There’s so much to think about when choosing the right bottle set for your new baby.
But along with considering bottle size, shape, and material, you’ll have to figure out what kind of nipple you want your bottles to have. And the choices there are nearly endless!
What type of baby bottle nipple is right for you?
Let’s break it down.
The main types of baby bottle nipples are as follows:
- Traditional or standard
- Breast mimicking or naturally-shaped
- Anti-vacuum or vented
- Variable flow or multi-flow
- Nipples for babies with a cleft lip
In this article, we’ll discuss the different types of baby bottle nipples based on their material, shape, and function.
Additionally, you’ll also find a short guide to help you select your bottle nipple level or size.
Most nipples are made out of clear silicone material.
It’s less porous and much firmer than latex nipples.
You also don’t have to replace them often because they are capable of holding their shape well, and are less prone to nipple collapse while feeding.
Babies have a tendency to chew on the nipples while feeding, especially when they start teething. During this time, the higher tensile strength and longevity of silicone can be very handy to prevent unwanted leaks and dents in the nipple.
The hypoallergenic material is also great for keeping your baby safe.
Moreover, as silicone is a synthetic compound, it doesn’t absorb any color or odor of the milk or other liquids.
Other benefits include heat-resistance, dishwasher-safe, and easy sterilization features.
- Less porous
- Can retain their shape for longer periods
- Higher tensile strength
- Some babies might be uncomfortable with hardness
Despite the popularity of silicone nipples, some parents do prefer latex.
Latex nipples are easily distinguishable thanks to their golden yellow color and are also softer than silicone nipples.
Latex is a more porous material, which also allows them to absorb the smell and taste easily, which is also why you have to keep replacing these nipples frequently.
Moreover, the higher flexibility and softness makes latex more prone to breaking — you have to replace them every 4 to 6 weeks, or up to 3 months at the longest. But since they are very similar to a mother’s nipple, babies take to them faster.
Keep in mind that some babies develop allergies to the latex material. So make sure to keep a close eye if you decide to use these nipples.
- Easily distinguishable
- Mimics the natural feel of a mother’s breast
- More porous and prone to breaking
- Some babies can develop an allergy to latex
Traditional or Standard Nipples
Traditional nipples, as the name suggests, are the most basic and popular version of nipples, but also very cost-effective.
They are bell-shaped, with a narrow nipple tip and base, which also makes them easily fit standard baby bottles.
A distinct characteristic of a traditional nipple is the slower flow of milk.
While this makes the standard nipple an ideal choice for small babies, a hungry toddler may prefer a faster flow. We would recommend these for non-fussy babies that didn’t face any problems when transitioning from breast to bottle.
You‘ll also find traditional nipples that are dome-shaped. Think of it being similar to a pacifier.
- Cost-effective and affordable
- Can easily fit standard baby bottles
- The slow flow of milk makes it suitable for infants
- Can cause gassiness and colic problems
- Not ideal for babies with larger appetites
Breast Mimicking or Naturally-Shaped Nipples
Breast mimicking or naturally-shaped nipples, also known as wide nipples, are designed to replicate the natural shape of a mother’s breast, with a wide base and raised platform.
The base of a mother’s breast is much broader than a standard baby bottle.
That’s why baby products manufacturers have tried to design the nipple to mimic the breast, giving them a softer and more flexible structure with a broad base.
It’s to this very reason why naturally-shaped nipples can be incredibly useful when you’re trying to transition your baby from breastfeeding to bottle-feeding.
As the difference between breast and bottle isn’t as jarring for your baby, it’s easier to transition and feed for some kiddos.
- Mimics the natural shape of a mother’s breast
- Make it easier for the baby to feed
- A great option for transitioning babies
- More time-consuming to clean and maintain
- Not very sturdy
There is some evidence that over-use or improper use of certain kinds of bottle nipples and types of pacifiers can cause damage to developing teeth.
(But don’t worry, heavy use a bottle before the 1-year mark is quite safe.)
That’s where orthodontic nipples come into play.
Orthodontic nipples have a distinct shape, which makes them easily recognizable.
They have a bulb shape at the top that rests against the roof of the mouth and is flatter at the sides, which can be helpful for protecting your baby’s teeth and gums.
It also promotes healthy teeth formation and is more comfortable for babies at the time of the teething.
Once your baby starts sucking at it, the nipple stretches – just like a mother’s breast. You‘ll find several doctors recommend using bottles with orthodontic nipples as soon as your baby starts teething.
- Promotes healthy teeth formation
- Protects the fragile gums of infants
- Suitable for teething babies
- Higher durability
- Nipple has to be positioned correctly to prevent leakage
Anti-Vacuum or Vented Nipples
Anti-vacuum or vented nipples are perfect for parents whose babies tend to gulp a lot of air along with the milk.
