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How to Avoid Nipple Confusion: Breast to Bottle & Back

If you’re going back to work, need a date night, or just want to give someone else a chance to feed baby, it is crucial to avoid nipple confusion and instead make sure baby can go back and forth between breastfeeding and bottle feeding. There are some simple steps you can take to ensure that the transition from breast to bottle and back again is smooth and successful for you and your baby, and it all starts with nipple flow.

The Key to No Nipple Confusion Breast to Bottle Transitions: Nipple Flow Rate

Whether baby is breastfed or bottle-fed, nipple flow rate is essential to healthy feeding. If the flow rate is too fast, you may notice your baby coughing or gulping as they become overwhelmed with too much milk. On the flip side, too slow of a flow rate may make feeding increasingly frustrating for baby as they struggle to suck out milk.

Common Signs Nipple Flow Rate is Too Fast

Some babies will manage just fine with changing flow rates between breast and bottle. Others may struggle to adapt. Baby may react in various ways to changes in milk flow rate between breast and bottle, reactions like:

  • Coughing
  • Excessive swallowing
  • Drooling saliva
  • Milk dripping from the mouth
  • Refusing the bottle or breast

A nipple with the wrong flow rate could be more challenging for babies born prematurely or with other medical conditions that impact feeding skills, resulting in baby seeming to refuse the bottle by pulling away from it when they are in fact just trying to lower the flow. There’s also the issue of baby getting accustomed to a faster flow from bottles, which could inhibit them from going back to the breast.  To avoid “flow preference,” it’s all about getting the right bottle nipple flow.

TIP 1: Avoid nipple confusion by starting with the lowest nipple level that has the slowest flow available and then adjust accordingly.

Most bottle brands offer a variety of different “levels” or nipple flow rates that are recommended for certain ages. Of course, the age recommendations are just suggestions; every baby is different.

The Dr. Brown’s® Preemie FlowTM Nipple has the slowest flow rate, uniquely designed to assure a safe, consistent flow not just for babies who struggle to feed, but also babies who are experiencing the breast to bottle transition. The 100% silicone nipple limits milk flow to a steady, slow rate – giving baby a better opportunity to breathe and swallow. This slow flow makes the Preemie Flow™ our recommended first nipple for moms who want to continue transitioning between bottle and breastfeeding.

TIP 2: Choose bottle nipples that offer consistent flow between same-level nipples.

Here’s an important question that may be overlooked:

If I buy a pack of the SAME level nipple, will each of these nipples offer the SAME flow rate?

With Dr. Brown’s Preemie Flow nipples, the answer is yes. In a study done by the University of North Carolina, Dr. Brown’s offered the most consistent flow in each same-level nipple out of the ten brands studied.

Consistency in flow rate across same-level nipples is particularly important for babies who are going back and forth between breast and bottle. Baby learns what to expect between the two, avoids nipple confusion and transitions that much smoother.

TIP 3: Check out paced bottle feeding practices to help baby better transition.

Paced bottle feeding is a way to feed baby that mimics breastfeeding. Literally, it means pacing feedings so baby eats more slowly and works harder to get milk – just as they would when breastfeeding. The Dr. Brown’s Preemie Flow nipples will encourage the hard work without the over exertion.

Paced bottle feedings also help your little one determine what full feels like to them, and with such tiny stomachs to fill, that usually means small meals often throughout the day.

Here are the basics to paced feeding:

  1. Sit baby more upright
  2. Tickle baby’s lips with the bottle
  3. Put nipple into baby’s mouth
  4. Hold bottle horizontally to slow the flow
  5. After 20–30 seconds of feeding, slightly adjust the nipple towards the roof of baby’s mouth to stem milk flow

TIP 4: Don’t wait until last minute before you have someone else give the bottle.

Giving the bottle a few times a few weeks before going back to work will tell you how easy it will be for baby to go from breast to bottle and back again. Some babies adjust quickly, others make their preferences more known. You’ll both appreciate learning this ahead of time.

By trying out the bottle earlier on, you’ll also show baby you’re not the only source of food. Having someone else feed them, including caretakers, is that crucial part of the transition. While the other person is bottle feeding baby, it’s a good idea to leave the room – or possibly leave the house altogether. Your little one will begin to break the association that only mom means food.

With all this advice on nipples and nipple flow, wouldn’t it be nice if there was some sort of breast-to-bottle kit to help make the transition less complicated for mom and baby? We agree. That’s why we put together the Dr. Brown’s® Breast-to-Bottle Feeding Set, which includes four of our favorite Preemie Nipples, along with four Level 1 Nipples when baby is ready for a bit more milk flow (and it’s great for paced feeding). This Feeding Set is designed to get mom and baby through breast-to-bottle transitions without a hiccup – and help make sure you two can continue breastfeeding.

In total, the Breast-to-Bottle Feeding Set includes:

  • 4 – Preemie™ (Slowest Flow) Nipples
  • 4 – Level 1 (Slow Flow) Nipples
  • 4 – 4 oz/120 ml Options™ Bottles with fully vented design
  • 4 Storage Caps for refrigerating milk or during travel
  • 1 HappyPaci™, the 100% silicone pacifier shaped the same as Dr. Brown’s bottle nipples to help increase pacifier acceptance

Adjusting to bottle feeding does not have to mean giving up breastfeeding. By taking it slow, you’ll have the time to experiment and learn what works best for your baby. Happy feeding starts with a planned approach that preserves the bond of breastfeeding yet incorporates the practicalities of bottle feeding – the perfect combination. For questions about our Preemie Flow Nipples or where to purchase the Dr. Brown’s Breast-to-Bottle Feeding Set, contact us today!

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