Kids eat right.

Baby Bottle Basics

Reviewed by Karen Collins, MS, RDN, CDN, FAND
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Baby bottles.

Plastic or glass bottles, or disposable bottle bags? The choice is yours. Some parents keep a variety of baby bottle sizes and styles on hand for different purposes. For example, disposable bottle bags are handy when you're on the go and when washing facilities are limited. For convenience, bottles with disposable liners let you toss away the used liner when the feeding is done. Small-size bottles are perfect for holding 2- or 3-ounce feedings during the first weeks after delivery. Be cautious of bottles with cute shapes; they're often hard to clean.

Plastic baby bottles and sippy cups are no longer made with bisphenol A, or BPA. Questions were raised about the safety of this chemical, used to make a form of plastic called polycarbonate. If you are using older plastic bottles, you can avoid BPA by checking to make sure the recycling symbol on the bottom does not say #7 or PC (which stands for polycarbonate). Other bottle options include plastic bottles with disposable liners and glass bottles. If you’re concerned about breaking glass bottles, you might try silicone sleeves that go around a bottle to protect it if it’s dropped..

Baby-bottle nipples.

They come in many shapes and sizes. Choose nipples that match your baby's mouth size and developmental needs. A baby's comfort and ease of sucking are the criteria to use when choosing a nipple.

There are four basic baby-bottle nipple types: regular nipple with slow, medium or fast flow (the number and size of the holes will determine flow); nipple for very small or premature babies; orthodontic nipple, which imitates the shape of a human nipple during breastfeeding; and cleft palate nipple. A cleft palate nipple is meant for babies with a lip or palate problem that keeps them from sucking properly.

Keep bottle-feeding equipment in good condition:

  • Discard cracked or chipped bottles that could break and spill formula onto your baby. Toss scratched plastic bottles.
  • Replace nipples regularly, as they can become “gummy” or cracked with age. Check them by pulling the tip before each use.
  • Check the size of the opening on new nipples and then periodically as you use them. Formula should flow from the nipple in even drops — not a steady stream. If the milk flows too quickly, your baby could choke, so discard the nipple. If the milk flows too slowly for your baby, consider trying a nipple with more holes, designed for older babies.

When it comes to preparing infant formula and washing bottles, cleanliness is essential! Your baby's immune system isn't fully developed, so food poisoning from improperly cleaned feeding equipment is a possibility.

  • Use hot, soapy water to wash your hands, work area, measuring utensils, bottles and nipples. If possible, wash bottles right away when they're easier to clean. Thoroughly clean reusable bottles, caps and nipples.
    • To wash by hand, don’t wash them directly in the sink; use a clean basin or container. Pour hot, soapy water into bottles; rotate a baby bottle brush inside until the bottle is clean; wash all caps and utensils; and wash away all soapy water under running water. Use a nipple brush to wash nipples and nipple holes. Squeeze the hot, soapy water through the nipple hole to flush out any trapped milk, then thoroughly rinse under running water to wash away all traces of soapy water. Use sanitized tongs to remove bottles, nipples and other utensils and place them in the dish drainer to dry.
    • It is also safe to clean bottles, nipples, caps, rings and other equipment in the dishwasher (check that they are dishwasher-safe). Separate the bottle parts and rinse well before placing in dishwasher. Put small items into a closed-top basket or mesh laundry bag so they don’t end up in the dishwasher filter. If possible, run the dishwasher using hot water and a heated drying cycle (or sanitizing setting) to help kill more germs. Wash your hands before removing clean bottles from the dishwasher. If items are not completely dry, place them on a clean  dish towel or paper towel to air-dry thoroughly before storing.
    • Sanitizing feeding items each day may not be necessary for older, healthy babies, as long as bottles and equipment are cleaned carefully after each use. But when your baby is younger than 3 months, was born prematurely or has a weakened immune system, sanitizing can provide important extra protection from harmful germs. Start by washing bottles and bottle equipment as well as the basin in which you wash bottles. To sanitize by boiling, place separated bottle parts into a pot, cover with water, and bring to a boil. Boil for 5 minutes; then remove items with clean tongs, and place items on a clean dish towel or paper towel in a clean area to air-dry thoroughly before storing.
  • Remember: The outer "shell" of bottles with disposable bottle bags needs regular washing to destroy bacteria.
  • Opening a new can of formula? First, wash the can opener and the can's lid with soap and water; rinse well.
  • Transport bottles and formula in an insulated cooler when traveling with the baby. Perishable items (milk or formula) left out of the refrigerator or without a cold source for more than two hours should not be used..