You’ve probably noticed your baby guzzling the bottle down in a matter of seconds. What’s that about? Well, in order to understand, we gotta talk about active feeding vs passive feeding.
What is passive feeding?
Passive feeding is when your baby eats without effort. This happens for a couple of reasons. When the bottle’s flow is too fast or when the nipple is sized too large, babies have a lot less work to do. In turn, they become passive eaters, by just catching the milk. Believe it or not, this can happen with breastfeeding too, although it is less common. If you have an oversupply or a strong letdown, your milk will flow very fast. You can identify this by hearing the baby choke or by their body language-they tend to turn their head away. Eventually, babies learn to deal with it whether it’s through a bottle or the breast, and they become passive eaters. They do not actively suck or remove the milk. That’s why correct bottle and nipple size is extremely important.
What is active feeding?
Active feeding then, is when the baby actually works to remove the milk from the bottle or breast. Their jaw, tongue, and entire mouth coordinate to eat effectively. They must remain awake and aware in order to successfully become full. It’s one of the reasons why preemies are often supplemented with high calorie formula-active feeding burns a ton of calories! Listen for your baby swallowing, watch their jaw move rhythmically, and notice how long they eat. By virtue of anatomy, it is generally more laborious to nurse and therefore, most of the time, babies have to learn how and work at breastfeeding. That’s not to say that bottles automatically mean your baby is passively feeding though! Babies can and do actively eat with bottles, it’s just a matter of ensuring a few things, such as bottle/nipple size and technique.
So why is this important?
It may seem like passive eating is a horrible, no-good thing, but that’s not entirely true. Sometimes babies need to be able to eat without much effort such as when they aren’t feeling great, when they are premature, etc. On a daily basis though, your baby should be eating in a purposeful manner so that their mouth and jaw develops properly and so that they do not overeat. By the time baby is done actively eating, they have eaten less and their body has had enough time to register that they are full. Passive feeding can cause belly aches because they eat too much too fast.
Be sure to speak to a lactation consultant, feeding specialist, postpartum doula, and/or your pediatrician if you think that your baby isn’t quite eating and suckling in an active manner. They can help you develop baby’s muscles and choose the right bottles for your baby’s age.