Choosing the right bottle for your baby: Milking your options

Okay, ladies… time to take a break from the controversy and talk shop. Formula feeding support isn’t just about analyzing studies or fighting off our detractors, after all. And like so many other aspects of parenting, no one really talks about the idiosyncrasies of bottle feeding. One peak inside a Babies-R-Us tells the tale: row upon row of bottles, nipples, warmers, and other accoutrements… and if you’re like me and found yourself unexpectedly formula feeding after nursing didn’t work out, getting set up for your new feeding situation can be more than a bit stressful.

I had half-heartedly zapped a Born Free “starter kit” onto my registry when I was about seven months pregnant, thinking that this addition was merely insurance. At some point I was going to try and pump so that my husband could take a feeding or two, right? The starter pack would certainly suffice… bottles were bottles after all, and they were BPA free, said so right on the label… it was a safe choice. I liked the packaging. Done and done.

Flash to several months later, when my kid couldn’t latch, and suddenly I had to cash in that insurance policy, big time. I ripped open the Born Free package… and felt my eyes cross. What were these little plastic disks about? And those things that looked like puzzle pieces? I have issues with spacial relations on a good day, let alone one when I was going on half an hour of sleep, with a screaming, hungry baby and a complex about having to feed him from a bottle in the first place.

I figured out the system eventually, but then it became apparent that we were going to need more than the four bottles that came in the pack. So, off to BRU we went; back to the Wall of Possibilities (see, if I make it sound like something Harry Potter-esque it seems cooler, right?) to get some more supplies. My husband went to grab some more Born Frees, staying all brand loyal and crap, but I restrained him.

“WAIT!” I cried, desperately trying to sooth our colicky baby (who was still suffering from a milk allergy, although we didn’t know it at the time). “Look at all our choices… maybe we’re using the wrong bottle! Maybe he’s just gassy! This one says it’s best for colic and gas…Ooooo, and this one is made from PVC…how freaking cool is that?”

And thus began our journey into bottle madness. I think we must have gone through about 20 brands of bottles (and later, sippy cups) before ending up exactly where we started. Born Free was my baby’s bottle of choice; he hated the Dr. Brown’s, was indifferent to Playtex, and wouldn’t even touch the Nuby. The little Medela ones that came with my breast pump kit were okay for a bit, but they were just so flimsy looking; I gravitated towards the high-tech looking delivery systems: the more parts the better. (I regretted this preference every time I went to wash the dishes, but what can you do? For the record though, to this day I don’t understand why those little disks need the hard plastic and soft plastic parts. Couldn’t they make it simpler on us? Plus, I was always losing the little buggers down the disposal and mutilating them, and the company does not sell the disks separately, forcing you to buy a whole new set of bottles… total racket, if you ask me.) I started collecting overpriced baby bottles like other women collect overpriced shoes. You know – the kind you never actually use, but look really great lined up in your closet?

I’ve since found that most moms get super committed to their brand of bottle. And babies do too. My kid can spot a Born Free from a mile away, and yet he has no interest in the baby with the Playtex drop-in right next to him. It’s tough to recommend a bottle to a new mom; it’s kind of like telling someone which breed of dog to get. I happen to love the smoosh-faced breeds (hence our proud ownership of beloved Japanese Chin), but my mom thinks it’s not a dog if it doesn’t have a snout.  There’s no accounting for taste, or the preferences of infants, which apparently, at least in my son’s case, can be developed before they even know how to focus their eyes. My suggestion? If you can liquidate your savings account, buy one of each brand, and try them all until your junior gourmet chooses his favorite. In this economy, though, that might not be a rational way to go; instead, I’d recommend thinking about the following:

1. How much you can withstand dishpan hands: The bottles with a lot of parts (Born Free, Dr. Browns) are highly recommended, but with the caveat that they are a pain in the touchas to clean. Little bits of grime get stuck in the crevices of the disks and you’ll find yourself grumbling at your in-laws’ kind attempts to wash up for you, after the eighth time you discover gross chunks of leftover formula collected on the sides of the plastic. But if you are a bit OCD and enjoy washing dishes, then go for it – I honestly think my kid did have less gas with the Born Free bottles.

