Baby Bottles and Nipples: The Ultimate Buying Guide
Whether new parents intend to bottle feed from day one, combination feed, or eventually move from breast to bottle, there is a seemingly endless flow of bottle shapes and styles to choose from.
Bottles and bottle accessories make perfect additions to a baby registry, but it is important that new parents do a bit of research before making their bottle selection.
Bottle makers do their best to produce high-quality products with minimal off-putting tastes and shapes, but parents will be at the mercy of an hours-old child, who is hungry and confused by an entire world of new stimuli.
If you choose to feed your baby using a bottle, he or she will need to learn how to drink from a bottle. It can take some time for your baby to get used to it. Feeding seems basic, but it’s just not that simple for a person who is brand new.
Newborns will typically eat every two to three hours. So, unless new parents plan on washing the same couple of bottles after every feeding, a new baby will require a full set. On average, new parents will need four to twelve bottles depending on whether the child will be exclusively bottle fed or both bottle and breast fed. Investing in the full set early-on risks a picky baby disliking the selected bottles and requiring an entirely new set. Thus, parents should narrow down and register for a few choice bottle styles until they know their baby's preferences.
Choosing the Best Baby Bottle Material
- Pros: Plastic bottles are lightweight and definitely the most cost-effective choice. There are numerous plastic bottle options available in almost all stores that carry baby products. They are also easy to clean and more difficult to break than glass baby bottles. Check out our list of the best plastic baby bottles.
- Cons: The American Academy of Pediatrics maintains high safety concerns over harmful chemicals found in certain plastics. Bisphenol A (BPA) is used to harden and protect polycarbonate plastics. “There are concerns, though, over the possible harmful effects BPA may have on humans, particularly on infants and children. Animal studies have shown effects on the endocrine functions in animals related to BPA exposure.” For parents considering plastic bottles, the following safety considerations are recommended:
- Avoid clear plastics and those with recycle symbol 7 and the letters “PC.” Instead, search for opaque plastics with recycle numbers 2 or 5.
- Do not boil, microwave, or machine wash polycarbonate bottles.
- Pros: Silicone bottles are soft and lightweight, but unlike plastic bottles, silicone options are BPA free. Silicone bottles have become more popular over recent years, so availability is becoming more prevalent. Check out our list of the best silicone baby bottles.
- Cons: Silicone bottles are often more expensive, and while they are found in more stores, they are not as readily available as plastic bottles.
- Pros: Glass bottles have been around for many years, and they have had recent resurgence in popularity (and thus availability) as parents look for BPA free options. Check out our list of the best glass baby bottles.
- Cons: Glass bottles are more expensive than plastic options. Glass is breakable, so there are serious concerns for cracking and shattering. Silicone sleeves are available (as an additional purchase) to help reduce the risk for breakage, and many of the more popular glass baby bottles are extremely strong and shatter-proof.
- Pros: Stainless steel bottles are unbreakable. These bottles have the longest life without the risk for shattering or cracking. Stainless steel is BPA free. Check out our list of the best glass baby bottles.
- Cons: There are far fewer stainless steel options when compared to other bottle materials. For this reason, stainless steel bottles are harder to find and may not be stocked in local baby supply stores. Furthermore, they are more vulnerable to denting, have a more difficult time with leakage, tend not to have good venting systems, can develop condensation on the outside, are not see-through (so it's hard to see how much milk or formula is inside), and stainless is not a good insulating material. The more popular stainless baby bottles are starting to work around these limitations, for instance by using silicone sleeves, insulated layers, and vented nipples.
Choosing the Perfect Baby Bottle Shape
Baby Bottle Size: How Many Ounces?
Every baby is unique with their own preferences and appetite, but starting with a baby's age will be a good indicator for bottle size. For newborns starting on the bottle, parents will need some small bottles as infants will take only 1 to 2 ounces at a time during the first few days of life and then 2 to 3 ounces, up to 4 ounces each feeding by the end of the first month. By six months of age, most babies are consuming 6 to 8 ounces per feeding. The American Academy of Pediatrics notes, “Another way to think about normal intake is by weight; for every pound of body weight, your infant will consume around 2½ ounces (75 mL) per day.”
Most small sized-bottles hold up to 4 ounces, which are the perfect size for holding small amounts of breast milk or formula for babies under one month old. After the first month, babies can graduate to larger bottle sizes for bigger meals.
Baby Bottle Shapes
There are various baby bottle shapes available, each offering different benefits for babies and their families.
