Paced bottle feeding - what is it and how to start it

Paced bottle feeding might be the method for you and your baby

Paced bottle feeding illustrated by mum feeding baby with bottle
(Image credit: Getty / Future)

Paced bottle feeding could be a method to choose when deciding to how best feed your new baby.

There are so many decisions to make, whether to go breast or bottle or a combination. The type of baby bottle to use. Or if you go for traditional bottle feeding or paced feeding. The options are plenty. If you aren’t familiar, paced feeding is a mode of bottle feeding that emulates breastfeeding and is said to reduce the risk of babies overfeeding.

MAM resident consultant midwife and registered nurse, Zoe Watson explains: “Paced bottle feeding gives your baby more control over their feeding experience. Babies usually take small amounts of milk and then rest for a short time before taking more... a slow and steady feed.”

Here we delve a little dipper and look at how to get started, how it's different and what benefits come with paced bottle feeding...

Paced bottle feeding method - what's it all about?

It's allowing baby more control over how much milk they consume and the speed at which they drink, it's also known as responsive feeding. Rosin Browne who is a midwife at the Portland Hospital, part of HCA healthcare, tells us, “The paced-bottle feeding method is a technique used to feed infants from a bottle in a way that mimics the natural rhythm and pace of breastfeeding. It is often recommended for parents who are combination-feeding or exclusively bottle-feeding their babies. The purpose of paced bottle feeding is to promote a healthier feeding experience, reduce overfeeding, and allow the baby to control the flow of milk.”

There is still research being carried out but experts at the University of Pennsylvania believe that by instilling the ability to recognize feeling full in infants, it can reduce the risk of obesity later in life.

How is it different to traditional bottle feeding?

  • It's 'responsive feeding' - you need to recognize your baby's hunger cues
  • Removes control from parents
  • Baby is held in a more upright position when feeding
  • Uses a slower flow teat to make baby work for the milk

It removes some of the control from parents, allowing the baby autonomy to 'choose' how much milk they take and when - don't worry they're evolved for this. Paced feeding also shares some similarities with breastfeeding practices. Website's registered midwife, Lesley Bland tells us, “Paced bottle feeding responds to a baby’s cues to feed. It isn’t prescriptive regarding volumes taken, number of, and spacing of feeds. Using a slower flow teat encourages baby to work harder for the milk, in a similar way to when a baby is breastfeeding.”

Paced feeding also differs in a few other ways from bottle feeding. For example, you hold baby in a more upright position rather than the traditional cradle. Also, how you hold the bottle to offer baby a feed and the use of pauses during the feed are all elements of paced bottle feeding. Lesley tells us, “Traditional bottle feeding is a method of feeding controlled predominantly by the parents making up feeds based on baby’s age alone to advise how much baby needs per feed and how many feeds per day. This method has long been used by parents who choose to bottle-feed their baby. The traditional method advises each feed should be finished completely; feeds should be spaced out evenly throughout the day 3-4 hourly.” 

Each feed should take anywhere between 10 and 20 minutes. This might seem long, but it allows time for the stomach and brain to communicate. And, along with the physical breaks in pace feeding, it prevents overfeeding. Using the slowest flow nipple that your baby will tolerate means they have time to realize when they're full.

Parents who adopt paced bottle feeding might find family members are less familiar with it. Mom-of-one Anna adopted paced feeding on the advice of midwives. She says, “We combi-fed our son after realizing I couldn’t exclusively breastfeed when he was about 3 weeks old. We were taught paced feeding by nurses in the hospital, who said it was the best way to bottle feed. It was tricky to get the hang of and grandparents didn’t approve of the new technique.”

What are the benefits of paced-bottle feeding?