2. How environmentally friendly you are: Playtex Drop-Ins are by the far the easiest system (and a lifesaver in those first few weeks of parenthood when washing a dish seems as doable as climbing the Himalayas barefoot), but those liners are not too “green”. A year into a bottle-fed baby’s life, and you’ll have be the proud owner of a plastic liner landfill.

3. How intimidated you get by the Mammary Mafia: When I first switched to formula, I’d only use Medela bottles outside of the house, since they are the preferred choice of pumping moms. I figured people would assume there was breastmilk in my bottle and leave me alone. Sad, but true. Medela’s got the monopoly on pumps and pump parts, so if you’re in the formula closet (not that I am condoning this, by any means, but I also know how it feels to be a new mom in a primarily breastfeeding community, and we all need to get through the day), Medela is a good “beard”.

4. How “trendy” you are: It’s hard to accessorize a newborn. Those little headbands and caps only go so far. What better way to show your offspring’s good taste than a stylish glass Weego or high-tech, self-heating Yoomi? You gotta feed the kid; might as well make a statement while you’re doing it.

That’s my two cents on bottles. I’d love to hear from the peanut gallery…. which is your brand of choice? Do you think the bottle can really make a difference with gas and spit up? Talk to me, FFFs….

Suzanne Barston is a blogger and author of BOTTLED UP. Fearless Formula Feeder is a blog – and community – dedicated to infant feeding choice, and committed to providing non-judgmental support for all new parents. It exists to protect women from misleading or misrepresented “facts”; essentialist ideals about what mothers should think, feel, or do; government and health authorities who form policy statements based on ambivalent research; and the insidious beast known as Internetus Trolliamus, Mommy Blog Varietal.

Suzanne Barston – who has written posts on Fearless Formula Feeder.

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24 thoughts on “Choosing the right bottle for your baby: Milking your options

  1. We tried the small Dr. Browns, Playtex drop ins, and then the large mouth Dr. Browns. He went through a phase where he'd only take Playtex, and now he's onto an only Dr. Browns large mouth phase. I hope it stays that way.

    I was wondering what your thought on Next Step formula was. I can't decide on that at all. I've heard it's helpful from some, and then a money making gimmick from others.

    Love your blog by the way! I wanted to breastfeed but it didn't work out due to hypothyroid on my part. My levels plummeted after birth and it wasn't caught until he was a month.

  2. The first bottle we bought was the Adiri (which is shaped just like a boob). They were cool, and Kellen liked them just fine. They didn't fit into the bottle warmer though, and since we were warming bottles at that point, we wanted to try another brand. We switched to Dr. Brown's glass, and we all seemed to be a lot happier. The oz. were in dark blue as opposed to blended into the plastic. And since I wasn't breastfeeding, there wasn't really a need to get a bottle shaped like a boob to avoid nipple confusion.

    When we finally bought the dishwasher tray that has a convenient place for all the parts, we were sold on that brand. And I liked that the bottle fit into a cute panda bottle pal (have you seen those?! A must have bottle accessory!). A Dr. Brown's family we became.

  3. I was so sure I'd be able to breastfeed that the only bottle I had on hand was the Born Free freebie from Babies R Us. HA! So, like you, my first option was the Medela bottle set that came with the breastpump. After that we tried pretty much everything in existence before settling on MAM, which we still use.

    Cons: One big problem is the nipple/ring assembly; if the nipple hasn't been snapped in place, feeder and baby will end up covered in formula. For this reason I'm a bottle czar and won't let anyone else assemble them.

    Pros: MAM is the only bottle our baby will use, so that alone is the big pro for us. Te anti-colic bottom seems to work, since he can down a full bottle without stopping to burp.

