Why you should practice paced feeding when bottle feeding your baby

What is paced feeding?

Pace feeding is a new bottle feeding technique that allows your baby to be in control of how much and how quickly they feed. The technique strengthens the attachment between you and your baby. It mimics the way a baby would feed if breastfeeding and can prevent overfeeding therefore reducing the risk of obesity later in childhood.

Paced bottle feeding, sometimes called ‘responsive feeding’, gives your baby control over how fast or slow they decide to feed. This allows your little one to vary the feed according to their own needs (1)

Paced feeding also helps parents to identify and respond to cues that their baby is still hungry or has had enough milk (1)

The ethos behind this style of feeding, is to trust that your baby knows how much they need and to avoid pushing them to finish a feed, which can be distressing and have negative consequences (4)

Why you should do Paced Feeding with your baby - by Sarah Almond Bushell, The Children's Nutritionist
Why you should do Paced Feeding with your baby - by Sarah Almond Bushell, The Children's Nutritionist

How is this different to traditional bottle feeding?

Traditional bottle feeding is where the baby is given a bottle and expected to drink at a steady rate (2), and often encouraged to take a little more when they stop. 

This often means babies drink milk from a bottle at a much faster rate than they would if they were breastfeeding, which has been shown to lead to overfeeding and ingestion of too much air. 

Is paced bottle feeding closer to breastfeeding?

Baby paced feeding mimics breastfeeding by slowing the rate of feeding and allowing a bottle fed baby to have similar control on the pace and flow of the feed as a breastfed baby (2). So yes, it can be thought of as being closer to breastfeeding.

Here are the potential benefits of paced feeding for you and your baby (1)

  • Helping avoid overfeeding.

  • Reducing the intake of air, which may reduce colic type symptoms.

  • Improving bonding and attachment between parent and baby whilst feeding.

  • Allowing your baby to have more control over their own needs. 

  • As the technique is promoted as being more similar to breastfeeding, this may help babies who are both bottle and breastfed, to alternate more easily between breast and bottle. 

Why you should do Paced Feeding with your baby - by Sarah Almond Bushell, The Children's Nutritionist
Why you should do Paced Feeding with your baby - by Sarah Almond Bushell, The Children's Nutritionist

How do I introduce the paced feeding technique with my baby? (5)

  • Feed your baby when they show signs of being hungry such as moving their head or mouth towards you or start sucking on their fingers.

  • Hold your baby in a semi upright position, so you can see their face. 

  • Hold them very close so that they feel secure against you.

  • If possible you could also involve skin to skin contact, particularly in the early weeks. 

  • Reassure them by looking in their eyes and talking to them during feeds.

  • Invite them to open their mouth by softly rubbing and touching the teat on their top lip. Gently insert the teat into their mouth. 

  • Keep the bottle horizontal, just slightly tipped rather than almost vertical as in traditional bottle feeding. This prevents the milk from flowing too fast. 

  • Watch your baby for cues that they are finished or that they need a break. When this occurs gently remove the bottle or tilt the bottle back into a more vertical position, to stop the milk flow. 

  • See the handy infographic at the end of this blog which you can save/print.

Can the paced feeding method help with my baby’s development?

  • It’s recommended to switch the sides you feed you baby on, either halfway through the feed or alternate each feed. This creates a more similar experience to breastfeeding but also helps develop your babies’ hand eye coordination. 

  • Looking at your baby, talking to them and stroking them during a feed helps with emotional and social development (1)

Identifying feeding cues in babies 

Although crying is a feeding cue, it is often a later sign of hunger.  Babies often express more subtle signs of hunger earlier on, these are what you need to look for (5):

  • Moving their head or mouth around.

  • Licking their lips or ‘lip smacking’.

  • Sucking on fingers, hand or fist.

  • Opening and closing the mouth.

  • Making sucking noises. 

Later signs of hunger can include:

  • Soft murmuring noises that grow louder. 

  • Restlessness and jerky movements. 

  • Crying.

All babies are different, what are your babies’ feeding cues?

Fullness cues may include (5):

  • Slowing down or stopping sucking.

  • Arching the back.

  • Turning the head away.

  • Letting go of the teat. 

  • Relaxing the body and opening the fists. 

  • Extending the fingers, arms or legs. 

  • Becoming easily distracted. 

  • Pushing away the bottle. 

What are your baby’s fullness cues?

Can this technique be used with formula or is it just expressed breast milk?

Any suitable milk can be used for pace feeding.

Do I need to use a particular type of baby bottle?

Most bottles now have anti-colic features that aim to help reduce the amount of air taken in when feeding. 

Some bottles promote themselves as mimicking breastfeeding more closely, and have been designed with ‘nipple like’ teats. Some are wider and have slower flow rates or claim babies have more control over the flow rate. 

A bottle with lots of special features isn’t necessary, however it is recommended that a wide based, slow-flow teat is used for paced feeding (2). There are many different brands of bottles and teats offering this feature. Read my blog on the Best bottles for breast feeding for the lowdown.

