Breast-feeding offers a host of benefits for your baby, but it’s not without its challenges.

Namely, if you are on a feeding schedule with your baby, it’s likely at some point in time that you may need to utilize bottle-feedings to allow yourself to return to work or simply be less of a slave to your breast-feeding schedule.

The challenge with bottle-feedings is the risk for “nipple confusion.” While modern science has made bottles as close to the real thing as possible, there’s still little substitute for the breast. Bottle-feedings are traditionally easier for the baby and can sometimes affect a baby’s latching ability — one of the most important aspects of breast-feeding.

One approach to reducing the risk for nipple confusion is to use a paced bottle-feeding approach. Through paced bottle-feeding, you may be able to closely mimic nursing.

What Is Paced Bottle-Feeding?

Traditional bottle-feeding involves giving babies bottles and allowing them to drink them at a steady rate.

While this accomplishes the task of feeding, a baby often receives the milk at a faster rate than when breast-feeding. This can affect a baby’s ability to return to the breast and also cause a baby to take in too much milk too quickly if you notice that your baby seems to suck without pausing using a traditional bottle-feeding method.

Paced bottle-feeding aims to slow feedings to closely mimic breast-feeding. Using techniques like keeping the bottle’s nipple half full and allowing the baby to pull the bottle’s nipple in, paced feeding can seem more like breast-feeding.

What Do I Need to Do to Pace Bottle-Feed?

To pace feed, you will need a milk source, like formula or pumped milk. You will also need a bottle and a nipple for the bottle. Many nipple options are available on the market.

wide-based, slow-flow nipple

However, for paced feedings, a wide-based, slow-flow nipple is recommended. This option can feel more like a mother’s nipple to a baby. If your baby has trouble accepting this nipple option, you may need to try a different option.

What Are the Steps in Paced Bottle-Feeding?

To pace feed your baby, place your baby in an upright position with plenty of head and neck support. Gently touch the bottle’s nipple to your baby’s mouth, much as you would during a breast-feeding session.

When your baby opens their mouth, gently advance the bottle’s nipple. If needed, you can stroke the baby’s cheek to encourage them to open the mouth. The ideal position will be where the nipple is at the top of the tongue, which helps to minimize air intake.

Hold the bottle parallel to the ground, and allow your baby to take in between five and 10 sucks of the bottle. The parallel position will allow for better flow control. Slightly pull the bottle backward to where the nipple is still touching the lower lip.

Allow your baby to pull the nipple back in, much like they would during a feeding. Another option is to reduce the bottle’s tilt to slow the flow until your baby starts sucking harder.

Remember to burp your baby frequently during the feeding. You can also switch the sides that your baby is held on, which can more closely mimic breast-feeding.

Paced feedings require closely watching your baby and the feeding cues that can indicate when more or less milk is needed, and when your baby is finished.

What Precautions Should I Take When Paced Bottle-Feeding?

During breast-feeding, a baby is better able to control how much is eaten and the rate.

Bottle-feedings can make this process different, so it’s important to look for signs that your baby is taking in milk at too fast a rate. These include:

  • body that appears to stiffen
  • grimacing during feeding
  • choking, gagging, or labored breathing while drinking
  • lips that appear to turn blue
  • milk that overflows from the mouth
  • nasal flaring
  • opening eyes widely

If you observe these signs, discontinue the feeding. If you resume the feeding, slow the height at which you hold the bottle.

Remember that you don’t have to finish a bottle with every feeding. Just as your baby may fall off the breast, the baby may not want to drink all of the milk available in the bottle.

The Takeaway

Like breast-feeding, paced feeding is a baby-controlled method for feeding your little one.

By mimicking the pattern and flow of breast-feeding, a baby is more likely to be able to switch between breast and bottle, if desired. By watching your baby’s cues, paced feedings can seem more natural to a baby.