When it comes to choosing a baby bottle, there are many different brands, varieties, and designs available to you. These will vary somewhat depending on the country in which you live and the stores to which you have access. There are, however, similarities between all baby bottles, and having an idea of these before purchasing a baby bottle can help to ensure you get one that will suit you well.
Baby bottles are not all the same, and so it can be difficult to know what to choose. Much of this depends on personal preference and what you are looking for in your bottle; you may try several different bottles before you find the one that works most for you. To help with your choice I have compiled a rough guide of how baby bottles vary and the different choices you may have. This is followed by some basic information how to use and care for your bottle.
Choosing a Bottle
Most baby bottles are made of three basic components: the bottle, which holds the liquid, a teat which is sucked in order to drink the liquid, and a ring designed to hold the two together. Most bottles also have a cap or lid designed to go over the teat. Some bottles may have additional parts, such as handles or a plastic disk to cover the inside of the teat, and prevent spillage, when not in use. When choosing a bottle, the two parts which will probably most influence your choice are the bottle and the teat.
Neck and Compatibility: When it comes to choosing a baby bottle one of the first things you will probably notice is that they come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Although the design and decoration of bottles may vary, for the most part there are just two different kinds of bottles: thin-necked bottles and wide-necked bottles.
Historically baby bottles have always been thin-necked, and if you were bottle fed as a baby it is likely that you were fed with thin-necked bottles. Thin-necked bottles may also be described as "standard" bottles. Over recent years, however, wide-necked bottles have become more popular, as the wider neck makes it easier to fill the bottle without spills. If you are going to be making up formula, or another drink which involves measuring and adding powder (e.g. milkshakes), then wide-necked bottles will certainly make this job easier.
The majority of thin-necked or standard bottles are compatible. This means that if you lose the ring or teat from your bottle you can usually replace it with the ring or teat of another brand. Equally, most wide-necked bottles are compatible, so again you can use rings and teats from other brands with your bottle. Thin-necked and wide-necked bottles are not compatible, and so you cannot interchange rings/nipples.
Although most baby bottles will be either thin-necked or wide-necked, some baby bottles, such as Tommee Tippee’s Closer To Nature bottle, have a size unique to the brand, and as such are not compatible with parts from other brands.
Capacity: Another obvious difference between baby bottles is their size, and the amount of liquid they are able to hold. The smallest bottles typically hold about 150mL or 5fl oz of liquid. Larger bottles typically hold around 270mL or 9fl oz, of liquid. Some brands, such as MAM, also make bottle sizes between small and large, and others make slightly larger bottles, holding around 330mL or 11fl oz. Generally most adults will want to choose a larger size bottle, but smaller sizes may be useful if you need to keep your bottle hidden or want to be able to transport it easily.
Material: The vast majority of baby bottles are now made of plastic. Plastic is an effective material because it is safe, light to carry, and usually clear. Baby bottle plastic is resistant to being boiled, being dropped, and will usually last a long time. You may see baby bottles listed as "BPA-free". BPA is a component used in making plastics which some studies have linked to causing negative health effects, and as a result of campaigning by many parents against the use of BPA in baby bottles, many major brands no longer use it in their products.
Although less common, baby bottles may also be made of glass. NUK, for example, offers a line of glass bottles. Although the glass used in baby bottles is strong in order to minimise the likelihood of smashing, if dropped there is a risk that they may break. There are also a small number of companies who make stainless steel baby bottles.
Design: Beyond differences in the neck, capacity, and material, the look of baby bottles can vary a great deal. Some bottles are very short and fat, others are very tall and thin. Some may be curved or ergonomically designed to fit to the shape of your hand. Some may have handles or a hole in the middle, some may even be shaped to look like an animal or other object.
Beyond shape, the bottles may be decorated. Some baby bottle brands keep things simple, offering a clear bottle with a white ring and lid. Others may offer different coloured rings and lids, or the plastic of the bottle itself may be coloured. Many bottles are also decorated with pictures on the bottle, so if you like kitties or Winnie-The-Pooh or aeroplanes then your bottle can be the place to show it.