- Standard: These are the most basic bottles. They are narrow and straight and can be found in plastic, silicone, glass, and stainless steel options. However, some babies may have trouble with gassiness while using these bottles.
- Wide Neck (“Breast Shape”): These bottles are short and broad with wide openings. The design has numerous benefits, including easy measurements for breast milk and / or formula mixing and effortless cleanup. Additionally, the wider neck necessitates wider nipples, which mimic the breast and may be more comfortable for babies. These bottles may be difficult to fit into stroller cup holders.
- Bottle Shapes for Gassiness and Colic:In general, colic is defined as crying for three or more hours a day, three or more days a week, for three or more weeks.” Changes in feeding practices that can help alleviate discomfort from gassiness include frequent burping and feeding in an upright position. Bottle shapes designed specifically to minimize air bubbles may help soothe overly gassy babies and babies with colic. These bottle shapes include:
- Angled Neck: These bottles allow babies to feed at an angle or sit up. In this position, air bubbles will travel upward, away from the nipple. These bottles may also help prevent ear infections. Parents using angled neck bottles may have more difficulty when it comes time to clean them.
- Vent Systems: Vented bottle systems (sometimes called “Anti Colic Bottles”) are designed with either a small hole in the nipple or straw-like components attached to either the inside of the nipple or the bottom of the bottle. The vent hole or vent attachment reduces air bubbles in the nipple and claims to reduce both gassiness and acid reflux to make feeding and digestion more comfortable for the baby. Some vented systems may be more difficult to clean due to the number of extra, small pieces.
- Disposable Liner: Bottles with drop-in liners also mimic breastfeeding as the liner bag collapses while the baby eats. Liner bottles are designed for on-the-go feedings, because clean-up is a breeze. For health and safety, disposable bottle liners cannot be reused.
Choosing Baby Bottle Nipples
Baby bottle nipples vary in material, shape, and flow, but regardless of nipple style, parents should be vigilant to ensure nipple safety. Both formula and breast milk should drip steadily from a nipple. If the liquid streams or pours out, this may indicate the nipple has become too large from overuse and must be thrown out. Additionally, nipples that show any cracking should also be thrown away immediately to avoid becoming a choking hazard.
- Material: Bottle nipples are usually made from either latex or silicone. Latex nipples are softer than silicone models, but they break-down faster and can hold onto milk and formula odors (possibly impacting taste, as well). Latex may cause allergic reactions for some babies. Silicone nipples are firmer and can withstand teething with greater longevity than latex options.
- Nipple Shapes: Nipple shapes vary with different designs to best align with tooth and gum health, digestion, and how a baby suckles. If you are using pacifiers, try to get the same brand bottle and pacifier to have similarly-shaped nipples. There are three standard nipple types, including:
- Orthodontic: Designed with the breast in mind, the tip on an orthodontic nipple has one slanted side, which rests on the baby's tongue to simulate breastfeeding. These nipples claim a natural feel for bottle-feeding babies.
- Angled: Another nursing-inspired nipple design to offer breast-like comfort for bottle fed babies. Angled nipples have a bulbous base with an angled tip, which is positioned toward the roof of the baby's mouth to facilitate healthy swallowing. Angled nipples may also assist with a stronger latch during feedings.
- Vented: Vented nipples include a small hole to reduce air collection and collapse during feeding. This may also support better digestion and reduce gassiness.
- Nipple Size and Flow: In addition to the variety in material and shape, new parents will notice that baby bottle nipples are marked with either letters or numbers. Nipple sizes (often referred to as stages) indicate the flow—how fast milk or formula is released during feedings. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends parents “Make sure the nipple hole is the right size. If your baby seems to be gagging or gulping too fast, the nipple hole may be too large. If your baby is sucking hard and seems frustrated, the hole may be too small.” Preemies and / or newborn babies will typically start with P or Stage 1 nipple flow. For breastfed babies who wean onto bottles, parents can make an educated guess based on the child’s age and feeding style.
- Preemie: Because of their small size, premature babies will likely require special, extra small and extra low-flow nipples. Pediatricians will advise parents on the necessity for preemie size nipples.
- Stage 1: These nipples are appropriate for use from birth for full-term babies. These nipples have a slow flow rate that is ideal for newborns through about three months.
- Stage 2: When babies show frustration during bottle feedings, it may indicate they are ready to graduate to the next size nipple flow. Feeding frustration signs may include frequent stops during meals, crying, and collapsing the nipple. Stage 2 nipples are typically appropriate for babies from age three months and up.
- Stage 3: Stage three nipples offer a medium speed flow. Babies who are six months and older may be ready for this nipple stage.
