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My one-week-old baby went six solid waking hours without eating – and I was scared. I sort of expected him to go longer than usual since he ate six ounces of expressed milk earlier. My hubby had apparently never heard of paced feeding!
Let’s start at the beginning of the story. When my second baby was a week old, we had to be out of the house almost all day for appointments. So I took my breast pump along. (Why I was using a breast pump at 1 week postpartum is another story. Let’s just throw that in the category of things-I-learned-the-hard-way.)
At some point in the day, I pumped milk and thanks to my wildly unregulated milk supply, I had 6 ounces to show for it. I was pretty proud of those 6 ounces too. I mean, at 7 days old, my little guy wasn’t eating anywhere near that, only about an ounce per feeding. So by my calculations, I was really stocking up!
How this story went wrong
So there we were, sitting in a clinic waiting room. And little J started wailing to be nursed at the exact moment the billing manager called me into her office to go over insurance details.
I felt torn and panicked — how do I feed him and talk to her at the same time? It was kind of overwhelming to me.
The mom-I-am-now would just pop little J on the boob and go talk to the lady. But the mom-I-was-then felt the crunch of that dilemma.
So I asked my hubby to make him a bottle and told him there was some expressed milk in the cooler bag. #firstmistake
Then I left my poor defenseless baby with his overzealous daddy. #secondmistake
Minutes later, I returned and found a decidedly milk-drunk baby. His belly was round as a ball and had an empty bottle resting on top of it. And his clueless father bragged, “He ate the whole six ounces!”
Ya’ll, this is where I deserve some credit. I didn’t run shrieking and scratching at his eyeballs the way my brain said I should. The man survived. I honestly don’t remember what I did or said. I was just so shocked, so scared my baby’s tummy would explode. He wasn’t even eating a full 2 ounces per feeding yet, and his dad fed him six ounces!
What is paced feeding
Fortunately, we were in the pediatrician’s waiting room. So when we got back to the exam room, I told them all about the bottle incident. This wise doctor explained to both of us why such a large amount is dangerous, how much he should eat, and how to make sure a new baby doesn’t over-eat.
He said the best way to bottle feed is by using a method called paced feeding. Paced feeding is where you hold a baby and their bottle in such a way that it requires them to drink their milk slowly over time. You use a slow flow nipple and take little breaks. With paced feeding, a baby will eat less food at a time.
The doctor did get a chuckle at our expense. Apparently, a one week old is too young to polish off a bottle then smash the nipple on his forehead like a frat guy.
He warned us that J might not eat for a few hours since his stomach was so full. And he was right.
The benefits of paced bottle feeding
Paced bottle feeding has a lot of benefits, especially for breastfed babies. Because its style mimics breastfeeding, nursing infants who pace feed have an easier time switching between the bottle and the breast.
Because they are sitting up to drink, they have to work harder to get the milk out. That extra effort builds stronger muscles in the mouth and face. Which leads to better nursing and greater milk supply for you.
Related Post: How to increase milk supply quickly
In addition to building stronger muscles, another benefit to sitting up for a bottle is that gravity won’t be pulling milk down to your baby. So she’ll get her milk slower in this position than she would by lying down, which leads to a happier tummy with less gas, less spit-up, and a lot less crying.
And finally, since your baby has to put in more effort to get less milk, the chances of her developing nipple confusion are much, much lower. If you make bottle-feeding a whole lot like breastfeeding, there’s not much reason for her to prefer one method over the other.
The basics of how to pace feed a baby
One of the reasons paced bottle feeding is better for babies is because of the position. Instead of cradling a baby in your arms and letting gravity flow the milk easily into her mouth, you sit the baby upright in your lap and support her back and head with your hand. When the nipple is in her mouth, it’s just about parallel to the floor.
Feeding in this position means that a baby has to work harder to get milk from the bottle. It strengthens the muscles in her mouth and face, improves her sucking reflex, and will lead to better nursing when she’s back on the breast.
Then, when your baby is drinking steadily, pull just a little on the bottle. Not enough to yank it out of her mouth, but enough that she has to suck harder to keep it in her mouth and get her milk out. This mimics the force with which she’d need to suck as she nurses.
Related post: How to always have the perfect latch
About every minute or so, tilt the bottle down to give her a break. She will still be sucking the nipple, but not getting any milk. Don’t worry about this filling her belly with air, sucking doesn’t necessarily equal swallowing.
Babies whose parents use paced bottle feeding generally have fewer stomach complaints than babies who guzzle their bottles quickly.
Next. about halfway through her bottle, switch sides — much like you would do if you were breastfeeding. As far as the bottle is concerned, it makes no difference. But we’re all creatures of habit. Chances are you probably bottle-feed in the same position almost every time. This means your baby knows the feeding position well and may develop a preference for eating on, say, your left side. Because that’s where milk flows faster.
It’s a small thing to do, but switching sides can make a surprising difference in how well your baby switches between bottle and breast.
Finally, make sure you’re allowing your little one to drink slowly enough to get full over about 10 to 15 minutes.
How paced feedings prevent nipple confusion
Nipple confusion is what they call the preference some babies show for a bottle over the breast. Sometimes they get used to their bottles and then absolutely refuse to nurse anymore.
It’s believed that the main reason babies like bottle feeding more than breastfeeding is because they get a lot more milk for a lot less work. Which totally makes sense to me.
They lay on their backs as gravity pulls milk from fast-flow nipples into their mouths. All they have to do is swallow and maybe give a little suck here and there. Everything should be that easy.
Related Post: How to fix nipple confusion… the easy way!
With paced feedings, babies have to do more work. The bottle is no longer the easy way to feed, or the way that they get a faster flow of milk. In other words, it’s really no different than the breast.
The 3 worst mistakes when pace feeding a breastfed baby
The story of overfeeding my second baby isn’t one I tell proudly. I’d rather forget it, truth be told. But I want you to learn from my mistakes.
And I don’t want it to happen to another baby.
As you read above, there’s a specific way to do paced feedings. But of course, you can skip over parts of the instructions and put your own spin on it.
The 3 worst mistakes you can make if you’re pace feeding a breastfed baby are:
- You don’t take frequent breaks. It’s tempting to want to just get it over with and get milk in her belly ASAP, but the point of a paced feeding is….well…the pace. If you don’t take frequent breaks, then bottle feeding can become your baby’s preference because the flow is more steady than it is from the breast.
- You don’t pull lightly on the bottle and make your baby work harder to keep it in her mouth. This might seem kind of mean. I get it. It can feel like you’re teasing your poor hungry child. But believe me, your breasts will make her work for her milk. If you skip this part, your little one might start to prefer the ease of bottle-feeding over the work of nursing.
- You don’t switch sides. Yes, this step seems unnecessary. I’ll admit, it doesn’t affect this particular feeding one bit. It’s the future feedings that will be impacted. If your baby gets used to bottle feeding on one side, she may be reluctant to nurse on the opposite side.
Because paced bottle feeding mimics breastfeeding, babies will have less nipple confusion and fewer nursing strikes. Another benefit is that they will eat slower, which leads to less gas, spit-up, crying, and reflux.
To pace feed most efficiently, use a bottle with a slow nipple flow and have your baby in an upright position to drink. Hold the bottle parallel to the ground and tug lightly as she drinks. Every minute or two, make sure she takes a break, and then switch sides halfway through the bottle.
Admittedly, it’s more steps than the old way: locate a baby and pop a bottle in their mouth. But using the paced feeding will be healthier for your baby, healthier for your nursing, and will perhaps lead to more restful evenings.
Have you tried paced feeding? Please share your best tips and tactics in the comments below!