Paced Bottle Feeding: Here’s What You Need to Know!

Have you ever heard the term paced bottle feeding before? Or maybe you know it as responsive bottle feeding? Well, whether you have and you’re looking for more info, or you haven’t and you want to learn about a great way to bottle feed your new baby, I’m glad you’re here!

Paced bottle feeding is a way of feeding your baby that follows their cues. It puts them in control of how much milk they need, and it allows for breaks in a feeding session.

Paced bottle feeding is beneficial because it can prevent overfeeding, and reduce gassiness and spit-up. Basically, it mimics the way babies innately feed at the breast and helps your baby learn to listen to their body’s fullness cues.

This method of bottle feeding can really help get a breastfed baby to take a bottle. And if you know, you know – it can be a SERIOUS struggle! It’s also great for formula-fed babies because of all the other benefits!

Really EVERY new parent can benefit from learning how to do paced bottle feeding. It’s a wonderful way to bottle feed your baby.

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What is paced bottle feeding?

Okay, so in the intro I explained that paced bottle feeding is a way of giving your baby a bottle that puts them in control of how much milk they get. When we do paced feeding, we offer a bottle more slowly, follow baby’s cues on when they’re finished or need a break, and allow for frequent breaks during feeding.

In short, paced feeding more closely mimics the way baby’s innately feed at the breast. For that reason, it can help breastfed babies take a bottle, and can also help formula-fed babies avoid discomforts like gassiness and spit-up from getting too much, too fast!

I think we often hear and read about paced feeding for breastfed babies only, when in reality every baby can benefit from this method! Especially during the first few months of baby’s life when their stomach is still so tiny.

Related: Bottle Feeding Essentials for Every Mom

How to do the paced bottle feeding method

Select the right bottle nipple and size

So, because paced bottle feeding is meant to mimic the way milk comes from the breast, it’s recommended to use a slow-flow nipple – usually, this is called a Level 1 Nipple.

A slow flow nipple is ideal for all babies (formula, or breastfed) who are 0-3 months old, and what’s interesting is that some little ones are happy to keep with a level 1 nipple for many, many months! You don’t necessarily have to ever switch to a faster nipple. A lot of resources say this is especially true for babies that switch back and forth between bottle and breast.

You also want to use a bottle that is in the 4-5oz range. Most 0-3-month-old babies take somewhere between 2-5oz per feeding, so a successful paced feeding session is best with this smaller bottle size. You’ll also reduce waste!

I really like the Dr. Brown’s bottles and level 1 nipples because of their size and the air vent. I found them to be perfect for the paced feeding method.

Follow baby’s cues

So the key to paced feeding, also called responsive bottle feeding, is that you’re really letting baby be in control.

Here’s a step by step of what that looks like:

  • Start by tickling baby’s lips with the nipple of the bottle. Allow them to open their mouth and kind of latch on. You want to make sure they’ve got a deep latch on the bottle with their lips splayed out – it’s a lot like how you’d latch them on to the breast if you’re familiar with that
  • Keep the bottle at a horizontal level instead of tipping it up and let them start to suck without getting any milk. Again, this mimics how breastfeeding works, because milk doesn’t let down immediately
  • Then you can tilt the bottle up slightly and let baby suck for 3-5 continuous swallows, or about 20-30 seconds
  • After 20-30 seconds, tilt the bottle back down so the milk flow stops. This is the pacing part of paced feeding! It allows baby to take a breath and show you, the parent, if they want or need more
  • If they continue sucking or re-initiate sucking, tilt the bottle back up for another 3-5 swallows
  • Continue to feed in this manner until baby shows signs of being full. That usually means they aren’t swallowing, they stop sucking or initiating during the break, or they’re pushing the bottle of their mouth

Related: Choosing the right formula for your baby

Respect when they say they’re done

The key to the end of this is to respect when they’re done! Resist the urge to get them to take a few more sips or finish off the bottle. I know this can be hard – but it really is the heart of the whole method! You’ll hear more about why this is so important in the benefits below.