Most bottles have measuring lines along the side, so that you can see how much liquid you are putting in the bottle, while others either do not or have some marks obscured by the pictures or colours decorating the bottle. If you are going to be drinking formula or anything else which will involve measuring your liquid then you will want to be sure that your bottle has clear measurements along the side.
Air-Flow or vented systems: If air cannot enter the bottle to replace the liquid when it is sucked out of a baby bottle, it will create a vacuum within the bottle. This results in the teat caving in, and drinking will have to be frequently interrupted so that you can stop to let air into the bottle. This can be frustrating and ruin the experience of drinking from a bottle.
To combat this occurring many major baby bottle brands offer systems which allow air to flow into the bottle as liquid is sucked out. This stops a vacuum from forming and stops the teat collapsing. How different bottle systems achieve this air-flow does vary between brands, although the most common method is through placing a vent in the teat which allows air into the bottle, but does not allow air to escape.
Some brands however, such as MAM and Dr. Browns, have a venting system built into the bottle, rather than achieving ventilation through the teat. These prevent the air bubbling through the liquid, however, they can require additional care and attention when cleaning your bottle.
Compatibility: Baby bottles, particularly those made by major name brands, can be expensive. As such, you may not want or be able to buy several baby bottles in order to find the type that suits you. The good news then is that, if you have a standard wide-necked or thin-necked bottle, you will find many different brands of teat will fit your bottle.
Often it is the teat of the bottle which makes the most difference to performance, and so you may find that by simply replacing the teat you are able to completely change a bottle you don’t like using into a bottle that you do. Do be aware though that some brands do not make their bottles and teats to standard sizes, and as such these will not be compatible with the teats of other brands.
Material: Baby bottle teats are usually made out of latex or silicone. Historically baby bottle teats have been made from latex and silicone is still fairly new, but it is becoming increasingly popular, and in the UK more baby bottle teats are now made of silicone than latex.
Whether to choose silicone or latex largely depends on personal preference. Silicone is usually clear, or occasionally cloudy in colour whilst latex is usually a yellow, orange, or brown colour. Silicone usually has a smoother texture than latex, and is also somewhat firmer than latex. Latex does often have a slight but inoffensive taste, whilst silicone seems devoid of any taste. I find silicone is more susceptible to being bitten through, but otherwise it seems to last longer than latex. Another advantage of silicone is that, being clear, it is easier to see that the teat is completely clean after using it to drink from. As latex gets old it will get darker in colour, whilst the appearance of silicone will start to appear cloudy over time.
Shape: The majority of baby bottle teats are designed to be similar to a breast; there is a thicker, rounded part to the teat which tapers into the nipple part, which is usually similar in size and shape to an adult's little finger. A minority of brands, however, carry different shaped teats. MAM teats, for example, are flattened, whilst NUK teats, which are designed to be orthodontic, are both flattened and angled.
Flow Rate: Baby bottle teats come in a variety of flow rates. The flow rate corresponds to how quickly liquid can be sucked through the hole, or holes, in the nipple. The usual flow rates are slow, medium and fast.
Some brands may also offer a "variable flow rate". Usually this means that instead of having a hole the nipple has a cross (x) cut into it. The more pressure that is put onto the nipple whilst sucking the faster the liquid flows, and so in this way the person drinking can control the flow rate. In some teats, where the hole or cut may be of an irregular shape, a variable flow rate is also achieved by turning the nipple in your mouth. You may also see teats designed for different types of liquid, such as thin and thick liquids. In this case teats designed for thicker liquids will usually have a faster flow rate.
Often the flow-rate of teats designed for babies will not be fast enough for adult drinkers. In this case, you may wish to modify your nipple in order to increase the flow rate. This can be done using either a sharp pointed object, such as a needle, or a knife with a sharp, thin blade such as a craft knife. Ensure that your knife or needle is clean before using it; if possible sterilise it in boiling water. Using a hot implement will also help it to cut through the latex/silicone. Use the knife/needle to push a small hole into the nipple, or increase the diameter of the existing hole. If you are using a knife then you can opt to cut a small cross (X) or a Y-shape (Y) into the nipple rather than a hole. My advice would be to start by making a small hole (or X/Y) and then test the flow-rate. If it is still too slow, increase the size slightly or add another hole, and test again. Repeat until the flow is as you wish. If you have modified a nipple always inspect the teat for signs of damage (e.g. bits of latex/silicone looking like they may be close to falling off) before using. Never give a modified teat to a real infant.
