How to Know When to Change Nipple Flow

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Being a mom is stressful. Making sure that your baby is fed and happy is probably one of the biggest struggles that all new moms deal with.

This can be especially stressful if you are bottle feeding your baby and worrying about the nipple size.

Whether formula feeding or exclusively pumping for your baby, at some point in time you will question when to change the nipple flow of your bottles. You’ll also find out that there are MANY different opinions out there about this.

So, here’s one more. I exclusively pumped for my son for a year so I am VERY familiar with bottles and bottle feeding. Here are the things to look for when considering when to change the nipple flow.

Nipple Flow Levels

First and foremost, it’s important to know that there are several different sizes of nipples out there for baby bottles. These size range both by brand and the recommendations based on your baby’s age. It can be overwhelming.

Most major bottle companies have a size 0 or a preemie sized nipple for newborns. This is a very slow flow nipple and is better for very young babies that are still trying to figure out the best way to feed from a bottle.

From there the sizes can drastically increase and vary by brand. (Source)

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Once you pick a bottle brand that you want to stick with, or rather your baby does, then you’ll be able to see what kinds of sizes the nipples come in. Most brands have a recommendation of what nipple size to use for different ages.

Younger babies would use a smaller and slower flowing nipple whereas older babies should use a faster one.

The problem with these recommendations is that people seem to believe that it is a set-in stone rule. Many moms feel that they HAVE to change nipple sizes once their baby hits a certain age rather than following the baby’s lead.

When Should You Switch to Fast Flow Nipples?

Deciding to switch to a faster flowing nipple is a decision that only your baby can really make. If your baby is getting frustrated by the current flow or is taking too long to finish a bottle, then moving up a nipple size could be the right move.

A good rule of thumb is that it should take your baby between 3 and 5 minutes to drink each ounce of milk. If your baby is able to chug down a full bottle in 5 minutes, then you may need a slower nipple.

On the other hand, if your baby is taking longer than around 30 minutes to finish a bottle then your baby is running the risk of burning more calories trying to drink than he is actually taking in. A faster flowing nipple can help with this.

Finding the right nipple size is all about trial and error. Just play around with it and see what works best for you and your baby.

Moving to a faster flowing nipple does have some drawbacks though that should be paid attention to.

Risks of Fast Flowing Nipples

Some of the risk of larger nipple sizes include:

·         Choking

A nipple that allows too much milk out at a time can cause your baby to struggle to adapt and can end up choking on the extra milk.

If your baby looks like he is having trouble keeping up with the flow or has milk dribbling out of the side of his mouth, then a smaller nipple may be needed.

·         Overeating

Milk that is flowing faster can cause a baby to overeat by not allowing him enough time to let his stomach realize that he is full.

An overfed baby is more likely to throw up the bottle rather than sit comfortably with it.

If your baby is prone to overeating or vomiting after bottles, then a slower nipple or paced bottle feeding is a better option.

·         Gas and Indigestion

If the flow on the nipple is too fast for what is comfortable for your baby, then he is more likely to take in extra air since he will be gulping trying to keep up with the flow.

Allow your baby plenty of breaks and burp him often if this is a concern.

Signs Your Baby Needs a Faster Nipple

Though moving to a faster nipple too quickly can run some risks, if your baby is showing any of these signs of frustration at the slower speed, then moving up a size may solve your problems.

  • Agitated and fussy (kicking, squirming, pushing the bottle away, etc.).
  • Flattening the nipple.
  • Taking 30 minutes to an hour to drink a bottle.
  • Eating less at a time and getting hungry soon after.
  • Sucking too hard.
  • Smacking the bottle.

If your baby isn’t showing any of these signs and isn’t having any trouble with the current nipple flow, then there is no reason to move up a size.

What Flow Nipple is Best for Breastfed Babies?

If you are nursing your baby and are only using bottles when you are away from your baby, then it is best to stick with a nipple flow size as close to your own flow as possible. This typically means a slow flow nipple.

Drinking from a bottle is substantially easier than drinking from your breasts. Some babies will develop a nipple preference because of this.

This is often referred to as nipple confusion. Your baby isn’t confused, your baby just doesn’t want to have to work as hard if he doesn’t have to.

