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Paced feeding

Many parents have not heard of paced bottle feeding and although it may seem to be latest trend in feeding babies, a lot its principles have been around for a long time. 

Put simply, paced bottle feeding is a way of trying to mimic the way breastfed babies feed with more control given over the baby, rather than the parent controlling feeding times. The flow of milk from the teat, having frequent pauses and the baby ‘pacing’ their feed are the main differences between traditional bottle feeding methods and paced feeding.

Paced feeding can be done with formula or expressed breast milk.  

What are the benefits of paced feeding?

Followers of paced feeding say that it relies on the parent (or caregiver) being more in tune with the baby’s cues.  It also supports the baby to be more relaxed when they feed.  When the baby controls the flow of milk from the teat into their mouth, there is less risk of them becoming overwhelmed.   Paced feeding is also based on responsive feeding principles, where the baby is fed according to their individual hunger cues, rather than when they are ‘due’ as dictated by a clock.

What are the risks of paced feeding?

There aren’t any major risks of doing paced feeding however, some health care professionals believe that it doesn’t give enough opportunity for the baby to bring up their wind. Many babies don’t want to take breaks or pauses when they feed and tend to be more ‘windy’.  For this group of babies, having the opportunity to burp more frequently during their feeds can be beneficial.  

How can I pace feed my baby?

Remember, paced feeding can take a little while to get used to. It’s important to be sensitive to how your baby is adjusting to any feeding changes. 

  • Wait until your baby is showing hunger cues that they want to feed. Putting their fingers in their mouth, fussiness, crying and searching for a teat are all typical hunger signs. 

  • Aim for a feeding time of around 20-30 minutes. 

  • Prepare the formula according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. Warm the milk and test the temperature on your wrist.

  • Hold your baby upright so they are resting against your body. Avoid lying them flat, this upright position is one of a few differences between conventional and paced feeding.  

  • Support your baby’s head and body so they look comfortable. Make sure you’re comfortable as well.

  • Offer the bottle in a horizontal (flat) position so that the teat is only partially full of milk.  This helps to slow down the flow of milk into the baby’s mouth.  

  • Stroke the teat from your baby’s top to bottom lip. As they open their mouth, let them draw the teat in, rather than you placing the teat into their mouth.  Let your baby control this drawing in action. 

  • Make sure your baby has a wide-open gape to their mouth and their lips are flanged out. 

  • Watch your baby’s sucking, swallowing and pausing actions as they feed.  If they don’t take a little break every 3-5 sucks, take the teat out of their mouth and let them take a breath. It’s important that they are coping with the flow of milk. Coughing, choking and becoming stressed when feeding are all signs that a slower teat is needed. Tightening the screw cap on the bottle also helps to slow the flow of milk. 

  • As they pause, lower the base of the bottle so the milk does not fill the teat.  Keep the teat in your baby’s mouth.

  • As they begin to suck again, lift the bottle back into the horizontal position so the teat is again partially filled with milk. 

  • Look for your baby’s signs that they are satisfied and don’t want any more milk. Turning away, fussing, pushing the teat out of their mouth and stopping sucking are all typical signs of satiety (fullness). 

The key to paced feeding is that the baby controls their feeding, not the parent.

Written for Milton by Jane Barry, Midwife and Child Health Nurse, May 2022.