- Stage 4: At about nine months, most babies are ready for stage 4, fast flow nipples.
- Variable Flow: These nipples have a wide tip opening (typically a slot or a Y-Cut) to allow maximum flow. Variable flow nipples are used for feeding thicker formula or cereal mix to older babies (at least six months). The American Academy of Pediatrics warns that this should only be done when advised by the child’s pediatrician. “Offering cereal in a bottle (or even on a spoon) before babies are developmentally ready can increase the likelihood of gagging and/or inhaling the thickened mixture into their lungs.” Typically, babies who are old enough (6M) to properly digest cereals are also old enough to start eating from a spoon.
Choosing the Best Baby Bottle for Your Budget
There are a number of features that will impact the cost of baby bottles. Parents will need to weigh their options as well as the feeding needs of their child when purchasing bottles.
The bottle’s material will be one of the first options parents will look at. On average, silicone and stainless steel bottles tend to be the most expensive—however, these bottles also offer the most longevity. Glass bottles are typically less expensive, but will not be as prevalent as silicone options. Plastic bottle styles are by far the least expensive and the most prevalent, but these will break down more quickly, and parents will want to watch for BPAs.
Parents will choose the shape of the bottle based on their baby’s feeding style and preference. Standard shaped bottles are the most ubiquitous and also the least expensive. Angled neck bottles and wide neck bottles will cost a bit more, and vented bottle systems will typically be the most expensive option.
How to Make the Most of Your Baby Bottle Purchase
In an effort to save some money over time, pumping mothers can explore bottle brands that are compatible with their breast pump. Some breast pump brands may offer packages that include bottles.
Convertible bottles can be another budget saver. Some bottle brands offer styles that grow with babies—not just through each nipple stage, but also into sippy cups with soft and / or hard sippy spout options to fit onto the same bottles.
Bottle Accessories and Features to Look For
Dishwasher Safe: If easy cleaning is a priority, parents will want to consider bottles that are dishwasher safe. In a recent policy statement in the journal Pediatrics, the American Academy of Pediatrics cautioned parents against placing plastics in the dishwasher to avoid releasing harmful chemicals (like BPAs) through heating. Instead, the AAP recommends using alternative materials such as glass or stainless steel.
Ergonomics: Many bottle options are ergonomically designed, making them easily grasped and well positioned in baby’s little hands.
Extra Caps and Covers: Just like socks, baby bottle caps and nipple covers will frequently disappear. Parents can purchase extra sets of these items to be prepared for this inevitability.
Bottle Warmer: Bottles can be offered to babies at room temperature, but many parents find babies are more receptive to warm bottles. The American Academy of Pediatrics reminds parents, “Never warm a bottle of formula or human milk in the microwave. The bottle itself may feel cool while the liquid inside can be too hot. Microwaving also heats unevenly. Even though a few drops sprinkled on your wrist may feel OK, some of the formula or human milk may be scalding. The composition of human milk may change if it is warmed too much, as well.” Baby bottle warmers can heat milk, formula, and food, and some models can even sterilize baby equipment. However, it is possible to overheat a bottle in a bottle warmer, too. So, as always, it is important that parents follow safety guidelines and always test bottles before feeding the baby. Another option would be to purchase a formula dispenser to produce already heated formula bottles.
Insulated Tote Bag: Travel with a baby means packing bottles ahead of time. An insulated tote bag allows parents to travel with warm bottles at the ready.
Bottle Brushes: A quality bottle brush is a must-have cleaning tool. Parents should look for a brush with limited metal (to avoid rust), an easy-to-grip handle, and a flexible head to reach into all bottle shapes. A brush with both soft and firm bristles ensures residue is both scraped and wiped away, and a nipple brush attachment (a thin brush typically screwed into the handle) will help detail clean all small bottle parts.
Bottle Sterilizer: Electric and microwavable sterilizers offer a quick steam clean to kill germs and other household bacteria without chemicals or detergent. Parents should, of course, keep in mind that plastic bottles should not be put into the microwave.
Bottle Drying Rack/ Mat: To avoid the growth of mold and bacteria, bottles should be completely dry before putting them away. A bottle drying rack or mat offers a clean space to dry clean baby bottles.
Dishwasher Basket: For dishwasher safe bottles and parts, a dishwasher basket allows parents to keep all bottle pieces locked together while washing.
A Good Nursing Pillow: This is a little extra, but definitely check out our list of the best nursing pillows to make breast or bottle feeding more comfortable for you and your baby!