Our complete review of the best baby bottles is a great place to start reading if you want more information on the types of bottles we tested and how each bottle ranked against the competition. You may also be interested in our related article, Are Plastics Safe for Baby Bottles and Sippy Cups?.
Why Buy a Bottle?
A newborn has to eat, and the options are breast, bottle, or a combination of the two. Buying a baby bottle might seem like an obvious purchase if you plan to use formula, but it might not be the first thought you have if you are breastfeeding and concerned about nipple confusion, or baby being able to latch properly. However, no matter what, or how, you plan to feed your baby, a bottle is an essential baby gear item, and here is why:
- Provide mom with much-needed breaks — Even if mom is planning on breastfeeding, eventually she will need to take time away from baby either for her sanity for the sake of real world responsibilities. Once baby has established a nursing routine and is good at latching and thriving (3-6 weeks), then parents can introduce a bottle so mom can sleep or slip away with ease.
- Formula Feeding Only — Whether you have decided to feed formula from the beginning, or your breastfeeding dreams don't work out, you'll need a bottle to feed your baby. It is much easier to have a few on hand to test out than feeling desperate if nursing isn't working or your little one doesn't accept your original choice.
Finding the right bottle that baby likes, and you can live with, is likely going to be more complicated than you initially thought with many little ones struggling to use different types of bottles or nipples. Buying a bottle isn't as simple as grabbing a cheap one off the shelf and hitting the checkout line, and knowing what to look for and which features you should consider can be the difference between finding the perfect fit or spending a lot on bottles you'll never use.
This video features the NUK baby bottle and shows nice bottle latch facilitated by a wide-mouth nipple.
We recommend parents buy only one of any potential bottle that seems like a good fit to see how your baby responds before spending more money on multiples. While some retailers, like Amazon, allow for easy returns, not many will accept a used bottle and still offer you a refund. Buying one will limit your outgoing cash until you find the perfect bottle for your baby.
Types of Bottles
The bottles we tested for this review vary in their shape, materials used, nipple design, and vents and valves. There are a few differences in bottles you should know about, especially if up until now you thought a bottle is a bottle is a bottle.
Bottle Body Material
- Human Milk Storage Information for Home Use for Full-Term Infants (pdf), that "steel containers were associated with a marked decline in cell count and cell viability when compared to polyethylene and to glass." We like the Pura Kiki stainless steel bottle when used as a sippy, and it won awards in both our transition sippy cup review, as well as the sippy cup and kid's water bottle reviews. With the change of mouthpiece, the Kiki becomes a bottle.
- Comotomo is a cool option with a large mouth, breast-like nipple shape, and made almost entirely of silicone with a basic vent in the nipple. It has very few parts, is easy to clean, and has no plastic in contact with your baby's food.
Bottle body types can come in a variety of shapes from contoured for easier holding to simple cylinders. Some have wide neck openings that make milk transfer and cleaning easy, while others have narrow openings that are hard to clean even with a bottle brush and can lead to spillage when filling.
In a study published in Environmental Health, researchers found that some types of plastics still potentially leach estrogenic chemicals even if they are BPA free.
For more on plastics and why they give us pause, please read our article on Are Plastics Safe for Bottles and Sippy Cups?.
Nipples come in two basic types, but their venting and valve systems come in almost as many options as there are bottles. All the nipples we tested were silicone, and the primary differences are that some nipples are relatively narrow in shape and others are larger and more mound like to more closely mimic an actual breast.
Vents and Valves
Vents and valves all claim some level of prevention when it comes to air ingestion. Whether it is simple vents in the nipple or a multi-part system inside the bottle, they all say they help decrease colic, gas, burping and spit up. The reduction of air ingestion is somewhat difficult to judge even in detailed testing, and we didn't see much difference in any of the options we tested. We think it is an interesting addition and potentially indicates a higher quality bottle, but given that we didn't see much difference in our tiny testers we aren't sure that parents should use this features as a primary reason to buy one bottle over another. Alternatively, we also feel that some systems, like the one found in Dr. Brown's bottle, are so complicated that there is room for error in the assembly that could lead to leaking, they require special brushes to clean, and they have components made of plastic that comes in contact with the liquid inside the bottle, somewhat negating the use of a glass bottle.
