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  • Writer's pictureStephanie Gable, RN, IBCLC

What is the best bottle for breastfeeding babies?

As a maternal child RN with 35 years of experience and an IBCLC for 21 years, I have often been asked about the best bottle for breastfeeding babies and the "just like the breast bottle." Moms would pull out these bottles, hoping for a positive response from me, but I always try to maintain a neutral facial expression. With so many options on the market claiming to be just like the breast, it's impossible to determine which one will work for your baby just by reading the label. I frequently come across questions on social media like, "What bottle do you use? I've tried 8 and my baby still won't take one." Let me assure you, it's not the bottles' fault.

There are numerous reasons why moms choose to give bottles. Some have premature babies who were fed bottles in the NICU, some return to work, some have babies that cause nipple damage during breastfeeding, and some simply prefer bottle feeding over breastfeeding. Regardless of the reason, when these moms attempt to give their baby a bottle (or even several bottles), their baby often refuses. Is it because the baby didn't watch the latest commercials or TikTok videos about the newest and greatest "just like the breast" bottles? Absolutely not, that would be absurd. Is it because the mom didn't watch them either? No, not at all.

Here's the truth, folks: there is no perfect bottle. There is no bottle that is "just like the breast." Why? Because every breast and every baby's mouth is unique, just like snowflakes. They may have similarities, but none are identical.

Ideally, babies should be able to latch onto their mother's nipples or breasts. However, they should also be able to suckle on a basic nipple if necessary. During my years working in the nursery, we often fed babies with basic, cheap (often free from formula companies) bottles, and the vast majority of babies were able to get milk from them. I'm not saying those bottles were good or the best, but it proves that babies should be able to suckle milk from a teat when they're hungry. Unfortunately, this isn't always the case.

How many moms have told us, "My baby would never latch to me"? It's unlikely that the problem lies with the mother. In most cases, it's the baby who struggles with breastfeeding and latching.

It's important to note that moms who struggle with breastfeeding may also encounter difficulties with bottle feeding. There are numerous variables to consider:

  • Does the mom have a flat or inverted nipple?

  • Does the baby have tongue tie, lip tie, buccal ties, or any combination of them?

  • Does the baby have a recessed chin without a tie?

  • Did the baby experience birth trauma?

  • Does the baby have a high palate?

  • Is there jaw asymmetry or uneven jaw movement?

  • Does the baby have a nipple or flow preference?

Some babies who have been nursed long-term may simply refuse to take a bottle because they prefer not to (this can be the trickiest situation to address and requires ruling out all of the above factors). Or perhaps it's a combination of several factors. Most likely, it's a combination.

If a baby has a very tight restriction in their mouth, they may struggle to create enough suction to extract milk from a slow flow nipple. They might also lack the necessary tongue and oral function to handle a faster flow without coughing, choking, or experiencing reflux due to hindered swallowing. The fact that a bottle is shaped like a breast has no bearing on whether a baby will accept it.

I've had some success by comparing the mom's nipple, immediately after nursing, to the 20 or so different bottles/nipples we keep in a drawer for this specific purpose. However, this method isn't scientific and doesn't always yield positive results.

So, when someone asks me, "What is the best bottle and nipple out there?" my response is always, "It depends on the baby." Without knowing more about the specific mom and baby and their journey, I cannot provide any other answer. If someone tells me, "Oh, my baby loves this bottle," I congratulate them, but I don't recommend that same bottle to the next mother.

Having been in this field for a long time, I know there's no "one type fits all" solution. While this may not answer the question of which bottle is most similar to the breast, I hope this information encourages you to consider the reasons why some moms face challenges when searching for the right bottle for their babies.

If you need assistance in finding a bottle your baby will accept, particularly if you choose or need to give bottles, we are here to help. We offer lactation services, doula services and prenatal classes. Feel free to browse our website while you are here.

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