Don’t fall for the marketing. There are so many bottle systems out there that are marketing themselves as “just like the breast” and even “shaped like the breast”. In truth the ones that look like a boob often function the least like it. The good news is there are some really good bottles out there that even though they don’t work LIKE the breast, they can PROMOTE a latch similar to it to help baby go back and forth between the two.
There are many bottles marketed as “most like breast.” The bottle part may “look” like a breast, but the nipple typically has a wide neck and and short nipple, which is how some nipples look like at rest before a baby latches. I call these shoulder nipples. The baby tends to latch just to the short nipple in a straw-like latch because they can’t latch deeply to the wide base (breast tissue expands and fills baby’s mouth, but the rigid silicone of the bottle nipple doesn’t). If baby’s lips are super rounded and there’s dimpling in baby’s cheeks while they suck, they are in a shallow latch. They may still pull milk from the bottle, but this shallow latch back at the breast results in painful nipples and leas efficient feeding.
Bottle nipples that have a more gradual slope from tip to base and a cylindrical shape are preferred for all babies, whether breastfeeding or not. Why cylindrical? We want your nipple to go in and out of baby’s mouth round. If your nipple is coming out pinched, creases, or flat, we’re talking about improving a shallow latch or releasing a tongue tie. Bottle nipples that are lipstick shaped, flat, creased, or pointed are going to promote incorrect sucking patterns which can transfer back to breast. Now hear me on this: while a round, tapered nipple are optimal, there are times when a different shape nipple is appropriate, especially if they’re the only shape baby will successfully take. We want all babies to have a wide latch to the bottle for more efficient feeding and better use of their facial muscles for skill development. I usually prefer the narrow neck to the wider versions for the majority of babies, as it helps promote better lip flanging, although some babies they will do just fine on the wider version. If your baby is struggling to take a round, tapered nipple, please seek the help of a qualified and specially trained IBCLC lactation consultant, occupational or speech therapist.
When a baby is at the breast, they create a vacuum in their mouth with negative pressure by making a seal with their tongue to the palate. They then use positive pressure by compressing the breast as their tongue moves in a wave like pattern from front to back called peristalsis. Positive and negative pressure are essential for a baby to efficiently feed from the breast. They need to maintain the tongue protruded over the bottom gun line and in that vacuum seal through the duration of the feeding, and the middle of the tongue needs to pump up and down to help compress out milk. This is why babies with tongue ties can struggle to feed both breast and/or bottle. Bottles work totally different than the breast and many only need the compression piece for baby to move milk. Some bottle nipples do a better job of approximating the breastfeeding latch and do require more suction in order to remove the milk. In general, bottles that require a combination of suction and compression to remove milk better promote breast feeding by using a more natural and functional sucking pattern. Those systems that use compression only promote a chomping sucking pattern or the baby squeezes the nipple harder to move milk, which can make it difficult (and painful) when transitioning back to breast.
What nipple “level” should my baby take? Nipple flow levels are not standardized across the bottle industry. Each company has their own set rate and it is completely different from company to company. A level one will flow simple tell different across every brand of bottle. What is “slow” on one nipple can be very fast compared to “slow” on a different nipple. Britt Pados has done multiple research studies that measure flow rates. Turns out there are some brands “Slow” that are actually faster than other brands “Level 3” . Remember: don’t fall for the marketing. If your baby is coughing, choking, leaking milk or struggling to drinking from a nipple, try going to a slower flow nipple in the same brand and if that doesn’t work, switch brands. Do you ever need to go up a nipple level? No. They are marketing nipple levels by age like Carter’s does with onesies. If it fits, use it. No need to level up if your baby is content. Ever.
From a lactation perspective, we generally want breastfed babies to use a nipple that matches the flow of their mothers milk back at that breast. This is USUALLY the slowest flowing nipple (remember, this will vary from brand to brand). We want them to take a bottle slowly since breastfeeding is usually a slow process, and we want them to actively suck to get milk out. Although for those with a fast let down or over supply of milk, it’s totally fine to use a faster flow nipple that matches the speed at which your baby takes the breast.
Babies are masters at compensating to feed. They learn very quickly what works and what doesn’t to get milk. But sometimes this comes at the cost of them compensating with their muscles which can lead to symptoms like lip blisters, two tone lips, lots of gassiness and reflux. Clicking while swallowing, leaking milk, coughing and eating too fast are all symptoms that something isn’t right: either with the nipple shape, flow level or their latch OR something else may be going on in their mouth like a tongue and lip tie. If baby is doing well with their bottle and you have no concerns, keep doing what you’re doing! No need to start fresh and buy new. Some babies do a really nice job of going back and forth from breast to bottle, despite requiring different mechanics. If you are seeing any red flags and something doesn’t feel right about your baby’s bottle feeding skills, either breast or bottle, schedule a consultation. There is help and guidance for you to get things back on track.