Why you should do Paced Feeding with your baby - by Sarah Almond Bushell, The Children's Nutritionist
Why you should do Paced Feeding with your baby - by Sarah Almond Bushell, The Children's Nutritionist

Can paced feeding help bonding between parent and baby?

The paced bottle technique can help to strengthen the bond between parent and baby by helping parents to tune into their babies’ cues, make eye contact and hold their baby close during feeding (3)

It has been noted that bottle fed babies could miss out on some elements of bonding such as closeness when feeding or skin to skin contact, particularly when babies are propped up with a bottle and parents are distracted. This feeding method aims to bring these important bonding techniques into bottle feeding (4)

Can anyone feeding my baby do paced feeding?

Anyone can use these methods and actually being consistent in how you feed using a bottle is helpful, so yes, other people who feed your baby can be shown the pace feeding method. 

Having said that, in the early days it may help for the parents to give the majority of the feeds so the principles of the baby paced method become established between baby and parent so the benefits of bonding can be experienced (3)

If I’m interested in paced feeding, what else should I consider?

Paced feeding follows the ethos of the ‘division of responsibility of feeding’, a model of feeding created by Ellyn Satter, a Dietitian and Family Therapist. This is where parents decide the ‘what’, ‘when’, ‘where’ of feeding but their child chooses how much to eat and how quickly(6). This philosophy is designed to be used right from infant and right through childhood. You can read more about it here.

In the division of responsibility, what are my responsibilities as a parent in terms of feeding?

You are responsible for (6):

  • What your child has to eat – formula or breast milk.

  • How they are fed – bottle, breast or both.

  • The environment your little one feeds in.

  • Helping them to be calm before and during a feed.

  • Being aware of your little one’s feeding and fullness cues.

  • Being aware of your baby’s sleep and awake patterns.

  • Knowing their usual feed amounts, timings and frequency.

Your little one is responsible for:

  • How much, how fast and how frequently they are fed. 

How does the division of responsibility apply to different aged babies?

Newborn to 2 months (6);

  • Pay attention to their feeding cues and feed them when they want to eat, when they are alert and calm.

  • Sit still during feeding and make sure the environment is peaceful, without distractions.

  • Let your little one eat the way they want to. We all like to eat differently! Some babies feed quickly, others slowly and some like to start and stop. 

  • Stop feeding when they show you signs that they have finished.

3-6 months (6);

  • Continue to feed on demand and go by what your baby is showing they need.

  • Continue to let them eat in the way they prefer. 

  • Bring them to the table when you eat so they can start to learn about food. 

6 months plus (6);

  • Allow your baby to get the nourishment they need from their milk feeds.

  • You will be introducing solids around this time and this method of feeding can also apply to introducing solids.

  • You don’t need to change how you feed for the first month or so of weaning, it’s only when your baby starts to eat 3 meals a day at 7 months or so that it can be helpful to introduce a more structured milk and food routine.

But how will my baby know how much to eat?

The ethos of the division of responsibility believes that your little one will know what they need to grow in the right way for them (6). There is some science behind this too. Babies are born with an ability to self regulate their food (milk) intake depending upon what their bodies need. 

Over time, we as parents have encouraged them to ignore their internal cues by offering the bottle or breast again when they have stopped feeding, to get them to take just a little more. We do it when they start eating by asking them to take ‘just one more bite’. This encouragement actually tells our children to ignore their hunger and fullness cues and is thought to contribute towards childhood obesity.

Is it challenging to follow the ‘division of responsibility’ method?

Simply put……yes, it can be. This type of method encourages us not to focus on how much we believe our child should be consuming and to step away from taking control and wanting to make sure our babies are as ‘well fed’ as possible. 

This can be challenging when one of our main roles as parents is to feed our children. However feeding is much more than just what your baby eats. Your parenting style around feeding contributes towards how you nurture and grow a healthy child. 

Is paced feeding suitable for all babies?

Yes, unless your baby has a medical condition and needs to be artificially fed. You can get more advice on this from a Registered Paediatric Dietitian or Health Visitor.

Is paced feeding the right method for me to follow?

Only you can decide this, but the research on it’s effects is very promising.

Paced feeding requires you to be very in tune with your little one’s feeding and fullness cues and to be able to provide the right calm environment to follow the techniques. 

There are lots of reasons why this may be challenging in some situations, but it is worth the effort to try and give your baby the very best start in life.

Why you should do Paced Feeding with your baby - by Sarah Almond Bushell, The Children's Nutritionist
Why you should do Paced Feeding with your baby - by Sarah Almond Bushell, The Children's Nutritionist

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meet Sarah

I’m Sarah, a Registered Dietitian, Children’s Nutritionist and mummy from East Sussex. My blog is to guide & inspire you with information about weaning, nutrition, food and toddler feeding. Learn more about me here.

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