Babies grow fast and it can be hard to keep up. It’s pretty amazing what those little people can learn to do in the matter of a year’s time. And in that year, a lot of your baby’s time is going to be spent drinking formula or breastmilk - perhaps from a bottle. And you probably thought you were golden once you finally narrowed down your bottle choice, only to discover you had to decide which nipple choice would be best, too!
As a new mom, I definitely didn’t realize ahead of time that there was more than one nipple level. But I soon realized this was something I was going to need to figure out. So today, mamas, we are talking nipple levels and nipple flow to help you know when it’s time to make the switch.
Common Nipple Sizes
Before getting into our top 5 signs it’s time to switch out your baby’s bottle nipples, let’s take a look at what’s out there.
Every bottle company is slightly different, and you may see a bit different wording, but they all have a range of nipples available that offer different flow rates. It can be confusing at first, but it's nice to have the following options available to give your baby the more comfortable feeding experience:
Level 0/Preemie and or extra slow flow: These are best for the brand new babies who may have an immature digestive system. The slower flow will give them more time to swallow the milk before getting the next gulp. They also work for newborns who are also breastfed.
Level 1 or slow flow: Older babies who switch between breastfeeding and bottle-feeding will do well with this nipple type as well as younger, exclusively bottle-fed babies.
Level 2 or medium flow: Babies out of the newborn stage can usually handle a medium flow nipple well. But keep an eye out for coughing and choking and lots of milk dripping, which is a sign that your baby isn’t quite ready for this one.
- Level 3/4 or fast flow: This nipple flow is best for babies who are already sitting up and at an age where they are also ready to take in solid foods. At this stage they are usually taking in a larger amount of breastmilk or formula, and are usually ready for things to move along a bit more quickly.
There are a few bottle brands that also offer a “y-cut” nipple. These aren’t generally used for just formula, but instead are intended for parents who may mix formula with a bit of baby cereal.
Remember that every baby is unique. There is no need at all to worry if your baby seems to just like hanging out in the level one zone, for example. That just means they’ve found their groove, and if they’re happy, you’re happy, right?!
Signs it’s Time to Switch to the Next Nipple Level
So with the varying nipple sizes when will you know it’s time to go to the next level of nipple? There is really no tried and true best time, so it’s best to watch your baby’s cues.
Here are the top 5 signs it’s time to make the switch to the the next nipple level:
1.) Your baby seems frustrated at feeding time.
Of course there can be other reasons for this, but if your baby seems constantly frustrated trying to get milk out a bottle, bites and pulls the nipple, slaps at the bottle, etc. it’s probably time to level up.
2.) A feed is taking a really long time.
You may have a baby with an easygoing attitude who won’t really make a fuss about how slow the milk flow is, so if it seems like it’s just taking forever for your baby to feed, it might be a good time to try the next level up.
3.) Your little one is falling asleep while feeding.
If your baby isn’t a newborn and is suddenly falling asleep during feeding time, this could be that the bottle is no longer keeping their interest. The boredom may lead to sleepiness!
4.) The bottle never gets finished.
Again, the flow of the breastmilk or formula may be so slow for your baby that they get bored and are ready to move on to something else. If you notice your baby is frequently leaving a bottle unfinished (when they didn't used to) and distracted, it's a good sign it's time to move them to the next nipple.
5.) Your baby is exclusively bottle-fed.
Below we discuss why it’s important to hold off on moving up nipple levels if you’re breastfeeding, but if you’re strictly bottle-feeding, you can feel free to move your baby’s nipple level up if they show other signs of readiness.
RELATED: The Best Bottles to Buy in 2022
Take Care to Not Move Nipple Levels Up Too Quickly
On the flip side, you don’t want to move your baby along faster than what they are ready for. With such an emphasis placed on age milestones for babies, it’s natural to want to feel like your baby is ready for the next step up. But when it comes to nipple levels, there’s really no need to rush it.
Using your baby’s cues as discussed above is your best bet in giving them the right option. Here are a few considerations to make sure you’re not giving your baby a nipple level before they are ready to handle the faster flow.
1.) Don’t use age as the determining factor.
As a bottle-feeding parent, and with the excitement of watching your little guy or gal grow, it can be tempting to pay attention to the age listed on the nipple choice and move them up based on that.
But every baby is different. Just as baby clothes don’t always stay in line with the age of your baby (some newborns never even wear newborn size while other babies may wear it for a few months for example) the age listed on the nipple level isn’t always accurate. Instead, use this as a guide or as a starting point. From there, pay attention to the description listed on the nipple and see if what is being described fits your baby’s ability accurately. From there you’ll have a much better idea about which nipple level is best.
2.) Don’t assume another brand will be the same.
Just because you used a level one nipple with your baby’s previous bottle brand doesn’t mean that level will work with the new bottles. Read the description so you can make the best choice.
3.) If you’re breastfeeding, choose a slower flow nipple.
If you are someone who is both breastfeeding and bottle feeding, it’s best to not move your baby up nipple levels too soon. If you end up giving your baby a bottle with a nipple that flows much more quickly than your breast, they may end up preferring the bottle and refusing the breast. Assuming you’re not prepared for your baby to wean prematurely, it’s best to stay on the conservative side when making a nipple choice. A newborn (extra slow flow) or slow flow nipple is best for a breastfed baby.
4.) Don’t be afraid to pull back.
Just because you give your baby a new nipple level once or twice, doesn’t mean you can’t go back to what you were using before if the new one isn’t working. Your baby’s cues may have led you to think a faster flow nipple level was in order, but you may find that choking on the milk or just all around not happy with the new experience. Of course you can give it a few times to see if they adapt to it, but if they’re not ready for it, it’s totally fine to go back to the nipple you were using before.
When in Doubt, Try it Out
Luckily, bottle nipples are pretty inexpensive. So if you’re deciding between two options because you’re unsure which is best for your baby, just get both.
If the faster flow nipple is too much for your baby, just put it away for another month and then you can try it again. And if it turns out the faster flow nipple is better, you can go pick up more of those, and you’re only out a few dollars on the slower flow one you didn’t need (our guess is you know another mom with a little baby who it would work perfectly for).