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Little ones grow so quickly. It’s often said that the days are long but the years are short. So take your time and enjoy the moments with your new baby, including the time you spend bottle-feeding them.

Whether your little one is typically breastfed, only bottle-fed, or some combination of the two, paced feedings are worth considering. This method might take a bit longer, but paced feeds can help breastfed babies better adjust to the bottle. Plus, they may have benefits for exclusively bottle-fed babies.

Fortunately, we have the information you need to set yourself up for bottle-feeding success! Allow us to introduce you to paced feeding.

When you think of bottle-feeding, you may envision a baby lying in a caregiver’s arm with a bottle angled down into their mouth. While this is how bottle-feeding is traditionally portrayed, it’s not the ideal method.

Feeding in this position can cause a baby to drink milk at a faster rate than they otherwise would. They aren’t working to draw the milk out, but instead trying to keep up with gravity as the milk pours from the nipple. When this happens, side effects can occur:

  • A baby may prefer the bottle to the breast, especially if your baby prefers their milk to come quickly without much effort! A preference for the bottle nipple is sometimes referred to as nipple confusion, but it may be more accurately described as nipple preference.
  • A baby may be overfed or experience stomach issues.
  • A baby may be more prone to ear infections or respiratory issues.

The solution to this? Paced bottle-feeding!

Paced bottle-feeding is designed to more closely mimic breastfeeding. It’s also known as pace feeding, responsive feeding, or baby-led feeding. How does this work, you ask?

During paced bottle-feeding, a baby is held upright, and the bottle is held in a horizontal position instead of angled down. This position means that the baby has to suck, as they would while breastfeeding, to get to the milk.

Paced feeding also incorporates plenty of breaks (instead of a quick and steady flow of liquid), which more closely resembles a breastfeeding session. A paced feeding session might take 20 minutes, allowing the baby to determine when their hunger is satisfied.

Want to give paced bottle-feeding a try? Follow these steps:

Step 1: Choose a bottle and a slow flow nipple

A slower milk flow will encourage your baby to suck more and more closely mimic the flow of milk from the breast. You can do paced bottle-feeding with formula, breast milk, or a combination of the two, so there’s no need to worry about which you put inside the bottle!

Step 2: Find a comfy location

Get comfortable and position your baby upright, ensuring their head and neck are well supported. Remember, paced feeds take a bit longer, so you’ll want to make sure you and baby are set up to be comfortable for a good 20 to 30 minutes!

Step 3: Gently touch the bottle’s nipple to your baby’s mouth

If that’s still not enough to inspire your baby to open their mouth wide, you can also stroke your baby’s cheek. Try to position the nipple toward the top of your baby’s tongue to help minimize the amount of air they take in. Allow them to draw the nipple into their mouth to begin the feed.

Step 4: Hold the bottle horizontally and keep the nipple only about halfway full of milk

Allow your baby to take 5 to 10 sucks, and then gently pull the nipple back slightly so that it’s touching their bottom lip. Allow your baby to pull the nipple back into their mouth when they’re ready to suck again.

Step 5: Take breaks frequently

Burp your baby or gently rub their back between sucking sessions. You can also switch the side that your baby is held on during the feeding session to more closely mimic breastfeeding.

Remember to keep a close eye on your baby! Paced bottle-feeding relies upon paying attention to your baby’s hunger cues, so you can adjust the flow of milk and also know when they’re full enough to stop.

Here’s a video if you’d like to see paced feeding in action.

In all honesty, paced bottle-feeding can be more work for the caregiver than just propping a bottle up for a baby. However, it can offer many benefits for babies, including:

  • reduces stomach issues associated with overfeeding or eating too quickly
  • encourages easier switching between the breast and bottle by keeping the two as similar as possible
  • inspires more focus on hunger cues and responsiveness from caregivers
  • establishes good eating habits from a very young age, which can last a lifetime!

Want to set yourself up for success with paced bottle-feeding?

Learn to recognize hunger cues

Crying is one of the later hunger cues, so train yourself to look for earlier cues for a more peaceful bottle time. Some other hunger cues include:

Don’t be scared to take a pause

It’s OK to take frequent breaks to burp your baby, check on their comfort, and relax into the feed. Remember, paced bottle-feeding is designed to be a slower, more responsive feeding experience. Consider playing music to help you and your little one relax during this special time together.

Find the right bottle and nipple

Finding a good bottle can make a big difference. Some suggest that nipples that more closely resemble the breast are preferable, but no one choice works for all babies.

Aside from the slow flow nipple, experiment with different shapes and sizes to find the right bottle and nipple combination for your baby.

Make sure that all caregivers are on board

Talk to anyone who’ll be feeding your baby to make sure that they understand the paced bottle-feeding approach.

Feeding your baby might seem like it should be the most natural thing in the world. However, it can also be stressful, a lot of work, and a learning experience for you and baby.

Good bottle-feeding technique can make a big difference — not only in regards to how well your baby takes the bottle but also the success of your feeding journey and your baby’s overall health.

While paced feeding might take a little more time and effort, the benefits should hopefully be more than worth it!