What Is Paced Bottle-Feeding, and Is It Right For Your Baby?
In a perfect world, feeding your newborn would be a piece of cake. But sometimes, you're left questioning the process. Are they fussy because they're still hungry or because they overate? Are they eating enough or too little? Are they drinking too fast? Enter paced bottle-feeding.
Paced bottle-feeding is a method of bottle-feeding that closely mimics breastfeeding and allows the infant more control over the feeding pace, says Mona Amin, DO, IBCLC, pediatrician, Philips Avent partner, and owner of Peds Doc Talk. "The biggest pro of paced bottle-feeding is allowing the infant to control the pace of the feeding and the volume they choose to consume," she explains. "This can help prevent overfeeding, which can result in potential discomfort or increased spit-up."
Additionally, paced bottle-feeding gives the baby eating breaks, which can help an infant process fullness cues, says Jenelle Ferry, MD, a neonatologist and director of feeding, nutrition, and infant development at Pediatrix Medical Group in Tampa, FL. As a result, this helps decrease the amount of air a baby swallows, in turn reducing gassiness, colic, and reflux, she adds.
OK, but how do you know if paced bottle-feeding is right for your baby? And how do you pace bottle-feed the right way? Keep scrolling for everything you need to know about the feeding technique, according to pediatricians.
What Is Paced Bottle-Feeding?
Paced bottle-feeding is essentially a method for slowing down the flow of milk into the bottle nipple, allowing for the baby to eat slower and take breaks while feeding, Dr. Ferry says. "It's really a therapeutic feeding technique that has been used for a long time in helping premature babies learn to eat as they are developing the coordination to suck, swallow, and breathe, but it also helps to allow for breathing breaks and reduces the speed of milk flow," she explains. "This technique is now more commonly being used in term babies by trying to more closely mimic breastfeeding and reduce the amount of air swallowed during feeding, thereby reducing gassiness, hiccups, reflux, and overfeeding."
The technique recently gained more popularity as society focuses on supporting a mother's feeding journey, regardless of the feeding method they choose, Dr. Amin adds. "Many parents, for various reasons, choose to give exclusively expressed breast milk or a combination of breastfeeding and bottle-feeding, and to facilitate the success of combo feeding, there has been a greater focus on researching ways to ensure bottle-feeding closely mimics breastfeeding."
Benefits of Paced Bottle-Feeding
The primary benefit of paced bottle-feeding is giving the baby more control over the feed and flow of their milk, Dr. Ferry says. Allowing your little one breaks as they eat also helps avoid overfeeding, minimizes the risk of gulping or choking, and reduces the amount of swallowed air, which can decrease gassiness, colic, or reflux, she adds.
Research also shows that paced bottle-feeding results in lower rates of pressured feeding practices such as encouraging infants to finish their bottles, Dr. Amin says. "Pressured feeding practices, even as infants, have been shown to decrease children's ability to understand satiety cues as they age, which is an important factor to decrease one's risk for obesity," she explains.
On top of that, paced bottle-feeding helps avoid nipple confusion since the method closely mimics the experience of breastfeeding, adds Christina Johns, MD, a pediatric emergency physician and senior medical advisor at PM Pediatric Care.
Risks of Paced Bottle-Feeding
Luckily, there aren't many downsides to paced bottle-feeding, other than the fact it requires more effort and attention from the caregiver, Dr. Johns says. For example, a baby sucking down a bottle with fast-flowing milk may finish eating in five minutes, while those using a paced feeding technique may take 10 minutes, Dr. Amin explains.
Additionally, if your baby is extra hungry and eager to eat, they likely want to feed at a faster pace, causing them to become frustrated by the slower flow, Dr. Amin says. "If that's the case, you can decrease the frequency that you pause the feed, slightly increase the angle of the bottle to increase the flow, or go up on nipple size while still allowing them to regulate," she explains.
Babies who have a poor or weaker suck may also not have success with paced bottle-feeding if they struggle to create a tight seal while sucking on the nipple, Dr. Johns says. If your infant has trouble latching or sucking, feedings take an abnormally long time, or you're concerned about their weight or eating habits, talk with your pediatrician, Dr. Amin adds.
How to Pace Bottle-Feed
Not sure how to get started with paced bottle-feeding? Here's a step-by-step guide, according to our experts.
- Position your baby upright or semi-upright (not lying flat) with plenty of head and neck support. Ensure there is milk in the tip of the nipple and hold the bottle horizontal to the ground (not tilted up). This will control the flow and make it so your baby has to actively suck to get the milk.
- Gently touch the bottle to your baby's lips; they should begin to open their mouth and latch around the nipple. If needed, stroke the baby's cheek, which will encourage them to open their mouth.
- As you hold the bottle parallel to the ground, let your baby drink for 30 seconds before pulling the bottle down with the nipple still in their mouth to gently stop the flow of milk.
- Burp your baby as necessary and watch for signs that they need a break, including stretching their hands out, wrinkling their forehead, pulling away from the bottle, or dribbling milk.
- Allow your baby to re-latch if they're still hungry, and repeat feeding for 30 seconds before taking another break. If your baby is no longer latching or sucking, stop feeding. Other signs that your baby is done eating include turning away from the bottle, pushing the nipple out of their mouth, and falling asleep.
At first, you will need to periodically ensure the baby takes eating breaks, but over time, the baby will likely start breaking on their own, Dr. Ferry adds.
How to Know If Paced Bottle-Feeding Is Right For Your Baby
Paced bottle-feeding can be beneficial for all babies, Dr. Johns says. However, the feeding technique may be especially helpful in babies who tend to overfeed and/or have trouble transitioning from breast to bottle, she explains. You may also want to consider this practice if your baby is going through a breastfeeding strike or refusing to breastfeed after being introduced to the bottle, Dr. Amin adds.
If your baby is frequently gassy or fussy after feedings or regularly gets hiccups, opt for paced bottle-feeding, Dr. Ferry says. And if your baby has frequent spits-up or is diagnosed with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), it's also worth giving paced bottle-feeding a try, Dr. Amin adds.
Additionally, if your baby was premature, some form of paced feeding has likely been a part of their hospital course, and you should follow recommendations by their speech pathologist or physician, Dr. Ferry notes.
All that said, if you and your baby are already in a great feeding rhythm and you have no concerns, it's not necessary to change your whole practice, Dr. Amin says. "Every baby is different, and what works well for one baby may not work for another."