Paced Bottle Feeding: Our How-To Guide For Parents

Paced bottle feeding mimics breastfeeding and gives baby more control over when they start and stop feeding. Today, we’ll cover everything parents need to know to get started with paced bottle feeding, including benefits, steps, and tips.

Paced bottle feeding is a bottle feeding technique that mimics breastfeeding and gives baby more control over when they start and stop feeding. Even though it’s meant to be like breastfeeding, it can be used --- and has benefits for baby --- whether baby’s drinking breastmilk or formula from the bottle. Today, we’ll cover everything parents need to know to get started with paced bottle feeding, including benefits, steps, and tips.

Why paced bottle feeding?

Traditional bottle feeding often allows baby to access milk or formula too quickly and easily, especially when compared to breastfeeding. The milk or formula will often flow from the bottle too quickly for baby to control the pace of their feeding --- how quickly they want to feed, as well as when to start and stop.

With all babies, this may make it difficult for baby to tell when they’re hungry and when they’re full. There’s the risk of overfeeding on the bottle (taking in too much milk too quickly), which may cause digestive problems (like gas and reflux). Baby may also gulp in too much air when feeding on a faster-flowing bottle, which can lead to gas and colicky crying.

And if breastfed babies don’t have to work as hard to access the milk from the bottle, there’s the risk of “nipple confusion,” where baby starts to prefer the bottle over the breast.

But paced bottle feeding allows for a slower, responsive feed that’s more similar to breastfeeding.

With paced bottle feeding, a baby will have more control over when to start and stop their feed, and they’ll need to put in more effort to access their milk or formula.

There’s less risk of overfeeding and the digestive discomfort that can come with it, and less risk of gulping in air in the process that can also lead to discomfort.

Plus, baby will learn to recognize hunger vs. fullness --- which will help them build healthy eating habits that will follow them throughout their life.

And for breastfed babies, paced bottle feeding mimics breastfeeding so there’s less risk that they’ll start to prefer the bottle.

As an added bonus for breastfeeding moms, any caregiver can do paced bottle feeding. This allows for anyone to provide a feeding experience that’s consistent with breastfeeding, while giving mom a much-needed break. It also preserves precious breastmilk!

How to start paced bottle feeding?

Now that you know some of the benefits of paced bottle feeding, here’s how to start.

This video from Victoria Facelli, IBCLC and Emerald Doulas illustrates the process of paced bottle feeding in detail:

Choose the right bottle

  • Choosing a bottle that mimics the breastfeeding experience will assist in pacing the feed.
    • The bottle you choose should have a slow-flow nipple. It should also have a wider nipple base to encourage a deeper latch.
  • If you’re breastfeeding, you might go one step further and choose a breastfeeding bottle, with a nipple that feels similar to the breast.
    • (This isn’t required for a successful paced feed. It just makes the experience even more similar to breastfeeding).

Properly position baby

  • Position baby in an upright position, and provide plenty of support to their head and neck.
    • (You can also choose a semi-upright position where baby is only slightly tilted back.)
    • Have them face you, so you can make eye contact with them. Keep eye contact as much as possible, so the feed can be a bonding experience.
    • You can either hold them in your lap or cradle their head and neck with your hand and arm. Just make sure they’re upright!
    • Use pillows to keep your arms comfortable.

Properly position the bottle

  • First, wait for baby to exhibit hunger cues, such as opening the mouth and turning their head to search for the breast or bottle.
  • Once baby shows these cues, gently stroke baby’s mouth with the bottle nipple so they open their mouth wide.
  • Let baby “latch” onto the bottle nipple as they would latch onto a breast.
  • Ideally, the nipple should end up at the top of the tongue, for a deep latch. This way, baby won’t take in too much air.
  • Hold the bottle flat. It should be parallel to (horizontal to) the floor.
    • This will help make sure that the flow is slower, and give baby more control of when the flow starts and stops.
    • It will also require baby to work harder to remove milk and use a stronger suck.
  • Have baby start to suck on the nipple without any milk (to mimic the gradual let-down of breastmilk). Then, tip the bottle just slightly so the nipple becomes half-full of milk or formula.

Encourage baby to pace the feeding

You’ll want baby to eventually pace the feed on their own, but you’ll need to introduce the pacing and help them pause, especially when you first introduce the paced feeding.

  • Let baby suck for about 20-30 seconds at a time (or about 3-5 consecutive swallows).
  • Then, tip the bottle back to pause the feeding for a bit.
  • Giving baby this break will help baby regulate their appetite (help them tell if they’re still hungry or if they’re full)
  • Use this time to look for signs of fullness: no longer wants to suck, turns their head away from the bottle, pushes the nipple away, is easily distracted, or appears sleepy with relaxed hands, arms, legs, and jaw.
  • Stop the feed when baby shows fullness cues.

As you continue with paced bottle feeding, baby will start to naturally take breaks and then return to sucking when they’re ready. They’ll also get more experience in telling whether they’re hungry or full, which will help them healthily regulate their appetite in the years to come.

Switch sides

As another way to mimic breastfeeding, consider switching the side where you hold the bottle about halfway through the feed (or alternate sides from feed to feed). For breastfed babies, this also helps ensure that baby doesn’t prefer breast over bottle or bottle over breast.

Other pointers for paced bottle feedings

  • Ideally, only start the feed when baby shows signs that they are hungry. This is known as feeding “on demand,” and it helps baby get into the rhythm of following hunger and fullness cues even more closely (a healthy habit for life).
  • Paced bottle feedings should feel slower than “standard” bottle feeds.
  • The paced feeds should be times for you (the parent or caregiver) to foster a connection with baby, with plenty of eye contact.
  • Remember to burp baby throughout the feeding, as you would during any feed. This will help get rid of any gas trapped in their stomach.
  • Be alert for slower sucking, as this may be a sign that baby is starting to get full. Give a break at that point, and then see if baby wants to continue or stop.
  • End the feeding when baby is full! Even if baby is bottle-fed, paced feeding is about giving baby control, not about the number of ounces they consume in one feed. Never force baby to continue drinking during a paced feed.

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These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.  If your infant has severe eczema, check with your infant’s healthcare provider before feeding foods containing ground peanuts.