After a few days of using the paced feeding method, many babies learn to pace feed themselves! You’ll notice them taking their own sucking breaks, and then returning to the bottle. Positioning baby in a more upright position and holding the bottle in a horizontal position can really help baby gain this control.

When baby does indicate that they’re finished, this is the perfect time to burp them!

burping tips infographic

A look at the benefits of paced bottle feeding

I know that before I’m ready to implement something, I want to know the WHY. Especially because so many people don’t really know about this and just do traditional bottle feeding!

So, let’s look at the benefits a little more in depth:

  • Reduce gassiness: When we let babies take frequent breaks while eating and use a slow flow nipple, baby is less likely to take in too much air, which can lead to gas bubbles
  • Prevents unintentional over-feeding: Without paced feeding, we can accidentally encourage overeating. When baby’s are feeding from the bottle, if we don’t give them a chance to take a break, their internal fullness cues don’t have a chance to register
  • Can help with spit-up: Building on the first two benefits, less air coming in during a feeding can also help reduce spit-up. And by following baby’s satiety cues, spit-up due to overfeeding will be less common
  • Helps breastfed baby take to a bottle: A lot of baby’s who primarily feed at the breast reject bottles completely. This can be really unnerving as a new mom, especially with a return to work on the horizon! Number one: please trust and know that your baby won’t let themselves starve, and will eventually take a bottle. Number two: by practicing paced feeding it can make the process a bit smoother and easier on your baby
  • Teaches your baby about their hunger cues: In addition to helping parents respect baby’s hunger cues, by using this method, you can build baby’s awareness and respect for their own internal hunger cues
  • Keeps baby’s interest in breastfeeding: Some babies begin to prefer bottle feeding because it is faster and more efficient. If you are concerned about this, maintaining a slow flow nipple, and diligently using the paced bottle feeding method will keep bottle feeding very similar to feeding at the breast to prevent this problem

A few more tips to make paced feeding a success

  • Know that this will result in longer feedings and that’s okay: Typical breastfeeding sessions in the early days are 20-30 minutes, so doing paced bottle feeding (with formula or breast milk) is likely going to take longer (but that’s the whole point!)
  • Teach ANYONE who’s going to be feeding baby about this: You and your partner should be well-versed in the method, but so should daycare, nanny, sitter, grandparents, or anyone else who feeds baby. Here’s a great video you can have them watch
  • Consider switching sides halfway through the feeding: In addition to breaks every ~30ish seconds where you let baby reengage with the bottle, consider switching the arm you have baby on after 10 minutes. This mimics the way mama would switch baby to the other breast while breastfeeding. It can help prevent side preference and is good for baby’s developing neck strength
  • Burp your baby halfway through: When you go to “switch sides” it’s a good time to do a little burp break. This is especially helpful for baby’s that are gassy or have issues with spit-up
  • Use a nursing pillow for support while bottle-feeding: No need to cause an achy arm, especially since paced feeding takes a bit longer. Bottle-feeding mamas can TOTALLY benefit from a Boppy too!
  • Consider talking to a lactation consultant about this: I know that might seem weird, but a lot of lactation consultants are well versed in the paced feeding technique and can help you with this! It’s especially a good idea if you ARE breastfeeding and bottle feeding at the same time. They can give you so many good pointers and tips to making this a success

Next steps

Now that you know about paced bottle feeding, be sure to save this article for later if you’re currently pregnant!

If you’re already in the newborn days – start implementing this technique right away. Even if you haven’t been using it, it’s not too late to try it!

Our online class, Newborn Basics 101 has an entire lesson dedicated to feeding your baby (included more info about paced feeding), and 7 other lessons that will get you totally prepared for the newborn days. Learn More!

What do you think, mama? Are you going to give paced bottle feeding a try? Let us know in the comments!

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Liesel Teen, BSN-RN
Founder, Mommy Labor Nurse

Meet Liesel Teen

Hi there. I’m Liesel!

As a labor and delivery nurse, I’ve spent countless hours with women who felt anxious — even fearful — about giving birth. I want you to know it doesn’t have to be that way for you!

When you know what to expect and have the tools to navigate the experience, you’ll feel confident and in control.

I believe you deserve a better birth — no matter how you deliver.