Size: The size of baby bottle teats does not often significantly vary within the same brand; few brands vary the size of the teat beyond offering different flow rates. That said, a minority of brands, including NUK, do sell teats by size rather than flow rate. The size of the teat and nipple can vary between brands, with some brands offering long nipples, others short, others very fat, others thin, etc. You may need to experiment between brands to find a nipple which you like.
It is also possible to purchase adult sized teats. NUK offers an adult-sized teat, which fits to any standard (thin) necked bottle. As with all NUK teats the teat is flat and angled, rather than shaped like a standard nipple. Their adult teat is currently available only in latex. It is sometimes possible to find other adult-sized teats using the internet, on eBay for example, including standard-shaped nipples. A downside to specialist adult teats is that they are usually quite expensive.
Other Variations: When choosing your teats you may find that there are other differences to consider. As previously mentioned, in many bottles the air flow system is achieved through a vent in the teat. As such, if you have purchased a bottle without a ventilation system it may be possible to achieve venting, and thus stop the teat from collapsing, by replacing the bottle's teat with a vented teat.
Teats may contain additional differences. For example, some brands, such as Nuby, offer teats with small raised bumps on the main part of the teats advertised as "massaging" whilst you drink. MAM teats offer a "soft touch" nipple, where the silicone has been textured slightly to give a less smooth effect. Nuby and some other brands such as Tommee Tippee also offer teats which "flex" as you drink, moving in and out with the natural tempo of the sucking. Some teats may also be advertised as non-drip, so that liquid will not leak out of them if dropped or knocked over, and in some cases this is achieved by an indent at the tip of the nipple which creates a valve.
Some bottle systems also produce toddler spouts or straws which are compatible with their baby bottles. These may be made of latex, silicone or plastic. Often toddler spouts are made of a thicker and less flexible silicone than teats, and this is often white rather than clear. Plastic spouts may be moulded as part of the bottle's ring.
Using Your Bottle
When you first get a new baby bottle, naturally, one of the first things you will want to do is use it. However, before using it for the first time it is good practice to wash the bottle and all of its components. Take the bottle apart and wash it in a sink or bowl of warm water with a squirt of washing up liquid.
If you have never owned a baby bottle before, or your new bottle is a brand you are unfamiliar with, the next sensible thing to do is take a look at the instructions. Although most baby bottles are simple to put together, some brands, such as those with built in air-flow systems, can be more difficult. Some baby bottles may require parts to be lined up or fitted together in certain ways to avoid leaks. This information should be on the instructions, so take a look at them and familiarise yourself with how your bottle fits together. Once you have read the instructions it is a good idea to retain them as they will usually include information with regard to how to care for your bottle properly.
Using Your Bottle
Once you have familiarised yourself with how your bottle fits together and it has been washed for the first time, you are ready to fill it with the liquid of your choice. If you are making up formula then follow the instructions on the packaging with regard to how much powder and water to use. Otherwise, simply pour in your beverage of choice.
Once you have filled your bottle check that the teat is properly inserted into the ring, and then screw the ring onto the bottle. Check that the ring is on tightly, and it is often a good idea to turn the bottle upside-down (over a sink if the teat is not non-drip) to make sure that no liquid is leaking out anywhere. If liquid is leaking out, check that the teat is completely pulled through the ring, and that the threads on the bottle neck are matched up to those on the ring before screwing it on. If unsure, go back to the manufacturer's instructions.
Once the bottle is put together, you are ready to drink from it. Find a position to sit/lie in that works for you, and hold the bottle so that it feels comfortable. You may need to experiment to find which angle to hold the bottle at and how to sit.
