I have heard stories about the days when moms had few choices in what products they used. They used cloth diapers, they had glass bottles, and only had latex nipples. Fortunately, things have changed, and now there are almost so many choices it is paralyzing.
However, despite all of the choices available, not all are good and not all are actually proven safe for babies. For baby bottles, there are three primary materials from which to choose: glass, plastic, and stainless steel. Each of these has some benefits, and each has some drawbacks. It also comes down to each individual mom’s and baby’s needs, so even though we know that one type of bottle might be safer than another, there may be other factors that weigh into our decision such as price or convenience. We have the pros and cons of the different types of baby bottles to help you choose the best for your baby.
Glass Baby Bottles
The first glass baby bottle was designed in 1841 and has been one of the longest-used materials for baby bottles. Glass is considered the safest option for baby bottles because it does not contain chemicals like BPA and TPP.
Benefits of Glass Baby Bottles
Glass baby bottles are more durable than just about any other material. They do not break down over time and do not get brittle with use. They are also considered one of the most chemically sensitive products available. There are no chemicals or heavy metals used to manufacture a glass baby bottle, so there is nothing to leach into the milk or formula.
Glass is easier to clean than other materials and it resists physical stains as well as odors and colors. Because glass is less porous than plastic or stainless steel, there is nowhere for nasty bacteria to hide. Glass is easy to clean, even if you forgot to clean it right away. When you sterilize glass baby bottles at high heat, you know that it is completely free from bacteria.
All glass bottles are microwave and dishwasher safe. Not that you should use a microwave to warm up milk or formula in the microwave anyway, but that is another topic for another day. The point is, it is less fragile than other materials so when you warm it up, it maintains its shape, unlike plastic.
And last but not least, glass is recyclable making it an environmentally friendly option when choosing a baby bottle.
Downsides of Glass Baby Bottles
One of the first things people think about when deciding whether to use glass bottles is that they are prone to break and shatter. While the glass used is thick and durable, it is still glass. When your little one chucks it, it will break. If it doesn’t break, it may still chip or crack making it unusable.
Glass bottles are also expensive compared to plastic. This is because they are very energy-intensive to produce. Take for instance Dr. Brown’s bottles. Dr. Brown’s Options 9oz glass bottles are nearly $40 for a three-pack. Dr. Brown’s plastic bottles, on the other hand, are less than $25 for four. That makes glass 60% more expensive than a comparable plastic bottle.
For moms who pump, glass can also be challenging to use with a breast pump. While the bottles may actually fit the pump attachment, the weight can make it difficult to actually use, especially if trying to pump both breasts at the same time.
And while we are talking about weight, glass is heavy during regular use. Those same Dr. Brown’s glass bottles weigh almost 12 ounces each. That is more than the 9 ounces of liquid they actually hold. So to carry a bottle with you to go out, you are effectively doubling the weight you have to carry.
Glass bottles can also be difficult to grip without some additional accessory. Glass bottles are typically smooth in design, so can become slippery when wet. When you put a cool liquid in the bottle, it causes condensation to form on the outside. This makes it slippery and more prone to dropping. You may need to use a silicone sleeve to make it easier to hold.
Both the weight and the difficulty to hold the bottle make it more challenging for little ones to practice holding the bottle for themselves. This can prevent them from developing any early independence.
Plastic Baby Bottles
Many plastics started commercial production right around the end of World War II. The plastic that has commonly been used in baby bottles is polypropylene, which was discovered in the early 1950’s and started finding its way into products by the end of the decade. The world started seeing plastic baby bottles in the 1960’s, thanks to the wide acceptance of the material in general. Ever since then, baby product manufacturers have been off to the races to develop bottles every mom and baby would like.
This has lead to some pretty awesome innovations to help babies feed more effectively. Take the Dr. Brown’s bottles we discussed for the glass bottles. What really makes those awesome is the venting system, which is made of plastic.
It has also allowed companies to quickly adapt and experiment with various designs. These have included bent bottles, wide-mouth bottles, tapered bottles for easy handling and much more. The cost of producing prototype models is much less for plastic than it is for glass so companies can more easily try many different designs.
Benefits of Plastic Baby Bottles
One of the biggest benefits of plastic baby bottles is that they are readily available. Due to their low-cost, more retailers are stocking these bottles. Are you out and forgot a bottle? No problem, you can stop at a gas station and pick one up.
Thanks to this low cost, there are a lot of options in terms of design, size, and shape, not to mention how it is decorated. This gives mom and baby a lot of options to find something functional that matches their personality too.
As we have already discussed, plastic is inexpensive. You can purchase inexpensive baby bottles for as little as about a dollar each, with more exclusive bottles running upwards of $40 per bottle. When compared to similar bottles, plastic is often about half the cost of a glass bottle. That is a huge saving when you consider the number of bottles a typical child goes through during their infancy.
Plastic bottles are extremely light with the typical plastic bottle weighing just a few ounces. That makes taking them on the go much easier. Once your little one is done with the bottle, you will hardly notice the weight in the diaper bag.
Plastic bottles are a lot more durable against drops than their glass counterparts.
Downsides of Plastic Baby Bottles
Chemicals are one of the first things many people think about when it comes to plastic bottles. This is in part due to the packaging suggesting that the bottles are free of certain chemicals. BPA is the primary concern, having shown significant effects on infant development. However, other chemicals in BPA free plastic are also of concern. This includes BPS and TPP, just to name a couple. These can still leach into the contents of the bottle.
