Only what you need for your baby. Really. (OK – and some fantastic things you don’t that are pretty cool.)
Moms’ confusion, not babies’, that is! How do you know when to move your baby up to the next size nipple on your bottle of choice? Most bottle “systems” come with nipples labeled “Stage 1” and most say that by 3-6 months, your baby will want a “Stage 2” nipple, and then, later, a “Stage 3.” They usually stop there, but that’s plenty of buying nipples, assessing your little one’s drinking habits (no, not that kind of drinking habit!), and sorting through confusion.
So here’s the deal, plus the advice that made sense to me: the stages bottle manufacturers refer to are, as usual with babies, general estimates, in this case of when your baby will be both big enough to drink more and want to drink that more faster. Stage 1 nipples have relatively small openings which means Baby has to work a bit to get the milk (as with breastfeeding) but also so that the milk or formula doesn’t come out faster than he can drink it. Stage 2 nipples have a bigger opening and therefore a “faster flow” and Stage 3, as far as Astrid and I were concerned, basically has has an opening that the milk pours out of onto your baby’s head!
Moving Astrid from Stage 1 to Stage 2 was confusing because I was still breastfeeding, so assessing how much milk she was getting every day was tough with her only taking bottles intermittently. How would I know if she were drinking “enough” through her Stage 1 bottle?? Plus, she was easily distracted while eating, so there was that evolving feeding challenge in the mix too. But gradually I noticed she was getting frustrated with her bottle (pulling off, etc.), we tried the Stage 2 bottles instead and voila – the annoyance went away and feeding went faster. Wins all around. Which is to say, this isn’t an exact science and trial and error is perfectly fine. There’s no harm done if you try the next stage nipple, your baby doesn’t go for it, and you switch back down. No big deal.
A few months later, I arbitrarily decided Astrid was ready for Stage 3 (based on Born Free‘s pamphlet recommendation), and, as above, the milk poured out all over her. So back to Stage 2 we went. When I asked the lactation consultant at my mom’s group about the necessity of moving Astrid up to Stage 3, she pointed out that the stage distinctions are a creation of the bottle manufacturers and there’s no need to ever move from Stage 1 or Stage 2 if your baby is getting enough to eat and is happy with her bottle. Fair enough. Perfectly logical. Done. We never moved up to Stage 3 and everyone’s happy.
(That said, I can’t quite imagine not moving from Stage 1 to Stage 2, since the Stage 1 opening is so small. Based on my sample size of one (!), I’d say that probably you will want to move to Stage 2 at some point since a baby needs more food faster than a newborn. And, of course, if your little one is not a fan of the bottle, that’s a whole separate question that can be really tough, so I’ll defer to your pediatrician and offer you a remote hug if you’re in that boat.)
So that’s my brief 411 on the subject. As with so many new mom questions, don’t stress too much, just pay attention to what your baby’s up to at the bottle and trust your instinct.