I would suggest sticking with a slow flow or extra slow flow sized nipple for as long as you are able to keep your baby from getting too used to the faster flow.

Having a caregiver that is willing and able to pace feed your baby can also really help with this nipple preference since it forces your baby to drink a bottle slower and work for a “letdown” like he would when nursing.

On the other side, if you have a fast flow and your baby can nurse for 5-10 minutes and is getting frustrated with a slower flowing bottle, then consider going up a size to better match your own flow.

Knowing When to Change Nipple Flow Size

Deciding when to change the size of your baby’s bottle nipple is entirely dependent on your baby.

My son was bottle fed his entire first year of life. I kept him on a size 0 Tommee Tippee nipple until he was around 10 months old.

The way I saw it, if he were nursing my nipple would not be changing sizes so why should his bottles? He also wasn’t having any trouble with the flow of his bottles and he was finishing them in a good amount of time.

I spoke with my pediatrician about it several times and she told me that as long as he wasn’t struggling or uncomfortable then it was completely fine, and even recommended, to keep him on a slower flowing nipple.

I only ended up switching at 10 months was because I was getting pressure from his daycare to change the size because it was inconvenient for them for him to take 20 minutes to drink his bottles.

Even then, I didn’t do it immediately. I switched him to the size 1 nipple slowly and only at home to see how he would handle the faster flow.

Once I was happy with his ability to control the flow, I allowed him to have that size at daycare.

Do not ever let someone force you into doing something that is not the best for you and your baby. You know your baby best. Trust your gut, Mama. It won’t steer you wrong.

How to Transition to a Faster Flow Nipple

If you decide that moving up a nipple size is what is best for your baby, then make the transition slowly.

I started with one feeding a day and generally the one that he was the most frustrated with. For my son, that happened to be his morning feeding.

I did that for a couple of days and then began introducing the larger size at other feedings throughout the day leaving the one before bed for last.

His nighttime feeding was the one that he really liked to help him settle down for bed. Moving to the faster nipple was the hardest for this feeding, but after a couple of days he was fine with the change.

If your baby does not adjust to the new flow immediately, don’t give up. It may take him a little bit to get used to the new flow.

Try giving him some more time to adjust and allow him plenty of breaks during his bottles to help.

If your baby is still struggling, then you may need to consider a different type of bottle and nipple all together. There are several different sizes and shapes of baby bottles, your baby may prefer a different size or even material.

Life with a baby is all about trial and error. Give a few things a try and see what works best. Every baby is different.

Is your baby having trouble bottle feeding? Leave me a comment below or join the conversation in our Facebook group.

Until next time!

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4 thoughts on “How to Know When to Change Nipple Flow”

  1. Hi Mallory,
    Great article. More helpful than the other 100 articles I have read lol
    My LO is almost 6 weeks old and currently using Avent Natural bottles with a size 1 nipple and formula fed only. He hardly ever spits up or “leaks” from his mouth while feeding.
    But lately he has started to get frustrated during his day feeds. It doesnt usually start til after hes finished half of his bottle.
    He’ll suck then get upset. Then suck again and start moving his head side to side. I think maybe hes had enough and take the bottle out, he gets upset.
    My initial thought was he needed a faster flow becuse of how frustrated he gets, but when I put the nipple back in it seems he chokes a little. Could it be because he is sucking so hard or is it time to go up?

    1. Hey Jade! It is definitely possible that he’s sucking too hard and getting aggravated with it. You can try using a faster flowing nipple, but I’d suggest pace feeding him for a while until he gets used to it. Otherwise the faster flow could cause him to choke a little bit. Good luck!

      1. My 3mo son started out taking a bottle without any issue (we started around month 1). After about 3 weeks of taking 1 bottle a day with ease, he suddenly refuses to take a bottle. We’ve now tried four different brand of bottles and multiple nipple sizes. He won’t latch onto the bottle to drink. He’s still very young and seems frustrated when trying to suck so we tried a faster flowing nipple. But now he seems to choke when drinking multiple times per bottle and has a gassy tummy. Any ideas or suggestions you have would be wonderful! Thanks!

        1. It sounds like he has some nipple preference. It can definitely happen. You can work with the faster nipple, but I would suggest trying some pace feeding to help slow him down just a little bit so he doesn’t choke.

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