Baby Bottles: How to Choose and Use the Best Bottles For Your Baby
Feeding your little one is a wonderful bonding experience. But if you’ve opted to bottle feed, it can also be a bit overwhelming as you start weighing all of the available choices. Some bottles may be best for younger babies. Other bottles claim to help gassy babies. How to decide?
Don’t worry--Pathfinder Health is here to talk you through everything you need to know about selecting the best baby bottle for your child, safety and cleaning guidelines, and other tips that can make feeding time smoother for everyone involved.
In this article:
When to replace baby bottle nipples
Weaning your child from a baby bottle
Tips for weaning from a baby bottle
Methods for bottle feeding a baby
Self-feeding with a baby bottle
Safety precautions for using baby bottles
How many baby bottles do I need?
What are the best baby bottles?
How many bottles should a baby have a day?
How long can you keep using a baby bottle? Do they expire?
Should you replace bottles with each baby?
Are [brand] bottles microwave safe?
Can [brand] bottles be washed in the dishwasher?
Why parents use baby bottles
Bottle feeding is truly a lifesaver for millions of parents. It untethers the mother from sole responsibility for feeding the baby, permitting her to work, care for other children, and leave the house for longer periods without her baby.
It also allows the father and/or other caregivers to feed the baby and enjoy the bonding that comes from that one-on-one time.
Baby bottles are a must for formula feeding. Parents may choose formula for their babies for a variety of reasons:
Parents cannot--or choose not to--breastfeed
Babies either cannot nurse or are unable to drink breast milk for medical reasons
Parents need to supplement breastfeeding with formula
To learn more about baby formula, see The Basics of Baby Formula.
Pumped breast milk
Many families also use baby bottles to feed their baby expressed (pumped) breast milk. A mother may pump and then provide bottles if she works outside of the home or if she cannot--or chooses not to--breastfeed.
In other circumstances, babies may be unable to breastfeed for medical reasons but can still benefit from receiving breast milk.
As a general rule, babies should not drink anything other than breast milk or formula from a baby bottle.
From birth to six months, breast milk or formula provide all of the nutrients and hydration that your baby needs. They should not have any additional water.
After six months, you can begin giving your baby small amounts of water, but this is a good opportunity to help them practice drinking from a cup.
After your baby turns one, you can begin transitioning to cows milk (in the absence of an allergy or sensitivity). This is a good time to start weaning them off of a bottle and encouraging them to drink from a cup.
You should not give a baby juice or soda at all.
There are no reliable statistics showing the total percentage of babies who are least partially bottle fed. However, the data shows that at least 75% of babies drink some formula. Add to that the total number of babies who drink pumped milk from baby bottles. That's a lot of bottles!
How to choose a baby bottle
Just like other types of baby gear, there are an overwhelming variety of baby bottles on the market today. To help you understand your options and select the best baby bottles for your child, we'll go through all of the features of baby bottles and describe some of the ways that different types might benefit your baby.
Parts of a baby bottle
This is the main part of the baby bottle--where the liquid goes!
Baby bottles come in two basic sizes:
Small: 4-5 oz
Large: 8-9 oz
The small size is intended for young babies, who drink less at one sitting. Once your child reaches around four months, you'll likely find that they are eating more and it's time to switch to eight or nine ounce bottles.
It's also totally fine to skip the smaller size bottles entirely and start with larger bottles filled only halfway. The smaller ones just take up less room in a dishwasher or diaper bag.
Standard baby bottles have straight sides and are the easiest to fill and clean.
Angled bottles look like a straight-sided bottle that was bent into an L shape. They are designed to prevent a baby from swallowing excess air and reduce gas and spit up. This bottle shape can be harder to clean.
Wide neck bottles are designed to use with wide nipples. Some suggest that these imitate the experience of breastfeeding and may be the best baby bottles for breastfed babies.
Plastic bottles are the most commonly used type and come in numerous types and styles. They travel well but may be harder to keep clean since they scratch easily and can retain odors.
Although you may have heard concerns about the possibility of the chemical BPA in plastic baby bottles, rest assured. In 2012, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration banned the use of BPA in baby bottles and sippy cups, so new bottles must be made from BPA free plastic.
Glass bottles are easier to get really clean and can last forever--unless they break! They are also heavier and therefore harder for babies to drink from independently. A silicone sleeve can both protect the glass bottle from breakage and help your baby grip it.
Many parents prefer glass over plastic for environmental reasons.
Silicone bottles are a newer option and harder to find. They are a middle road between plastic and glass in a number of ways--a silicone bottle is lighter than glass and easier for babies to hold, unbreakable, and easier to get clean than plastic (although not as easy as glass).
Some silicone bottles collapse as your baby drinks, which squeezes out air and prevents air bubbles from becoming trapped in your baby's tummy.
The following table compares some of the factors to consider in choosing baby bottles:
Nipples come in two materials: latex (rubber) and silicone, each with its advantages and disadvantages:
Flow rate refers to how quickly liquid moves through the nipple and into your baby's mouth.
It's important to make sure that you are using a bottle nipple with a flow rate that is appropriate for your baby’s development, health, and feeding style.
If the flow rate is too slow, your baby will have to work harder to get milk/formula and may become frustrated. If the flow rate is too fast, your baby may not be able to keep up and may gasp or choke. This also causes them to swallow more air bubbles, leading to gas and spit up.
For more information about gas and spit-up, see Burping Babies: How You Can Ease and Prevent Discomfort and Why Babies Spit Up and How To Help.
The best flow rate for a baby is not necessarily tied to their age. Breastfeeding babies--even older babies--might do better with slow flow nipples because the flow rate is closer to the experience of breastfeeding. We'll discuss this more under "paced bottle feeding," below.
Baby bottle nipples come in several shapes and types:
Standard: tall and bell-shaped
Orthodontic: wide at the tip and base and narrow in the middle; designed to protect a baby's gums and promote tooth formation
Wide: resembles the shape of a breast and can make the bottle more appealing to a breastfed baby
Consult with your pediatrician to see if your baby should use a certain nipple shape. If there are no medical considerations, you can try different shapes to see which your baby likes best.
While you can often use different styles of nipple with the same bottle, keep in mind that most bottle brands are not interchangeable. You may be limited in nipple material and shape options if you prefer one type of bottle, and vice versa.
When to replace baby bottle nipples
You should replace a bottle nipple immediately if it shows any sign of cracking or tearing, becomes discolored, or otherwise appears to be wearing out. Check bottle nipples regularly to make sure they are still in good shape.
You can also move up to the next flow rate if your baby seems to be taking a long time with a feeding or is becoming frustrated. If your baby seems content, though, there is no need to fix what isn't broken!