  • Introduces body autonomy early on as infants recognize when full/hungry
  • Reduces risk of digestive discomfort (such as wind)
  • Makes the switch from breast to bottle easier
  • Perfect for parents looking to combination feed

Paced bottle feeding illustrated by mum feeding baby

(Image credit: Getty Images)

As well as infants learning to recognize when they are full, paced feeding is said to have other advantages: Myexpertmidwife’s Lesley Bland explains, “With paced feeding baby regulates the speed with which they feed. As with children and adults, babies all differ in how they prefer to feed; some prefer a faster flow, and some prefer a more laid-back slower pace. Paced feeding reduces the risk of digestive discomfort as the pace of flow is slower and baby is less likely to overfeed.”

MAM spokesperson and registered nurse Zoe Watson reminds us that paced feeding can work well if you have decided to combi feed. “Paced feeding resembles breastfeeding more than traditional bottle feeding. Therefore, paced bottle-feeding is recommended for those who want to combine breastfeeding and bottle-feeding.”

But mom-of-one Tessa isn’t sure the benefits of paced feeding are as clear-cut. “We were keen to try combination feeding with our son, so we tried to implement paced feeding, particularly having him semi-upright, holding the bottle more horizontally and pausing occasionally during a bottle. We successfully combined breast and bottle feeding until he was 9 months old. We never had issues with reflux or ear infections which are supposed benefits of paced feeding but who is to say that's because of paced feeding or just luck?”

How to introduce paced-bottle feeding

Firstly, make sure you can confidently identify your baby’s feeding cues, which may include;

  • Rooting when they're near the breast
  • Bobbing their head around
  • Sticking their tongue out briefly
  • Licking their lips
  • Sucking on their fingers

Experts suggest introducing paced feeding from early on. Midwife Roisin from The Portland Hospital, part of HCA Healthcare UK explains, “The paced feeding method can be introduced at any age, but it is most commonly implemented during the first few months of life.”

Roisin from The Portland Hospital outlines how to begin the process of paced feeding:

  • Opt for bottle nipples that have a slow-flow design. These allow for a controlled milk flow, similar to breastfeeding.
  • Hold baby in your arms, supporting their head and neck. Ensure they are in a semi-upright position, with their head slightly elevated. Allow for freedom of head movement whilst supporting the neck, babies will tilt their heads back to create a more comfortable feeding position.
  • Hold the bottle parallel to the ground, allowing the baby to actively latch onto the bottle.
  • Gently touch the baby’s lips with the bottle tip to stimulate their sucking reflex. Let the baby latch onto the bottle willingly rather than forcing it into their mouth.
  • During the feeding, pause every few minutes by tilting the bottle downward, which slows or stops the milk flow. Make eye contact with baby to create a safe, warm environment, this will allow you also to watch for the baby’s cues of fullness or hunger.

Watch - Paced bottle feed positioning

Below is a youtube video from Emerald Doulas on hot to start paced bottle feeding, how to position; how it should look and feel when doing it correctly.

Parents should also be aware of signs baby is full, too. Lesley adds, “Look for those signs that baby uses to tell you they are full, for example, falling asleep, splaying their fingers and toes, or pushing the bottle away.”

Caring for your baby brings endless decisions. Be confident that your role as their parent means you will make the right choice for your baby. And as Roisin reminds us, no two infants are the same and it may take time to establish feeding methods. “Remember, every baby is unique, and it may take time for both you and your baby to become comfortable with paced bottle feeding. Be patient, observe your baby’s cues, and adjust the feeding method as needed to ensure a positive feeding experience.”

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Jo Dunbar

Jo is a freelance journalist, writing for newspapers, magazines and websites such as Good Housekeeping, Grazia, Mother & Baby, The Daily Telegraph, Daily Express, Daily Mirror, Bella, Yours and Woman&Home. Jo started out in entertainment journalism and has scurried up plenty of red carpets and interviewed stars such as Joan Collins, Dawn French, Jane Fonda and Julie Walters. These days, she mainly covers health, parenting, lifestyle and consumer news but is always keen to vent in an opinion piece or dust off her schmoozing skills and interview a celeb. When not writing (and reading) Jo loves to get outside, wear out her two sons on a beach, drink good coffee and expand her baking repertoire.