These air bubbles can make babies gassy, colicky, and fussy.
This, of course, is due to a poor sucking mechanism in some bottles, but it’s when the child starts suffering from health issues like gas, colic, and irritability in babies that can be a real problem.
The unique design of vented nipples helps to inhibit digestive problems in babies.
They have a small opening or vent on the side of the nipple to prevent any vacuum or bubble buildup in the baby bottle.
- Prevents digestive problems in babies
- Stops any vacuum buildup in the bottle
- Makes suckling the milk more comfortable
- May create a faster flow of milk
Variable Flow or Multi-Flow Nipples
Variable flow nipples can be an excellent option for mothers who want to increase the flow of milk and accommodate thicker liquids.
These are also known as variable or multi-flow nipples.
They can be especially helpful when you‘re using the baby bottle to feed all kinds of liquids to older babies, such as milk, juices, and formula.
Having the same nipple for all the liquids can make it cumbersome for your baby. It can also lead to irritability and frequent bouts of crying.
You can use the small-sized nipple holes when feeding breastmilk, and switch to medium-sized holes for formula. As for feeding juice, larger holes are the most convenient.
To switch between flow rates on variable flow nipples, you usually just need to give the top of the bottle a little twist.
Instead of buying nipples with different hole sizes, you can stick to a single variable flow nipple. So not only is the latter more cost-effective, but also highly functional and less confusing.
- Functional and convenient
- Can accommodate thicker liquids
- Features different hole sizes for greater comfort
- Higher upfront price tag
Nipples for Baby With a Cleft Lip
Cleft palate babies have openings between their mouth and nasal cavity. This makes it difficult for them to suckle on the nipple directly.
Luckily, brands have come up with special-shaped nipples that offer a more controlled flow of milk to feed babies with a cleft lip.
Shape-wise, these nipples are taller and narrower than your standard sizes.
- Helps babies with cleft lips/palates to feed without any problems
- Difficult to clean
Bottle Nipple Levels & Sizes Explained
As your baby grows, you’ll need to understand “nipple levels.”
The level is sometimes referred to as the nipple size, but it’s really a measurement of flow rate moreso than physical size of the nipples.
The right nipple level is custom to each baby. There are general guidelines to follow, but there’s no right or wrong time to move up a level.
According to Dr. Brown’s, the following are the most common signs that tell you it’s time to level up:
- When your baby takes longer to feed
- When your baby falls asleep during feeding
- When your baby becomes too fussy or irritable while feeding
With that out of the way, let’s review the different nipples that we’ve categorized according to the flow of the liquid:
Preemie Nipple (0 months+)
These slow-flow nipples are designed for premature babies or babies who cannot handle a fast flow of milk.
Slow flow is best for breastfed babies who cannot handle a faster flow of milk, and for those who are transitioning from the breast to the bottle. Preemie nipples mimic the same flow as that of breastfeeding.
Level 1 Nipple (0 months+)
Most standard bottle sets will come with a Level 1 nipple.
Many parents start feeding their babies with the Level 1 nipple, which is very comfortable for most tiny tots.
If your infant is feeding well and creates no fuss, this would be your ideal choice.
Level 2 Nipple (3 months+)
Refer to the signs above. If your baby is taking forever to eat, falling asleep during feedings, or getting fussy, it might be time for a higher nipple level or faster milk flow.
Babies who are ready for Level 2 nipples are also usually starting to try solid foods like cereal or pureed foods.
Level 3 Nipple (6 months+)
If your baby takes too long to eat or falls asleep feeding with a Level 2 nipple, consider moving up a size.
These babies are usually eating solid food and can handle the fast flow from a Level 3.
Level 4 Nipple (9 months+)
If your baby continues to grow and feed without major issues, you’ll eventually want to move to a Level 4 nipple.
Babies at this stage can usually handle basic finger foods and drink from a sippy cup.
Y-Cut Nipple (9 months+)
If you want to try feeding cereal and other liquified or pureed foods through a bottle, you’ll want some Y-cut nipples.
They can also be used when you’ve been instructed to thicken your baby’s milk.
And of course, you can always decide to go with a variable flow nipple or bottle system and avoid most of the hassle of dealing with nipple levels.
There, all done!
That was just about everything that you need to know about a baby bottle nipple.
Let’s do a quick recap:
Silicone bottle nipples are standard, common, and have tons of benefits. If your baby has no specialized needs and feeds well, this is often the best choice.
If your baby faces difficulty while feeding, try looking for naturally-shaped nipples or vented nipples to make them more comfortable with the transition.
Orthodontic nipples can be an excellent option to promote healthy teeth formation and are most suitable during the teething period.
Don’t forget to keep an eye on nipple level and flow rate. If your baby is feeding too slowly, you might need to move up a size.
Hope this helps!