Whether you’re bottle-feeding with breast milk, formula, or both, the choice of baby bottle can be extremely overwhelming for new parents. A wall of bottles and nipples looms, each contoured slightly differently, each promising to give your child the best dining experience. Do fancy angles or vented nipples really make a difference? Is glass better than plastic? When should you introduce a sippy cup? Rather than give up and grab the first bottle in reach, a little bit of research goes a long way.
Glass vs. Plastic: the Age Old Battle
Among traditional bottles, the choice for parents is generally between plastic and glass bottles. There are advantages to both kinds. Glass bottles are often easier to keep clean than plastic bottles. They don’t get cloudy in the dishwasher like some plastics do. They age better than plastic as well, and can easily be used for multiple children without any loss of quality. Using glass bottles also avoids any concerns about BPA or BPS particles possibly leeching into an infant’s food when they are heated.
Plastic bottles have their own advantages, however. The most obvious advantage is in weight. Even the thickest and most rigid plastic bottles are lighter than glass, and when you’re carrying an infant in a carrier and a stuffed diaper bag, saving a few ounces where you can is important. A lighter bottle also allows the infant to manipulate it earlier, letting them control their feeding. Many of the plastic bottles on the market are BPA free as well, making them considerably safer.
The other major disadvantage of glass is that glass bottles have remained largely unchanged for years. Glass bottles on the market now look very much like the stereotypical image of baby bottles from the 1950s. Advances in bottle design to take advantage of what we now know about how babies feed are generally only available in plastic bottles. Plastic bottles on the market now are designed to mimic the breastfeeding experience, to allow the infant to hold it more easily, or even to store formula already measured out, simplifying the feeding process.
Any new parent will tell you that simplifying anything and everything is the goal, but you don’t need a specialty bottle to make night feedings go more smoothly. It may sound gimmicky, but preparing night feeding bottles ahead of time can be a godsend when an infant is awake in the middle of the night. Baby products expert Heather Corley emphasizes that formula should not be mixed more than an hour before the infant would eat it, but tired parents can have formula nearly ready to go. Measure the night’s worth of bottles ahead of time and put the water in them, ready to go. Formula can also be measured ahead of time and kept in small containers. Then, when the infant wakes in the dead of night, all mom or dad has to do is pour the formula into the bottle, shake, and offer it to the child.
When bottle-feeding is used to supplement breastfeeding rather than replace it, the major worry of most parents is “nipple confusion“. According to well-known child-rearing expert Dr. Spock, this results when a child becomes used to the fact that most bottle nipples on the market do not require active suckling to give milk. If at all possible, it’s best to introduce bottle-feeding gradually so the child will be forced to go back to the parent’s nipple at first. A second important choice is to pick a nipple designed for slow flow. These can be found at Honest.com and are usually labelled 0-3 months.
Picking a baby bottle and nipple that more closely approximate the movements required for breastfeeding can help reduce nipple confusion. For example, a nipple designed to stretch like a mother’s nipple, and a soft-sided bottle that allows an infant to grasp it as they would the breast, make the bottle-feeding experience more familiar. Maintaining the familiarity of that experience makes it easier for the infant to switch back and forth between the bottle and the breast.
Next Step: Sippy Cups
Once the baby is old enough to drink other liquids besides formula and breast milk, there is the transition to cups. It is possible to train a child to drink directly from cups without an ensuing “sippy cup” stage, but it tends to be messy and difficult, so most parents favor the intervening step. To make the transition even easier, there are bottles available that come with sippy cup-style nipples – a child can get comfortable with the sippy style of drinking without having to learn to hold a cup.
Whatever your choice when it comes to feeding, it’s important to know as a parent that you are making the best choices you can for your child. These are not going to be the same choices for everyone, so don’t worry if someone else is criticizing your choice to bottle feed, breastfeed, or use a sippy cup. You know your child better than anyone else and can make sure you’re doing what’s right for them.