A Step-by-Step Guide to Buying Bottles and Nipples

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Whether you’re feeding your baby breast milk or formula, you’ll need to buy a bottle (and several of them at that!)—or register for them. There are plenty of options available at stores and online. Know that some babies prefer one type of nipple over another and respond to some bottles better than others. If you’re registering, register for a bottle starter kit, so you can see what your baby likes before you stock up. Here’s a step-by-step guide to choosing the right bottle for your baby:

STEP 1 Choose a Nipple Material: Silicone or Latex?

Bottles come with their own nipples (although you can buy replacement nipples separately), so the first decision to make is what material you want your baby’s nipple made from—silicone or latex. Both have advantages and disadvantages.

Latex nipples Latex is a rubber that’s soft and flexible. In fact, this is one of the advantages moms like: it’s so soft, it seems to mimic the feel of the breast, which is why some breastfed babies prefer it over silicone. Its distinguishing characteristic: it’s beige in color and is more opaque than silicone. The downsides: these nipples can be sterilized, but they break down and develop tiny cracks over time, meaning they’ll need to be replaced more frequently than silicone nipples.

Silicone nipples Silicone is a clear, rubber-like material that’s flexible, but firmer than latex. The pluses: silicone is very heat resistant, which means it can be sterilized often without breaking down or developing cracks that could harbor bacteria. The downside: some babies don’t like the firmness.

PARENT TIP The nipple needs to be removed from the rest of the bottle and washed separately, either on the top rack of a dishwasher or with a special bottle brush and hot, soapy water, (Use a mild dish detergent.) The bottle brush will also allow you to get inside the bottle and wash it thoroughly. (Always be sure to check the manufacturer’s care instructions—found on the packaging and typically on the manufacturer’s website—before washing, as some may not recommend washing bottle nipples in a dishwasher.) Note that nipples and bottles only need to be sterilized once before the first use.

STEP 2 Choose a Nipple Shape: Orthodontic or Round/Bell/Dome-Shaped?
Every bottle also differs in the type of nipple shape it comes with. Again, your baby may prefer one shape over another—and you might as well. Trial and error works best.

Orthodontic Nipple

Round/Bell/Dome-Shaped

Orthodontic nipples are asymmetrically shaped with an angled top designed to accommodate baby’s tongue while sucking, and to mimic the shape of Mom’s nipple, which gets flattened in baby’s mouth when baby feeds. These nipples are designed to fit the shape of baby’s palate and gums, giving the tongue and jaw more room to move naturally while sucking, promoting healthy oral development. The design also allows the milk to mix with baby’s saliva for better digestion.

Round, Bell-, or Dome-Shaped These nipples are tall with a short, rounded tip—and are the traditional shape of bottle nipples.

Keep in mind that both shapes are available in reusable nipples, as well as convenient pre-packaged and sterilized disposable nipples (great for traveling), which have to be tossed after one use.

PARENT TIP Pacifiers also come with different shaped nipples; the most common ones have orthodontic shaped nipples. Something to consider: You may want to use the same nipple shape for both bottle and pacifier.

STEP 3 Choose a Nipple Size: Slow Flow, Medium Flow, or Fast Flow?

Nipples come in different sizes/stages. Many bottle-nipple sets come with a nipple that has the slowest flow speed (often called “Slow Flow” or “Stage 1”), because this is the flow speed recommended for newborns and even preemies. But if this is the case, you’ll need to buy separate replacement nipples that have a faster flow speed (marked on the packaging by age or stage—from “Medium Flow” or “Stage 2” to “Fast Flow” or “Stage 3-4”) once your baby gets older, starts sucking more effectively, and is drinking more breast milk or formula.

PARENT TIP Check nipples for wear and tear every two to three months. Signs a nipple should be replaced: it’s become discolored; it’s sticky even after you wash and dry it; it’s developed cracks or breaks; it feels thinner and less firm; and/or milk pours out in a stream—not a steady drip.

STEP 4 Choose a Bottle Material: Glass, Plastic, Disposable, or Stainless Steel?