  4. Oh this post made me laugh. I too have a baby bottle collection that is, in retrospect, insane. Here is my issue with the plethora of bottle choice.

    FLOW. When we first started giving our little girl bottles it was for supplementing after breastfeeding. We had been feeding her with all kinds of crazy 'supplement breastfeeding without harming breastfeeding' contraptions: a little dropper like thing, the supplemental nursing system. It was insane. So when we first tried bottles we were told by the not-so-helpful lactation consultant that we were to find the slowest flow bottle possible, so she didn't develop a preference for the bottle. The problem? THEY ALL SAY THEY ARE SLOW FLOW. Many of them are not, but you don't know that until you get home, put some water in them and turn them upside down.

    Even after she was switched to 100% formula, flow was still an issue. She had a very pronounced preference for slow flow bottles. But it was taking her a good 40 minutes to finish a bottle, so I was then again on a search for a bottle that was a bit faster then the 'slow' bottle we had, but not as fast as the 'fast' stage for the bottle brand we used. The brand we used didn't have anything in the middle. And my collection grew.

    I guess I wish there was some independent classification systems for bottles that gave parents a bit of actual information about the differences between them. But in the end, either your kid will like the first one you offer them, or you will spend a small fortune trying to find the 'right' bottle.

  5. I had no idea that the baby would have a preference about which kind of bottle! I am in the process of making my registry on and I had added a whole bunch of the born free bottles, but now maybe I will just add a few to wait and see if he like that kind. Thanks for the tips!

  6. We used both Born Free (glass) and Dr. Brown's (bpa free plastic). Andy ended up doing better with Dr. Brown's and that's what we stuck to. It has a shit load of parts to clean, but in the end it was worth washing 6 bottles +parts every night before going to bed. We only had about a week or two of a gassy baby. BUT was it the bottles or the formula? I think it was the formula (switched to soy), and he just liked the flow of the Dr. Brown's.

  7. I FF from the beginning and from the beginning Michael used regular old glass Evenflo bottles. Easy to use, easy to clean (and sterilize) and cheap so I had a dozen bottles in both the 4oz and 8oz size without breaking the bank. My recommendation would be to try using the simplest bottle first before getting into anything more complex.

  8. As I was miss “No Bottles please” before my DD was born, I had none, so my husband went and bought drop-ins. I loved them and continued to use them throughout her first year. I know they weren't the most environmentally friendly, but they kept my sanity and my car was good on gas, so I figured I evened out 😉 .

  9. Our occupational therapist gave us Dr. Brown's, and we stuck with it. She wasn't gassy and is almost 18 months and has never had an ear infection. I wonder if the bottles played a part in that.

    The key was just to give the bottles and parts a good rinse RIGHT after the feeding. Then we put them in the top rack of the dishwasher.

    That said, I never gave Stella a bottle outside of the house–because she wouldn't eat unless at home. But that's a whole other story 🙂

    Great post. Relatedly, I love to see you research and post about increasingly popular soy formula. I've heard a lot of scary stuff about it, along with rave reviews from some moms who say it really helped their babies.

  10. Besides the odd hospital weird bottle which had a flow too strong for bubba, we have used Avent since day one and have had no problems what so ever with it.

    Its damn easy to assemble, really really easy to clean and we had no problems. (and all we do is put it in the microwave sterilizer for 7 minutes, take them out, fill them with boiling water and put it in the fridge. When we need a bottle we would just top it up to the right amonut with boiling water to make it warm – a learned art – and put the measure of formula in…i dont know why people say its so bloody hard to do becuase it was damn easy to me).

    Something i would suggest for new mums is if you do plan on formula feeding, don't bother getting the Avent starter kit. The babe will soon grow out of the tiny bottles in it. You might as well get 4-8 200-250ml bottles and the bottle brush seperately. And because the teats are interchanable you can just change as needed.

