding is a way of feeding your baby that mimics breastfeeding. The idea is that you’re allowing your baby to control how much milk they remove from the bottle at their own pace. As a result, baby has to “work” to remove milk from the bottle. During typical bottle feeding, the flow is much faster due to gravity working to help remove milk from the bottle.

A lot of breastfeeding parents have heard about “nipple confusion” and worry that introducing a bottle will cause issues with nursing. Most lactation consultants will agree that this term is slightly misleading. What is actually happening is the baby develops a preference of bottle over breast because it is easier for the baby.

A more accurate term would be to call it “flow confusion.” When you traditionally bottle feed your baby, with your baby cradled in your arms and the bottle tipped almost completely upright, gravity does a lot of the work for your baby so they don't have to work as hard to remove milk from the bottle. This creates a sense of instant gratification because it is easier for your baby to get milk from a bottle which encourages them to prefer a bottle to breast. It can also result in an overfed baby who could spit up.

The solution to this problem is paced bottle feeding.

With paced bottle feeding you’re encouraging your baby to work to remove milk from a bottle just as they would have to work to remove milk from your breast, making flow confusion no longer an issue.

So how do I pace bottle feed?

First, let’s look at how you position your baby. Instead of cradling baby in your arms, you should have baby in an upright position. You can hold the back of your baby’s neck or head with your hand to help support them in an upright position. You’re not trying to get them at a 90-degree angle. Instead they should be reclined slightly so they are comfortable, but upright enough where you can have proper bottle placement.

Now for the bottle. You want to offer the bottle from a horizontal angle. Meaning the bottle should be held parallel to the floor when entering your baby’s mouth, not angled up. Remember, angling the bottle upward is going to allow gravity to help your baby, making their job easier.

When it’s time to feed your baby, touch the nipple of the bottle to your baby’s lips (assuming your baby is rooting for milk) and allow them to open their mouth and “latch” onto the base of the nipple. Baby should latch on to the bottle in the same way they would latch onto your breast.

Now that baby has latched, your instinct is going to be to tilt the bottle up, but fight that temptation and instead keep the bottle horizontal, allowing milk to fill half of the nipple. This way your baby is the one controlling the flow of the milk and how much they drink. The feed should last however long they would normally breastfeed for.

If your baby typically nurses for 10 minutes a side, let them take their time with the bottle. This may involve pauses and breaks from sucking. You can also stop milk from getting to the nipple to encourage these breaks. If your baby normally feeds from both breasts, switch sides halfway through the feed and repeat the process.

When do you know a baby is done with a paced bottle feed?

It’s usually easy to tell that a baby is done nursing. They tend to “pop off” the nipple and turn their head away, clearly indicating they are satiated. It’s more difficult to tell when a baby is full after being bottle fed.

If you think that your baby is getting full, pull the nipple out of their mouth and gently offer it again. If they accept, let them take a few more gulps before removing the nipple. Sometimes there are clear signs of fullness like your baby has fallen asleep or they are turning away from the bottle. Other times it’s not so easy to tell. Be on the lookout for these more subtle signs:

  • Baby may look more relaxed or content
  • Palms are open and hands are not in a tight fist
  • Body is loose and floppy, not rigid
  • Baby might start hiccuping
  • Baby is acting calm and alert

As you get used to paced bottle feeding and develop your own routine, you’ll find it easier and easier to pick up on your baby’s cues.

Paced bottle feeding is a great way to introduce bottles to your baby without the fear of “flow confusion.” It can be utilized by both breastfeeding and formula feeding moms and can be done with any bottle. By pace feeding you put the control of the feed in the hands of your baby, allowing them to recognize when they are full and encouraging them to work for their food just like they would if they were breastfed.

Do you have questions about paced bottle feeding? Let us know in The Official Milky Mama Lactation Support Group. The Milky Mama team is here to support you during all stages of your breastfeeding journey!