Once you’ve chosen a nipple, look for bottles from the same manufacturer to be sure the nipples fit properly. Manufacturers typically offer bottles made of different materials:

Plastic The best aspect to these bottles is they’re affordable—and are more resistant to breakage than glass. While they are reusable, they can deteriorate so they may need to be replaced. (Replace a plastic bottle if it cracks, leaks, becomes discolored, or smells bad—even after you wash it.) Plastic is also much lighter than glass, making it easier for older babies to hold the bottle themselves. Many moms are concerned about plastic; look for the BPA-free label to be sure, and never use hand-me-downs unless you’re certain they’re BPA free.

Glass These bottles are more expensive than plastic, but are a more environmentally friendly option. They can break, chip, or crack easily though. (You can, however, purchase silicone sleeves to cover the glass, helping to prevent them from breaking if dropped.) Know, though, that some day-care centers do not allow glass bottles because they can easily break; check with yours before buying glass.

Disposable Some plastic bottles come with pre-sterilized disposable liners, which have to be thrown out after each use. The liners collapse as baby drinks, preventing air from getting into their system. They’re convenient to use, but you have to toss and replace the liner after every feeding—which can get expensive over time.

Stainless Steel There are a few stainless steel bottles as well, which come with a silicone sleeve to make the bottles easier to grip—and keep the bottle’s exterior from getting too cold to handle. If you want an environmentally friendly option—and are planning to send your child to day care—this might be the right choice for you.

PARENT TIP No matter what your bottle is made out of, never put your bottle in the microwave to heat the milk. Liquid heats unevenly in a microwave, creating “hot spots” that can burn your baby’s mouth—even if you shake it. It’s better to use a bottle warmer on low, to gently warm the bottle in a mug of warm water, or not to warm the bottle at all (as some parents prefer).

STEP 5 Choose a Bottle Shape: Standard/Narrow, Wide, or Angled?
No matter what type of bottle you opt for, all have some sort of venting “system” for preventing baby from ingesting air while feeding—helping to prevent gas pain and colic. All bottles also come with removable caps to keep the nipples clean.

Standard or Narrow These are the most traditional-style bottles that come in short and tall sizes, with either straight or slightly curved sides. They’re easy to hold and fit most traditional bottle warmers. These bottles feature different types of venting systems. Most have a vent built into the nipple, helping to keep air out of the baby’s mouth and reduce colic. Others have an internal venting system to move air to the bottom of the bottle while baby is feeding. (These bottles are typically harder to clean because they have more parts.)
Angled This design—where the bottle is bent at the neck—keeps air at the back of the bottle as baby drinks, limiting the amount of air that mixes with the milk. It’s easy to hold and position—and allows baby to sit semi-upright for feeding. These bottles also have a removable bottom cap for easy cleaning.

Wide Many moms prefer this style over the standard or narrow-neck bottles because they’re easier to fill (they have wider openings as well as a wider shape—and wider nipples) and they’re easier to clean. They also use a wide nipple shape that’s closer in feel to Mom’s breast—making this a choice for babies who switch between breast and bottle. These bottles are also available in short and tall sizes—and have vented nipples to prevent air from entering the baby’s mouth when feeding.

Most bottles—except for angled bottles—come in two convenient sizes: a 4- to 5-ounce “short” size (perfect for babies 0 to 3 months old) and a larger, 8- to 10-ounce “tall” size (ideal for babies 3+ months who drink more per feeding).

Once you’ve found the bottle for your baby, you may want to buy six to 10 bottles so you have enough for an entire day’s worth of feedings.

PARENT TIP Many bottles comes with a flat plastic “seal disk”; don’t throw this out when you open the packaging. If you want to prevent your bottle from leaking inside your diaper bag—or if it accidentally tips over—you must use this seal disk underneath the nipple. (Simply remove before use; then wash—and re-use.)

Rest assured that following these steps will help you make the right decision for you—and baby! If you’re still undecided, talk with your pediatrician about what’s right for your baby, particularly if baby has excess gas, burping, or colic. And whatever nipples and bottles you do choose, don’t toss the packaging before reading it first. Manufacturers will include instructions on that packaging. Following these instructions will ensure that you’re using, and caring for, the nipples and bottles correctly.