  11. Amber – Was it Stella's feeding aversion that made her unwilling to eat outside the house? I'm just curious because my daughter is the same way, always has been (she's 10 months, now). She had severe GERD and developed feeding issues pretty early on. She's been better since about 8 months old, but is still a very light eater. Now, if I'm giving her a bottle, she needs to be sitting in our living room, in silence. If these things are different, she just won't take the bottle.

  12. I don't have anything to add about what bottles I like, because I am still pregnant and don't have a baby yet 🙂 However, I just wanted to say that this is so helpful!!! I am planning to FF just because thats how me and my sisters were fed when we were babies and it is what I am comfortable with. I have no idea what bottle is best though, and this info was great.

    I have one question…with the Dr. Browns and the other bottles that have lotsa parts, can you just put them in the dishwasher?

  13. Kellen hadn't had an ear infection until this last month, and now he has had 2. We loved Dr. B and believe it really reduced gassiness. The pediatrician and I were just discussing ear infections, and they tend to run in families because of similar facial structures (and in our case, messed up Eustachian tubes!). He didn't get an ear infection before now because he stayed at home and wasn't exposed to anything. Now he's in daycare two days a week, which I believe is a way bigger indicator of your child's health than what's in the bottle. With all the hype about ear infections, FFF, I would love to see you delve into that as well (including the breastmilk in the ear cure!).

  14. I second Amber's request for some info on soy formula.

    Our daughter is allergic to milk, so we decided on organic soy formula (a store brand) because we didn't like the idea of how processed the 'hypoallergenic' milk formula was. We too have heard some bad things about soy… but no one has been able to give us a clear answer. Right now, we don't have an option, as the formula works for her and I don't want to mess with that. But as we approach her first year and consider 'stage 2' formula we want to look at our options.

    So I guess I also second Andrea's request for a post about 'stage 2' formula as well.


  15. I am loving all the subject requests for future posts… keep 'em coming! Soy and hypoallergenic formulas are a pet subject of mine (having a kid with MSPI and all) so I will certainly tackle that one… and Brooke, ear infections and bottle feeding has certainly gotten a lot of press – much of it missing the fundamental point, which is the delivery system, not what is in the bottle. That's a great topic as well.

  16. finpoin, it's so inconvenient, isn't it? AH! i'm sorry you and your daughter had to deal with stressful feeding issues!

    i think it was partly due to her feeding issue that she was soooo unwilling to take a bottle anywhere but in her quiet, darkened room. i think she needed to feel “safe” and completely comfortable when eating. if anyone said an audible WORD in the NEXT ROOM, she'd jerk her head and the feeding was OVER. i'd often feel like crying and inside i was shouting, “SHUT THE F@&k UP!” to people who didn't really take me seriously about the need to be quiet.

    stella's occupational therapist explained it this way: eating was stella's least mature and therefore most easily thrown off skill. i think that's true. and some babies, who've never had any feeding issues, are simply too distracted to eat much in public–they're just too excited or interested in what's going on. i mean, they eat, but not near as much as they normally would. i do think that stella was extreme in that way, due to all she'd been through.

    so, yeah, part of it may just be personality and preferences. stella's OT also said that for some babies, eating is extremely rewarding and enjoyable, whereas other babies find exploring or moving more rewarding and enjoyable than eating–and there's nothing wrong with that either. stella now eats with real enthusiasm, and it's a beautiful sight.

    in hindsight, i wish i'd stressed about it less in the period where her aversion was gone but feeding her was still tricky. assuming they are in charge of their intake, they really do know how to regulate. if one feeding is low, they will make up for it later. (i know for sure because for many, many months, i tracked every milliliter Stella drank in an exhaustive excel spreadsheet!)

    hang in there! you will soon miss that quiet bottle time in your living room. try not to worry 🙂

    (sorry for such a long comment!)

