6 Tips for Paced Bottle Feeding

| Pregnancy |

Many of the families we work with use bottles with their infants.  It can be used as the primary way to feed the baby, as a supplemental tool, or in transition to both parents returning to work.  Though it seems pretty intuitive — insert nipple to baby’s mouth — we do have some tips for making the best of your bottle feedings.

It is our instinct to encourage big meals in our children — feeding is one of the primary ways we care for our young children.  However, too much food too fast is not ideal for newborns and infants, whose small stomachs require many small meals in a day.  Overfeeding or feeding too quickly establishes habits that can affect how your child eats into adulthood.

Paced bottle feeding is a technique that mirrors breastfeeding to ensure your baby is getting the amount of food she needs at a speed that works for her small body.  Here’s how it works:

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Use the smallest size flow bottle nipple available. Typically these nipples will be labelled preemie, though they can be used at any age. Using a slower-flow nipple will require the baby to use his sucking reflex to get milk*.

Sit the baby upright, not lying down, in your arms. Again, this reduces the pressure of milk flow into the baby’s mouth and requires some action on his part. This sucking more closely mirrors breastfeeding, and the upright position reduces ear infection rates.

Hold the bottle horizontally, not tipped at a steep diagonal. The nipple should have milk at the tip, but you do not need to tip the bottle to fill the nipple chamber with milk. In fact, sucking on an empty nipple will not automatically fill your baby with gas — sucking on air does not mean swallowing air.

Time the feeding to last 10-15 minutes, the approximate time of a breastfeeding session. Though it can be convenient for a feeding to go quickly, eating too fast means that infants may take in more than they need to be satisfied. We want the newborns to learn to eat to satiety, not to overstuffed.

Switch sides halfway through the bottle. Babies learn habits quickly, and it is important to give them a variety of poses for eating — not just to keep flexibility in feeding, but to encourage symmetrical development of eye focus and muscle coordination.

Follow signs from your baby. If he is turning his head away or seems to want to take a break, follow his lead. When at the breast, babies take frequent pauses between swallows. This pattern of sucking, swallowing and pauses can be mirrored with a bottle. Plus, you don’t have to finish every drop of every bottle.

*Note: the word milk is used here but refers to breastmilk and formula equally.

We hear from parents concerned about periodic bottle use that their infant may develop “nipple confusion.”  Paced bottle feeding can help prevent nipple confusion, which may more accurately be called “flow preference.”  If the bottle feeding mirrors the experience, pace, and quantity of breastfeeding, it will likely be easier for your baby to switch back and forth. 

Written by Nikki Wray

Nikki is a Certified Postpartum Doula (DONA), Certified Newborn Care Specialist, and Certified Lactation Counselor, with 1000’s of hours of experience working with new parents. She is also the co-founder of Metropolitan Doulas, where she provides best quality postpartum care and support in the Washington DC, Northern Virginia, and Maryland area.