As a new parent, you may be surprised when shopping for a baby bottle by the range of options available. From size and shape to material and teat styles, the humble bottle can come with a variety of choices.
Don’t panic. Things aren’t as complex as they might initially seem. Plus, bottles are relatively cheap, so if you or your baby don’t like one brand, you can always reconsider.
Below, you’ll find our top tips and questions for choosing the right bottle, followed by our picks of the best baby bottles on the market.
READ NEXT: Best baby thermometers | Best baby carrier | Best prams | Best prams for newborns | Best baby monitors | Best changing bag | Best breast pumps | Best baby bouncer | Best high chairs | Best car seats | Best baby walker | Best baby bath | Best baby toys | Best TENS machine | Best travel cots | Best cot mattress | Best pregnancy pillow | Best nappies
How to choose the best baby bottle for you
Baby bottles generally all have the same basic components: a main bottle section and a teat, with a screw-ring to connect the two together. Yet every model has its own particular characteristics and there’s no sure way to know which your baby prefers until they try a few – so if you can, buy one bottle in a few different makes to find out which works best for both of you.
Each bottle range comes with its own advantages, meaning it’s worth thinking about how often you’re going to be using your bottles when making a choice. Even if you’re planning to breastfeed, it can be worth having a couple of bottles on hand; a bottle of expressed or formula feed can be more convenient when you head out in public, and handing off a nighttime or early morning feed to your partner can work wonders for your mental state in the early months. If you’re planning to bottle-feed, you’ll need enough bottles for eight feeds a day. If you’re combi-feeding or just want an emergency standby, a few bottles will suffice.
Bear in mind, as well, that milk doesn’t have to be served warm – room temperature is fine, but cold from the fridge is not. With our newborn, we started him on room temperature, ready-to-feed bottles of milk from the beginning, which made nighttime feeds and feeds in public much easier.
What size bottle should I buy?
The main variation in baby bottles is in the size. Newborn bottles have a capacity of around 150ml (5oz), going up to around 250ml (9oz) for older babies. Some sets have a number of each size. All bottles have measurements up the side to help you put the right amount of water in when making up formula. Some brands also do larger bottles if you find your baby draining 9oz each feed.
What bottle teat should I buy?
Almost all teats are made from clear silicone, although rubber latex is still found in some bottles. The latter can cause allergic reactions in some babies so that’s worth bearing in mind. The shape of a teat varies considerably between brands and models of bottle: for newborns, you may see a wide, flat teat, rather like a thumb that’s designed to more closely resemble a nipple and fit in smaller mouths. For older babies, you’ll see a more bulbous shape that widens out to the bottle.
Newborn teats will usually be marked “slow-flow”, with the teat allowing less milk through to avoid flooding tiny mouths. Your baby will graduate to a larger teat size (and faster flow) at around six months old – but this is a guide only. You’ll know your baby and if you think they’re ready to move up, you don’t need to keep them on the smaller teats unnecessarily. Signs your baby is ready to move up include taking a long time to finish a bottle (anything longer than around 20 minutes); they regularly fall asleep or seem exhausted at the end of a feed, due to how hard they’ve been sucking; they’re drinking less than before; they make more of a mess or become frustrated.
It’s also worth knowing that breast milk and formula milk vary in thickness. Breast milk is thinner and more closely resembles water, so if you’re expressing into a bottle, your baby may need a slower teat to stem the flow. Equally, if you’ve been expressing and are now switching to formula, don’t be surprised if your baby needs a faster flow teat.
Most teats have strengthening structures built in to prevent them from collapsing when the baby sucks. Valves, meanwhile, allow air into the bottle, so the baby can suck up milk continuously without forming a vacuum in the bottle: these might be built into the teat itself, or into the ring that attaches it to the bottle and are advertised as “anti-colic.”
What is colic?
Many bottle manufacturers claim their designs help reduce colic – an uncomfortable condition not fully understood by doctors that could be down to trapped wind, indigestion or physical difficulties with feeding.
A valve that allows the pressure to remain constant inside the bottle makes it easier for the baby to feed. Having a soft nipple section helps too because the baby will suck it high into their soft palette and then stroke it with their tongue to draw the milk in. The bulb in the teat behind the nipple should act as a reservoir for the milk, preventing the baby sucking in air and thus helping to avoid trapped wind.
If your baby seems to be suffering with indigestion, it’s worth trying a few different feed formulas as well as trialling different teats.
How do I make up a bottle?
A little trick we used when our baby was a newborn was buying ready-to-feed bottles of formula to keep in the bedroom overnight. We also gave them to him at room temperature. That way, when he woke up, we could simply pour the sterilised milk into a sterilised bottle and feed him straight away without having to leave the room. It’s almost as convenient as breastfeeding. You can buy ready-to-feed bottles from most supermarkets, corner shops, Mothercare and online. They are more expensive than formula powder, so you’ll need to weigh up the cost versus the convenience.
It’s also perfectly safe to give ready-to-feed bottles of milk at room temperature, saving you even more time and effort at 3am. Once opened, the bottles need to be kept in the fridge, which means you’ll need to warm that milk back up. Always read the instructions on the brand you’ve chosen.
For formula, the instructions can be a little confusing. The rule of thumb is that once the formula pack is open, the powder is no longer sterile. To sterilise it, you need to put it in water that is hotter than 70°C, so just boiled water is fine. Once the germs in the powder have been “killed” by the shot of boiling water, you can simply top it up with cold water. This is how the Tommee Tippee Perfect Prep machine works, meaning the bottle is lukewarm and ready to go as soon as it’s made. We cannot recommend this machine highly enough: it’s incredibly easy to use and since our six-month-old started weaning, we use it to get sterile water for his drinks, porridge and more. This machine is very often on offer so look out for a bargain.
What else do I need when bottle feeding?
As well as your bottle of choice, you’ll need a way to sterilise the bottles – this is easily done with a standalone steam steriliser, a sterilising box placed in the microwave or sterilising tablets in cold water. If you’re making up a lot of formula, an automatic formula prep machine can save you a lot of time and fiddling about.
Finally, if you’re using bottles with expressed breast milk, you’ll need a way to express – see our roundup of the best breast pumps here.