How to Choose the Best Baby Bottle
Taking a step by step approach is the best way to find the right bottle. Avoid being swayed or overwhelmed by friendly recommendations or bottles given to you as hand me downs. While both of these are a great place to start, it doesn't mean they will be the option that meets your goals or baby's needs.
First, Choose Materials
The photos above show the glass varieties we tested in this review. From left to right they are Lifefactory, Dr. Brown's Natural Flow Glass, and the Philips AVENT Natural Glass.
Given that this is baby's first real exposure to potential chemicals in the world and their source of nutrition will be sitting in this bottle potentially for hours, it makes sense to give priority and thought to the material of the container body. As stated earlier we prefer glass for baby bottles with silicone running a close second and plastic bringing up the rear.
The glass material used in the bottles we looked at is thermal and shock resistant and eco-healthy without any risk of potential chemicals leaching into the contents. We like that glass is easy to clean, heat, and healthy for babies. The Lifefactory glass bottle is lighter than the Dr. Brown's Natural Flow Glass, and comes with a silicone sleeve not found on the Philips AVENT Natural Glass bottle. Also, we didn't have any leaking with the Lifefactory bottle and babies in our tests seem to like the nipple and had no difficulty holding the bottle. With concerns over chemicals in plastic, we aren't big fans and feel that parents should limit exposure to plastic whenever possible. Alternatively, the silicone body in the Comotomo is also a viable option given the lack of data on potential health impacts of medical grade silicone.
Second, Choose Nipple Style
The photos above show a variety of nipple styles and sizes. From left to right these are: Dr. Brown's, Philips AVENT, Tommee Tippee, and Comotomo.
Once you've narrowed down your body material, the next big question is what type of nipple will best suit your baby. In general, the thought is the more breast like nipples work well for little ones transitioning from the breast to a bottle and likely back to the breast to avoid confusion. There is some truth to this belief and for babies that struggled to obtain a good latch to being with it can be a big deal to find the right nipple that allows for a similar latch, so they don't lose their latching capabilities.
The narrow nipple style didn't cause much trouble for our little testers, though the mound style nipples do allow for a more natural latch and feeding position for baby. In the end, it is probably going to be more up to baby than you on which style he or she is likely to accept. We suggest starting with a larger nipple if possible and moving to a narrow style if their baby has difficulty or seems up for anything. The Comotomo has the most breast-like design in this review both in look and feel. The Lifefactory nipple is narrower than most in the group, but this applies to the majority of glass bottles except the AVENT. The AVENT has a larger nipple, but the bottle leaks, making the tradeoff annoying for parents and baby and disappointing in our minds. The Munchkin Latch has accordion ridges along the bottom that should help angle the bottle for easier feeding, but we weren't fond of how it performed in real life, with some babies continually rotating the bottle to accommodate the angle. The Tommee Tippee has a nipple that is well liked by many testers, but the plastic bottle makes it less desirable than a glass or silicone option. However, it is very budget friendly, so depending on your needs it might be an excellent choice.
Third, To Vent or not to Vent
After choosing body materials and nipple styles, you've probably landed on one or even two options and don't need any other performance metrics or attributes to help break a tie. Sometimes, if you've hit upon a couple of choices, it might benefit you and baby to buy one of each to see which your baby prefers before committing. However, if by some fluke you've made it this far and have several options to pick from you might want to consider what kind of vent or valve system the bottle has. We think simple is better given that the more complicated options are hard to clean, are often made of plastic, or could lead to leaking if installed or assembled incorrectly. In our tests, we didn't see any significant reduction in symptoms of air ingestion for any of the products. So while we feel most options probably do improve babies feeding experience, they seem to be about the same, and even the simplest dual vent located in the nipple appears to work well.
The world of bottles is convoluted and with advances in design technology the market has become even more confusing that it once was. From plastic to glass, and even disposable liners, there is something for everyone and some things you might want to avoid. In our review of 9 different bottles we think there is an option for every baby, and using the guidelines outlined here, you can find which options are your best bet, even if they didn't win an award. Be sure to read our complete review on the best baby bottle for detailed information on each bottle and how it performed in our tests.