A conversation with an expectant mom overwhelmed by the choice of baby bottles and nipples at a store prompted a breastfeeding expert in the US to research the evidence behind manufacturers’ claims for their baby products and come up with some tips to help parents make informed choices.

Dr Donna Dowling, associate professor of nursing at the Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, and senior BSN student Laura Tycon wrote about the research in a paper published online last month in the journal Nursing for Women’s Health.

Dowling and Tycon discovered that baby bottle and nipple design is based on research done in the 1960s and 70s that looked into how babies suck milk while being breast or bottle fed.

They explain that bottles and nipples (or teats) come in many shapes and sizes but all are designed to mimic breastfeeding. The simplest design is the bottle that is pliable and shaped to resemble a breast, while the more complicated designs incorporate features that prevent the baby taking in too much air while feeding.

They suggest the final choice probably comes down to two factors: mother’s preference and baby’s preference.

Dowling said that different babies have different ways of sucking: “from the slow to the fast eaters”, she said in a statement.

Dowling and Tycon suggest you bear these points in mind when choosing a baby bottle and nipple:

  • Nipples are available for slow, medium or fast flow of milk: slow is usually for younger babies just starting to feed, but choose the bottle-nipple combination that suits baby’s feeding style. Some babies will take any nipple when they are hungry, while others prefer what is familiar.
  • If unsure, go for a slow or medium flow rate and stay with that if the baby is comfortable.
  • Always check the research behind claims like the bottle and/or nipple has been clinically tested to prevent colic. Check also who funded the study.
  • There is no such thing as the perfect product: they are all generally good in that they have bottle and nipple systems designed to reduce excess air intake which can cause discomfort to baby and cause him or her to reflux or regurgitate.
  • Give baby a chance to get used to a new bottle and/or nipple. Don’t give up if he or she rejects it the first time. If you keep changing the bottle and/or nipple it could be a frustrating and expensive exercise.
  • Ask other mothers and friends for their advice: visit parenting websites, to get good information about bottles and nipples before you go and buy them.
  • Changing from one system to another can be an expensive business, so make sure to find out about costs too when considering such a decision.

Dowling also warns that you should be ready to spend more time cleaning the more complicated bottle and nipple systems:

“The more parts and tiny areas in the components, the harder it will be to clean,” she said.

Further information, including advice on particular brands, is available in the full article.

“Bottle/Nipple Systems: Helping Parents Make Informed Choices.”
Donna A. Dowling, Laura Tycon
Nursing for Women’s Health, Volume 14, Issue 1, Pages: 61-66, Published Online: 4 Feb 2010
DOI: 10.1111/j.1751-486X.2010.01508.x

Source: Case Western Reserve University.

Written by: Catharine Paddock, PhD