Whether you're expecting or you've just welcomed that tiny bundle of joy, you're already attuned to the decisions a new parent is faced with. Some of those choices are huge, life altering even. Will I work or stay at home? If I do work, who is going to care for my baby? Who should my baby's doctor be? Other choices, though still important, just aren't as major. Which pattern for the nursery? Which outfit should baby go home in? And then there are those that fall right in the middle. Items like diapers, strollers, car seats, and baby bottles often land in that "just-point-and-pick-one" category. It's great to have options but for a new parent standing in the baby isle for the first time, it can be overwhelming.
Here, at BabyGearLab, we're parents who've been there. We see great value in taking a close look at the products you'll be using, so you're not left wondering if there could be something better. And we didn't just set out to find better; we're looking for the best, and in this case, our focus was on Baby Bottles.
A newborn has to eat, and the options are breast, bottle, or a combination of the two. When it comes to baby bottles, there are a myriad of choices regarding size, shape and feel of the nipple as well as the bottle itself. When this is combined with different vents and valves, all claiming to "keep baby's tummy happy," you'll need to make a spreadsheet just to keep up!
Based on valid concern of synthetic estrogen-mimicking chemicals in plastic, the options are quite varied when it comes to the materials in baby bottles. Is it really enough that most bottles on the market these days are BPA-free? Should you spend more and err on the side of an inert, safer material like glass?
We've assessed and weighed these many options for you. Read on to find out what you should be looking for in a baby bottle.
Or more importantly, lack thereof. First of all, it's OK to cry over spilled milk! You work hard for that milk, whether pumping or mixing, it's a drag to watch it go to waste, especially due to a bottle malfunction. A bottle that's easy to assemble quickly or drowsily…in the dark…with a squirmy baby in hand (yes this will happen!) AND present a leak-free feeding experience is key. A new parent has enough to worry about besides making sure the bottle is put together properly, and once it is, having to watch for leaks. Usually, the more pieces (as in vents and valves) a bottle has, the more susceptible it is to leakage. We recommend starting out with a simple bottle at first like the Tommee Tippee Closer to Nature or Lifefactory Glass to see if you can avoid the risk.
Another instance where leaks can be a hassle is on the go. You should be able to toss a full bottle in your diaper bag and be out the door. Most bags have a pocket for bottles specifically, which helps keep them upright, but just in case the bag tips or the bottle gets shoved somewhere else, you still want to be confident you'll end up with a dry bag and a meal for your baby. The best bottles have a travel cap that audibly "snaps" on and comes in contact with the top of the nipple. This "plugs" the nipple hole and should keep milk where it belongs.
To take the mystery out of whether a bottle leaks, you'll see that each bottle we've tested is given a 1-10 rating on leakage, which represents 30% of the bottle's overall score from our tests.
This is the part your baby actually acquires their sustenance from so it's very important to choose a good one! They come in all shapes and sizes but what you're looking for is that baby has a comfortable, solid latch. Baby shouldn't be gagging, smacking or leaking a lot of milk from the corners of their mouth. A nipple with a large base and supple feel will most closely mimic the breast and give baby that preferred latch. Our three highest rating bottles, Tommee Tippee Closer to Nature, Playtex Drop-ins and the Comotomo Natural Feel each have a nipple that meets the criteria, and that doesn't surprise us at all.
Nipple material is also important. Clear silicone is most popular, but you'll also come across bottles that have a latex option. Although softer than silicone, latex breaks down much more quickly which means it needs to be replaced often and should never be subjected to the high heat of a dishwasher. Some babies can also be allergic to it. Our recommendation is to avoid latex if you can.
The flow of the nipple is important as well. Newborn bottles (typically for age 0-3 months) come with a "slow flow" nipple and this can vary greatly between brands. Baby shouldn't be struggling or frustrated trying to get the milk out, nor should they be overwhelmed with a mouth full of milk they can't swallow fast enough.
We rated each bottle 1-10 on nipple quality and performance, representing 25% of the weighting in the overall scores.
A new baby needs to eat at least every 2-4 hours, which means an exclusively bottle-fed baby could be using over 12 bottles a day! Washing bottles every day will become part of your routine, and trust us, you don't want it to be a major part. The bottles we tested all recommend boiling for 5 minutes in a pot of water to sterilize them, then hand washing in warm soapy water. They all claim "top-rack dishwasher safe" as well, but hand washing will extend the life of your bottles and is recommended by manufacturers and experts alike, especially for plastic bottles and parts. Plastic is known to break down after repeated heat cycles of the dishwasher, which can lead to leaching of chemicals into milk or formula.
When it comes to washing bottles, we hold firmly to a "less is more" stance. That is, less parts to wash = more time for you. Many of the special valves and vents require extra time and care to wash due to tiny crevices and holes. Some of the pieces are also very small and/or clear and can easily be swept down the drain with a sink full of soapy water. As we stated regarding leakage, start out simple (Tommee Tippee, Medela BPA-free) to see if you can manage with out the hassle of all those parts.
One final tip: buy a bottle brush and a small brush for cleaning nipples and valves. A good set of bottle brushes makes bottle cleaning faster and more efficient. You'll be using them for years too, since hand washing is also recommended for the sippy cups in your future.
Each bottle tested was given a 1-10 score for ease of cleaning, which represents 20% of overall score.
Feeding time, whether by breast or bottle, is one of the most tender and special times you'll have with your baby. Nothing should interrupt that, especially hassling with a bottle. A bottle should be easy to wash, assemble and fill, travel well, and most importantly, give baby and you a comfortable, uninterrupted meal.
You'll want to note if the bottle's shape and weight feels good "in-hand". Stainless steel and glass are heavier but probably worth it for the health benefits. Think about washing and filling it. A wider-mouthed bottle is much easier to dump breast milk or powdered formula into without making a mess. The bottle should be durable and have easy to read measures so you know exactly how much baby is getting. It should have a well-fitting travel cap that stays on and keeps milk in when on the go.
Each bottle was rated on ease of use, and that score factored in at 10% weight to the overall score.
As we learn more and more about the dangers of some chemicals, especially those found in plastics, we strongly urge caution. Yes, bottles on the market today carry a "BPA-free" label, but we're not confident that it's enough. Glass, an old stand-by, is making a stealthy comeback in the baby bottle world. Three of the bottles we tested were glass and many companies are now producing a glass version of their product. Glass doesn't carry the risk of leaching potentially harmful chemicals into your baby's food, plus it's better for the environment as glass bottles tend to last longer and can be recycled.
There are some downsides to glass such as the fact that it's heavier than plastic and more prone to chip, crack or break. You can purchase special silicone sleeves to reduce this risk and some bottles, like the Lifefactory Glass, even come with one. Glass also heats faster than plastic so use caution and always check temperature before giving it to baby.
Another up-and-coming health conscious option is stainless steel. The Pura Kiki is a stainless steel bottle that made our finalist selection, and then proved itself by becomingthe top scoring product. This was largely due to the fact that it is a 100% plastic-free system, negating risk of plastic chemical leaching. We also prefer the stainless steel material over glass because it is lighter, and there is no worry of it chipping, cracking or breaking.
We factored an eco-health rating of each bottle in at 15% weighting for overall scoring, knowing that for some parents this score will be a crucial differentiator, and others may consider it insignificant.
In conclusion we recommend buying just a few, basic bottles at first to see how your baby likes them. Every baby is different and you may need to adjust to their needs. What works for one might not be the go-to for another. That said, we hope that our rating and review process will help you make a smarter choice for you and your baby, saving you time and money.