We all know breast is best. But whether you're breast-feeding your baby or giving her formula, most likely that milk will come out of a bottle, at least occasionally.
And we are overrun with options. There are bottles to reduce colic and gas. Nipples are designed to mimic the shape and feel of Mom's breast. Some bottles have disposable liners, and there are loads of accessories, including brushes, warmers and insulated totes to sterilizers. There are also bottles, such as the Haberman feeder, specially designed for babies who have difficulty sucking. It's enough to make your brain spin.
With so many choices, it can be hard for new parents to know whether a basic model will suffice or if they need all the bells and whistles of a higher-end bottle. Several experts on baby products give parents an idea of what they should look for when choosing a bottle for their child, and how to keep the bottles and nipples clean.
• Buy new bottles, or make sure any used bottles are BPA-free. The Food and Drug Administration banned the use of BPA in bottles and sippy cups in 2012. The ban ensures that any bottle manufactured in the United States is free of bisphenol A, which has been linked to health problems in studies involving rats. If you are using hand-me-downs, stick with glass or make sure the plastic does not contain BPA.
• Never warm the bottle in the microwave. Microwaves heat the milk unevenly and can leave "hot spots" that can burn your baby's mouth, said Stacey Diehl of Wal-Mart. Either use a bottle warmer or hold it under warm running tap water to heat the milk, she said. And if you prefer not to warm your baby's bottle, that's fine, too, said Jennifer Shu, a pediatrician in Atlanta and the medical editor for the American Academy of Pediatrics's website (healthychildren.org). It's fine to give babies bottles that are room temperature or even straight out of the refrigerator, Shu said.
Use and care tips
• Make sure the nipple stays full of milk during feedings. Many bottles come with features to reduce gas and colic, but in most cases your baby will do fine as long as you tilt the bottle enough to keep the nipple full of milk during feedings, Shu said. It's also important to keep your baby upright when you are feeding her. Make sure her head is higher than her stomach, Shu said.
• Start bottles early. If you are breast-feeding your baby and plan to use bottles some of the time, introduce them sooner rather than later, Shu said. If you wait too long to offer milk from a bottle, it might be more difficult to get your baby to make the transition between breast and bottle.
• Sterilize your bottles. Before you use your bottles and nipples for the first time, use a commercial sterilizer or place them in boiling water for five minutes, Shu said. Then clean them after each use with a special brush and hot soapy water, or in the dishwasher.
Low, medium, high
Wal-Mart's Diehl was asked to recommend bottles at different prices. Here are her suggestions for three-pack starter kits.
• Parent's Choice Slow Flow. These polypropylene bottles come in 5- and 9-ounce sizes and include soft vented nipples to help prevent too much air intake during feedings. They are decorated with animal prints and are suitable for babies from birth. $2.87.
• NUK Orthodontic Bottles. Available in 5- and 10-ounce sizes, the NUK's nipple is designed to promote proper oral development. The holes in the nipples are placed to aid digestion. The bottles come in several designs and are suitable for babies from birth. $12.97.
• Avent Natural. These polypropylene bottles have a wide, breast-shaped nipple to help your baby make the transition from breast-feeding. They come in 4- and 9-ounce sizes and have a wide neck that makes them easier to clean. $15.69.
• Choose nipples with the right flow. Most brands offer a slow, medium and fast flow, Wal-Mart's Stacey Diehl said. What works at different ages varies from baby to baby, but generally, younger babies need a slower flow, Atlanta pediatrician Jennifer Shu said. If your baby is coughing, choking or gagging on the milk, or if milk is dripping out of her mouth, the flow is too fast, Shu said.
• Don't buy too many in the beginning. Start with just one bottle and see how your baby responds, Shu said. "If your baby likes it, you're done choosing," she added. Once you know what works for your child, you can stock up on what you need.
• Go for a model with the option of disposable liners. This is especially convenient when you're traveling, Shu said. You can just throw away the liner and keep using the same bottle, instead of having to carry several and deal with washing them. All you have to do when you're on the go is wash the nipples, or bring several and keep switching them.