  17. I, too, was sure I would exclusively breastfeed so I only had a couple of bottles that my friend passed on to me. She wisely told me to test drive some bottles once my daughter was ready for them, as some babies are picky about them.

    Fast forward to the beginning of our feeding nightmare and I plucked one of the bottles my friend gave me out of the bag: Avent. It was okay but she seemed to spit up a ton. There was a Born Free we used too, but I hated all the parts. I was in a vicious “try to breastfeed-supplemental device feed-pump-wash everything” cycle at that time, without a dishwasher. I was exhausted and delirious; the extra pieces just seemed like too much more work when I was hand washing pump parts and bottles at 2:30 AM.

    Our lactation consultants recommended Dr. Brown so we bought a pack of those and ended up sticking with them. (Ironically, since it has about as many parts as the Born Free.) The craniofacial specialist at Children's also recommended them, as it turns out. Yes, a lot of parts but I think it did help with keeping her gas to a minimum.

  18. Thanks, Amber! Your description of Stella sounds so much like my daughter, Lily, it's pretty crazy! I just try to trust that she knows what she needs and what she doesn't. Some days she is all about the bottle, while not wanting much to do with her solids, other days it's the opposite. As long as it doesn't have her up all night long, I'm usually okay with it 🙂

    As for bottles, we started with Playtex Drop-Ins, which I bought before she was born. The wide neck seemed hard for her to latch onto when she was a newborn, and there were her feeding issues, too. So, someone recommended Dr. Brown's and we switched to those. I've been using them until very recently. Now we're using Playtex Ventaire (Standard Neck), and one Drop-In before bed. She really likes the Ventaires and does well with them. They're a little easier to wash than the Dr. Brown's, so that's nice. I like the Drop-In before bed, because the wide-neck seems to help her relax and signal her that it's bedtime, and not just a regular feeding.

    I look forward to the post on Stage 2 Formulas. I'm planning to try one with Lily when she hits a year. I just can't see regular cow's milk getting her enough vitamins and such, when she's a finnicky eater to begin with.

  19. Try the cheapest, easiest stuff first! You can always get something more expensive, but once your baby has a preference, it is hard to go back. I also never thought I would need a bottle and only had 3 regular plastic Evenflow bottles I got as a gift at my baby shower. When I came home from the hospital pumping and supplementing, I wished I had been more prepared! The bottles had to be boiled and washed and the pump parts also sterilized and washed….and then I had to do it all over again (and again and again)! Who ever says Moms bottle feed because it's easier never thought of 24/7 dishes to wash! Anyway, my baby never had a problem with the regular cheap bottles like Evenflow and Gerber. The are about $1 each, so that was great! I did try some wide neck bottles I got as samples later, but they seemed awkward for my baby to use. Plus I didn't want to invest in expensive bottles when I was really trying everything to nurse. But despite my best efforts, little darling had a lot of trouble latching and finally rejected bf all together. So I just stuck with the bottles that already worked. Boy am I glad they did – no extra parts, cheap to replace, BPA free, attach to my pump, and we never had problems with gas or spit up! Good luck to all the Mommies out there!

  20. We use Dr. Brown's and Born Free. When my son was a newborn, they were the ONLY bottles that were actually low-flow enough for him. He would choke on everything else. And we don't have a dishwasher! But at the beginning, washing all those extra parts was worth it!

    Now that he's 7 months, he can pretty much drink out of anything. We started using the Avent bottles I got at my baby shower and those work well, but at the beginning even the infant nipples were too fast.

  21. My daughter hates all wide-neck bottles. So, we started out with Dr. Brown's, until I got sick of washing all the different parts. Then we tried Playtex Ventaire, which started to leak out of the top and bottom after a few weeks. Now we're using Parent's Choice, and they're really good! Only three parts (nipple, collar, bottle), standard neck, no leaks 🙂 Happy mommy and happy baby.

  22. I was really not aware of this that we need to look after bottle selection too..but its true ,for baby according to diet the other things are also should be taken in to consideration.

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