Drinking from a baby bottle may feel strange, unnatural, or may seem slow and difficult at first. It can take a while to figure out the best way of sucking, and this will vary depending on the teat's brand and flow-rate. Different teats may require you to suck at differing rates and with varying degrees of pressure in order to successfully drink from them. Experiment with different speeds and rhythms of sucking and with using different parts of your mouth, including your tongue, to suck in order to find a way that works for you.
If the liquid seems to be coming out particularly slowly, you have to put a lot of pressure on the nipple to drink or drinking is otherwise uncomfortable then this may indicate that the flow rate of the teat is too low. If you are using the fastest flow rate available, then as outlined above you may wish to modify the nipple to increase flow-rate.
Once you have finished drinking you will need to clean the bottle. This does not have to be done straight away, but avoid leaving your bottle out for too long without cleaning it, especially if you have been drinking milk from it.
Heating and Cooling Liquids
You may wish to drink warm liquids from your bottle, and in this case there are a variety of different ways to heat up drinks to put into your bottle. All bottles should be made to withstand the heat of boiling water, but if in doubt check in the manufacturing instructions.
How to heat up your bottle will depend, in part, on what you are drinking from it. If you are making up formula, a cup of tea or coffee, or another drink which needs boiling water then the easiest method will be to boil a kettle and pour the water, with the formula/coffee/tea bag/etc., straight into the bottle. You can also heat up other liquids such as milk outside of the bottle, and then pour them already warmed into the bottle.
Some bottles can be put into the microwave, however, this is not true of all bottles. To find out if your bottle is microwave safe check the manufacturing instructions. If it is safe to use then you can fill it with the liquid of choice and heat it up in the microwave as you would any other drink. Usually you should take the ring and teat off the bottle to microwave, but check the instructions to confirm.
Another method of heating up your beverage in a baby bottle is standing it in hot water. Ensure that the lid is on to cover the teat to ensure no water gets in, and then submerge the bottle in a bowl of hot water. You will need to leave the bottle for 10+ minutes in order for it to heat up. For a quicker process you can also heat a pan of boiling water on the stove and submerge the bottle into that, although this is slower than heating your drink in the pan and then pouring it straight into the bottle.
It is also possible to buy electrical bottle-warmers which will heat up bottles to a preferred temperature. If you are lucky enough to own one then heat up your bottle following the bottle-warmer's instructions.
Be sure to check the temperature of your bottle before drinking it. Shake the bottle with the lid on to be sure the temperature is even, and then test it by squeezing a little of your drink out onto the underside of your wrist. If you do not test the water first and it is too hot, drinking it will probably burn your tongue.
If your drink is too hot then if you can wait leave it without putting the ring and teat on for 5-10 minutes and the bottle should have cooled down enough to drink comfortably. If you put the teat and ring on straight away then it will take longer to cool down. Alternatively, standing the bottle so that it is submerged up to the neck in cold water can cool it more quickly.
It is important that after using a baby bottle you clean it out properly, especially if you have been drinking milk from your bottle. Generally speaking wide-necked bottles are easier to clean than thin-necked bottles; if you have thin-necked bottles then it can be difficult to reach the bottom of the bottle when cleaning. If possible it is a good idea to invest in a baby bottle brush. These are brushes specially designed for cleaning bottles and teats and are not expensive.
Your bottle can be washed in a sink or bowl of hot, clean water with a squirt of washing up liquid. Take apart your bottle completely, ensuring that every individual part has been separated. To clean the bottle part submerge it in water, and then using your bottle brush, or a clean sponge or cloth, clean the inside, ensuring that all traces of your drink are removed. Hot liquids, and especially hot milk, usually stick to plastic more so than cold ones, and so if you have been drinking warm milk be particularly thorough in cleaning. Check the screw-threads on the neck of the bottle to ensure nothing has dried on between them, and wipe it off as necessary. Once the bottle is clean, rinse it out thoroughly with running water and then turn it upside down to drain and dry, or dry it with a clean tea-towel.
