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To feed properly, whether at the bottle or at the breast, the baby has to learn to coordinate breathing, sucking, and swallowing. This is not as easy as it sounds, especially for babies born preterm. The baby may suckle without taking a breather, too quickly, too slowly, or in such a way that she works hard and tires easily.

You can help set the pace: get the baby to pause for breath every 3-5 sucks. Eventually, the baby will develop her own feeding rhythm, stopping for breath when necessary.

Paced feeding

Paced feeding

If you notice that your baby doesn’t pause for breath while feeding (every 3-5 sucks), you can try the following.

  • If bottle-feeding: Hold the bottle horizontally while feeding. To get the baby to pause, tilt the bottle back so that the milk drains into the bottle. Leave the empty nipple in the baby’s mouth and wait for him to stop and breathe. If he continues to suck without pausing, remove it.
  • If breastfeeding: Break the seal by putting your little finger between the baby’s upper lip and the nipple. The baby will stop and take a breath.
  • When the baby is ready to feed again, he will start sucking. If bottle-feeding, tilt the bottle into a horizontal position such that milk flows out into the nipple again.

As the baby learns to pace himself, you will only need to do it for him at the beginning of a feeding or when he gulps too fast because he’s so hungry. With time, you will notice that:

  • Baby feeds more easily and seems to take in more milk with each suck
  • Feedings are faster and more spaced out
  • Baby becomes more alert and makes eye contact with you while feeding

    Did you know…

    Lying on the side is the perfect position for babies born preterm to learn how to suckle. As the infant gets better at feeding, you can use the cradle hold position, so that the baby can look at you and engage while feeding.

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