Plastic bottles are difficult to clean because plastic is a porous material. It is also a soft material, making it prone to scratching. That means it is difficult to get the proteins and residue from milk out of the bottle, even if you use soap and a bottle brush. Even if the bottle looks clean, every little scratch on the surface is another place for bacteria to hide waiting to get into the next bottle.
The porous nature of plastic also means that it absorbs odors and colors. This is especially problematic if you use plastic bottles to store milk or formula, or if you do not wash it out immediately after use.
While plastic bottles may be more durable against drops, they are typically not as durable over the long-term. Every time the plastic is heated or cooled, it weakens the polymer bonds. Over time, this makes the plastic brittle and prone to cracking or shattering when dropped.
Finally, plastic bottles are never truly sanitized. Plastic cannot withstand the same level of heat that glass or steel can take. This means that it cannot be heated to a level high enough to effectively kill contaminants.
Stainless Steel Baby Bottles
Stainless steel bottles have grown in popularity over the recent years, especially since BPA was banned for use in baby bottles in 2012. The idea was simple: it is metal so it does not leach chemicals, especially stainless steel. Stainless steel had been used for decades, after all, in other dishes and cooking equipment. It is safe because it cannot shatter, so it should be great, right?
Any time you try to shift consumer thinking you run against a couple of challenges. First is trying to get consumers to break out of their comfort zone with the products to which they are accustomed. Second is offering a variety of products that consumers demand when there is not yet a proven market for the product.
Benefits of Stainless Steel Baby Bottles
Stainless steel baby bottles are more durable than plastic or glass. They are not prone to cracking or shattering, or weakening as you use them. Stainless steel is also resistant to corrosion, so the material is certainly designed to last.
Steel is also void of any polymer chemicals, such as BPA, BPS, or TPP. This is important to protect your baby from chemicals that will interfere with proper development.
Steel bottles are also relatively easy to insulate, with double-wall vacuum styles being very popular. They do not rely on additional chemically produced materials to create an insulating effect.
These bottles are generally easier to clean. Stainless steel is well known for resisting odors, colors, and stains in general. It is also scratch-resistant, so you do not have to worry about creating tiny scratches for bacteria to hide while you are cleaning them.
Finally, stainless steel tolerant of high heat. This means that you can be assured you are not going to damage the bottle in the dishwasher or sterilizer.
Downsides of Stainless Steel Baby Bottles
Despite the fact that stainless steel is free of any polymer chemicals, there is still the chance of leaching heavy metals. This includes nickel and chromium, which can be very harmful if they build up in the body. Fortunately, this risk can be minimized by boiling the bottle several times in vinegar to help remove any loose surface metal.
One major challenge to steel bottle compared to glass or plastic is simply that you cannot see through it. That means it is difficult to use the bottle to measure liquid, either putting it in the bottle or to track how much your little one is drinking.
A serious safety concern is the high thermal transfer when you use a bottle that is not insulated. That means that the bottle will reflect the temperature of the liquid very quickly. While this may be helpful on one hand, it also makes the bottle uncomfortable to hold.
While not nearly as heavy as glass, stainless steel does weigh more than plastic.
Finally, there are relatively few options to choose from and they are still fairly expensive. There is not a lot of variation in the bottle design or color. Some companies have tried to make them a little more pleasing to look at by applying various paint designs, but they are still metal. You can generally expect to spend about $20 on a single stainless-steel bottle, which is certainly your highest cost option.
How to Choose the Right Bottle?
Making the right bottle choice can be difficult, especially when you consider all of the various pros and cons. Here are some questions to consider as you look at the options available.
- Do you need just one type, or can you have primary bottles for home and then bottles for on-the-go? Many people will use something occasionally they may not use all the time.
- How concerned are you with chemicals? If you want to be the safest with chemicals, glass if your choice. Next to glass is going to be stainless steel.
- What is the budget you have to work with? If you need the least expensive, then plastic is going to be your best friend.
- How important is the weight of the bottle? If you are highly concerned about this, you should steer clear of glass.
- Is having an insulated bottle important? If so, then a stainless-steel bottle is your best bet.
- Do you need to be able to use the bottle to measure the liquid? If so, you are better off with plastic or glass.
- Does your little angel like to throw their bottle? If so, you either want a high-quality silicone sleeve for a glass bottle or choose plastic or stainless steel instead.
- How concerned are you with using heat of any form to sanitize your bottles? If this is a high concern, stainless steel or glass bottles are the best option.
- Do you plan to store milk or formula in the bottle, or do you tend to fall asleep while feeding and forget to wash out the bottle? If so, you are best to avoid plastic.
What kind do I prefer?
In the end, I use a mixed approach. I personally prefer to stay away from plastic if at all possible. So I use glass while I am at home. I can prepare a few bottles in advance and have them waiting in the fridge so I can easily put them on the warmer. When I do need to go out, I have a double-walled vacuum insulated stainless steel bottle I like to use. I usually warm it up before I go out. My little one eats every few hours, so I do not need to try to keep it warm for an extraordinarily long time.
What works best for you? Why did you choose the bottles you use? Leave your comments in our comment section to share your own experience.