Why Paced Bottle Feeding is Important (And How to Do It)

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Have you ever wondered why you should bother to pace feed baby’s bottles? Or what “paced bottle feeding” even means? Here’s why it’s so important, and why you should start pace feeding today–even if baby never breastfeeds!

At great personal risk, I’m going to say it: Some ways of feeding a baby are better than others.

And nope! I’m not talking about breastmilk vs. formula or the benefits of breast vs. bottle.

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You see, infant feeding isn’t an activity that carries moral weight. You are not “right” or “wrong” or “good” or “bad” for feeding one way or another. But if you find yourself needing or wanting to use a bottle at any point, it’s important that you know about paced bottle feeding.

In other words: Breast milk, donor milk, formula milk–it doesn’t matter what’s in the bottle. What matters is how that bottle is fed.

Why Paced Bottle Feeding Is Important (And How to Do It)

Now I know what you might thinking: Really? It’s just a bottle! You put it in their mouth, and they drink! It’s simple. I know how to use a bottle and I’ve never had any problems!

Hear me out.

Paced feeding is a method of bottle feeding that slows down the feed. It’s beneficial for any baby that gets a bottle, regardless of the type of milk in the bottle. Here’s why:

PACED FEEDING PREVENTS OVERFEEDING IN BOTTLE-FED BABIES

For the first 4-6 months of a baby’s life, sucking and swallowing is a reflex–an automatic behavior babies cannot help. When baby feels pressure on the roof of the mouth, the reflex is triggered. You can test this yourself by placing a pacifier or a clean finger pad side up in baby’s mouth.

Baby sucking reflex demonstrated on a clean finger inserted into baby's mouth pad side up
Babies will naturally, automatically suck–it’s a reflex!–anything that stimulates the right part of the roof of their mouth.

Why does this matter? Because when a baby’s mouth fills with milk, they automatically swallow. In other words, babies can and do drink milk even if they aren’t actually hungry.

In fact, it’s not unusual for a breastfed baby to be willing to take a bottle after breastfeeding (this willingness is not a reliable sign of low supply).

And don’t forget: The breast and bottle don’t release milk the same way. Bottles have a continuous, faster flow of milk, whereas the breast has a slower flow of milk that only picks up during letdowns:

Differences between the flow of the bottle and the flow of the breast. Bottles and breasts deliver milk differently, and babies can develop bottle preference.

In one study of over 16,000 babies, bottle-fed babies drank 70% more milk than their breastfed counterparts by the age of 5 months (source).

As a result, it is VERY easy for bottle-fed babies to gulp down milk until they have taken in WAY more calories than they need. This can have health ramifications in the future–even when bottles contain pumped breastmilk–and puts babies at increased risk for obesity later in life (source, source).

Paced feeding is a style of bottle feeding that mimics the flow and pace of milk from the breast. It helps babies self-regulate their own milk intake in a way they cannot with traditional bottle feeding (source).

PACED BOTTLE FEEDING IS ESPECIALLY IMPORTANT IF YOU’RE BREASTFEEDING

When bottles are not pace fed, most babies will eventually start to drink milk faster than you can pump it. They grow accustomed to larger volumes of milk and may act fussy when that demand isn’t met. This can leave you feeling like you aren’t producing enough milk, when really, baby is in the habit of drinking more than she needs.

Unrealistic expectations: A breastfed baby takes in 2-4 ounces per feed on average. Normal pump output when pumping for a missed feed is around 2-4oz. both breasts combined. Paced feeding is important to avoid overfeeding.

Some parents try to combat this with more pumping or milk boosting cookies and teas (Spoiler Alert: There is virtually no evidence suggesting that milk boosting foods actually work!). But the reality is that the body is very efficient: It doesn’t like to be producing more milk than it needs.

Not only is trying to keep up with an overeating baby often not successful, but it also puts you at increased risk for painful clogs and mastitis.

Another significant problem with traditional bottle feeding is that babies can become used to the fast, easy flow of the bottle and begin to reject the breast entirely.

This can be devastating, particularly if you aren’t wanting to exclusively pump and aren’t ready to end your breastfeeding journey.

Fortunately, paced bottle feeding helps avoid these problems! And it’s super easy to do!

READY TO LEARN HOW TO PACE FEED?

I’ve got you covered! Here’s how to do it:

Feed baby when he or she hunger cues, not on a schedule.

  • Feeding baby on a parent-led schedule is not recommended for breastfed babies. For many breastfeeding parents, parent-led schedules result in low milk supply issues over time.

Keep baby upright, not flat on his or her back.

  • Bottle-feeding baby on his or her back is associated with increased risk of ear infections and tooth decay.
  • When baby is flat on his or her back, gravity speeds up the rate of milk flow out of the bottle. We don’t want that.
Babies should be pace fed while sitting more upright, NOT lying back.

Offer an appropriate amount of milk.

  • Breastfed babies take in an average of only 2-4 ounces per feed. But if bottles are not pace fed, they will easily drink much more than this before they have a chance to feel “fullness.” We don’t want that.

Use the slowest flow nipple baby will tolerate.

  • Use a preemie nipple when possible, no matter baby’s age.
  • However, if baby collapses the nipple or refuses to eat because it is too slow, or if baby takes longer than 20 minutes to finish about 3 oz. of milk, then you can move up to the next slowest nipple.
  • You do not need to keep increasing nipple flow rates as baby ages. Many babies take a preemie nipple until they turn one!
Breastfed babies typically take in between 2-4 oz. during a feed. Nipple should be the slowest flow available that baby will tolerate.

Allow baby to draw the nipple into his or her mouth, rather than pushing it in.

  • Tickle baby’s lips with the bottle nipple, and when baby opens wide, allow baby to draw the nipple into his or her mouth.
  • If baby indicates he or she is done, don’t insist that baby finish the bottle (keep bottle size appropriate to minimize waste).

Keep the bottle horizontal, rather than slanted upside down.

  • This slows down milk flow.
Holding the bottle horizontally allows you to easily pause feeds by tipping the bottom of the bottle down.

Pause frequently, making sure baby isn’t gulping.

  • When baby starts a gulping pattern, tilt the bottle so milk is removed from the bottle nipple. Baby will pause.
  • After baby pauses, tilt the bottle back to horizontal, allowing milk to fill the bottle nipple and baby to resume sucking

Let baby take 10-20 minutes to finish a 3-4 oz bottle.

  • This mimics a pretty typical length of time for a baby over 1 month (and not going through a growth spurt or developmental leap!) to breastfeed.

Want to see this technique in action? HERE’s a video!

(If you baby doesn’t like the narrower Dr. Brown’s nipples shown in this video, don’t worry! There are plenty of wider-base nipples–such as these and these–that are recommended and that don’t cause baby to suck on the tip like a straw.)

LOOKING FOR BOTTLE SUGGESTIONS? THESE NIPPLE TYPES ARE RECOMMENDED:

(Click the image to find these on Amazon)

To recap, paced bottle feeding is super important. It helps prevent accidental overfeeding, bottle preference, and breast rejection in breastfed babies. And best of all, it takes the pressure off you to pump more milk than baby actually needs!

Boost Your Milk Supply & Keep It Up

Our FREE guide will give you 5 simple, proven tips to boost your milk supply and increase your pump output. Get results in as little as just a couple days!

If you enjoyed this post, be sure to check out our digital library of helpful resources that quickly teach how to avoid common breastfeeding problems and give you the peace of mind and confidence you need to meet your breastfeeding goals.

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