To wash the teat, submerge it in the water and wash the outside of it using the bottle brush or a clean sponge or cloth. If you have a teat brush then this will make cleaning the inside easier as you can reach inside it using the brush. If you do not have a teat brush then it is often possible to gently turn a teat inside-out, which makes it much easier to clean with a cloth or sponge. If you can't turn it inside, then you can use your little finger to reach the inside of the teat. To ensure that the holes for liquid are clean, squeeze the water through them or push water through with your little finger. If you have been drinking milk, formula or fruit juice then be sure that you do a particularly thorough job of cleaning the teat. Once you are happy that the teat is clean then leave it on the drain to dry or use a clean tea-towel.
Wash the lid and ring in a similar way to the main bottle, checking that nothing has become dried between any of the screw-threads. If the bottle has additional parts, such as in specialised anti-colic systems, then ensure they are washed thoroughly, taking extra care to ensure any holes or crevices have been washed. Additionally, check the instructions to see if there are any specialised washing instructions.
Alternatively, some bottles and teats are dishwasher safe, but this is not the case with all bottles. To find out if your bottle and teats can be put in the dishwasher check the manufacturing instructions.
On most baby bottle instructions you will be instructed to sterilise your bottles before and after each use. This is because a young baby's immune system is still developing and as such they need to be protected from germs. As a adult, your immune system should be developed enough that you do not need to sterilise bottles before or after use. However, there may be situations where you do want to sterilise your bottle and teats, for example if you have been using it whilst unwell. If this is the case then there are a few different methods of sterilisation.
One method is to boil your bottle and all of its components. Most bottles should be able to withstand this method of sterilisation, but as always check the manufacturing instructions to be sure. To sterilise your bottle by boiling it first heat a pan of water, large enough to hold your bottle, on your stove. Ensure that your bottle has been washed thoroughly before sterilising it and that all of its components are separated. Once the water is bubbling add the different parts of your bottle to the pan. Leave them in the boiling water for about five minutes, and then use tongs to remove the different parts. Do not use your fingers; the water and the parts of your bottle will be hot!
Another method of sterilising bottles is to use a safe sterilising solution, such as Milton, with cold water. This solution is added to clean, cold water, in which you then submerge the bottle. If you are using a sterilising solution to sterilise your bottles then always make sure you follow the instructions on the packet to find out the correct amount of solution and water to use and how long to leave the bottle in the solution for. Never try and sterilise bottles in any disinfectants unless they are specifically made to be used with bottles.
Some bottles can be sterilised in the microwave, and again, check the instructions to see if this applies to your bottle. If your bottle can be sterilised in the microwave then the instructions will usually offer suitable instructions for doing this as the method can vary between bottle brands.
Finally, the most effective method of sterilising is to use a microwave or electrical steamer, however, these are expensive and so unless you have reason to sterilise frequently they are probably not necessary. If you are using an electric or steam steriliser then follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
General Care Tips
Finally, here are just a few extra tips to caring for your baby bottle to help maintain it and ensure that it is kept clean:
- Wash your bottle as soon as possible after use. If you cannot always wash it straight away at least aim to rinse it out with warm water.
- Always ensure that all parts of your bottle are completely dry before putting it back together, as water trapped inside a closed bottle cannot evaporate and may stagnate or breed bacteria.
- When not in use store your bottle in a cool, dry place and away from direct sunlight.
- Inspect your teats regularly for signs of wear and tear. If a teat shows signs of damage, replace it.
- If you ever notice specks of mold on your bottle, it smells musty, or otherwise smells unpleasant even when clean, throw it away.
There concludes my guide to baby bottles. I hope that it will help you in choosing, using, and caring for a baby bottle which suits you. As already stated, it may take some experimentation to find the baby bottle which best suits you. If you do not like your bottle's performance, then my advice is to first try out different teats, as these are usually far cheaper than bottles. If you still aren't happy, then it may be time to try a different kind of bottle.
Once you have found a bottle that is right for you, enjoy using it and, importantly, take care of it - I hope that this guide will help you to do so. Thank you for reading this, and happy drinking.