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Baby Bottle Basics

Befuddled by Bottles?

I’ll be the first to admit I was completely clueless about baby bottle basics when I prepared my first bottle for my newborn son. We had several styles of bottles and nipples in the house—how could I tell which would be best? What were the rules when I wanted to nurse, then offer a bottle of formula? And what if he didn’t finish it?

Since then, I’ve talked to other moms who faced similar questions. “I didn’t know if I should put the nipples and bottles in the dishwasher and then boil them all, or if the dishwasher was enough,” recalls Sunny Latimer, a mother in St. Petersburg, Florida. “My other dilemma was when to switch to the second-stage nipples. I thought at about five or six months [my daughter] would be ready for that, but the milk just poured all over her.”

Kristin Kelly, a mother in upstate New York, recalls her mother insisting she boil bottles, nipples, and tops four times a day—until she found a microwave steamer to disinfect the parts instead. That was a relief, but then Kelly read an article that stated only glass bottles should be sterilized in the microwave. Confusion set in. “I always found myself thinking, ‘Laura Ingalls Wilder didn’t have to deal with all this. There must be an easier way!'” she says.

Feeling a little confused yourself? Read on—we’ve got answers to your trickiest questions about baby bottle basics.

Do Baby Bottles Need to Be Sterilized Each Time Before Use?

Yes. To sterilize bottles, boil parts for 10 minutes in a pot of water or run them through the dishwasher using water that’s 180 degrees or hotter.

And how long is a baby bottle actually considered sterile? According Dr. James Sears, a board-certified pediatrician, coauthor of The Baby Book and medical advisor to Lansinoh Laboratories, you should take care to store the bottle in a clean place (i.e. away from grease spatters, a smoky oven, etc.) and use it within a couple of days.

What’s the Deal with Nipples that Come in Different Stages?

The idea here is that the flow rate is slower in the earlier-stage nipples, making it easier for a new baby to drink. But not all nipples are rated by stage, and it’s not something you need to worry about. “Use a nipple your baby is comfortable with,” recommends Dr. Sears. “In general, use a nipple that allows a gentle drip when turned upside down—about one drip per second.”

If you’re breastfeeding your baby in addition to giving a bottle, use breastfeeding nipples. They’re shaped more like natural nipples, so your baby can keep a consistent mouth shape, Dr. Sears explains.

There Are So Many Styles of Bottles. How Do I Choose?

Again, this is just a matter of preference—yours and your baby’s, according to Dr. Sears. Some bottles may reduce gas and colic. And some are definitely easier to clean than others. (I wish I’d realized that before I got hooked on a bottle with five separate plastic and rubber parts, plus a bottom that’s aerated to prevent air bubbles. Water seeps in if it’s set in water to warm, which means using a separate container for that step. But hey, at least my baby doesn’t have tummy trouble.) You may have to experiment with several different kinds before your baby settles on one kind.

Is Warming Formula or Breast Milk Really Necessary?

Who wouldn’t love to skip this step when baby’s screaming for food in the middle of the night? When you’ve got a newborn, though, you really shouldn’t. Dr. Sears recommends bringing formula or refrigerated breast milk up to body temperature before serving, since very young babies have trouble maintaining their own body temperature. (Never use the microwave, as it can create hot spots in the liquid and alter the properties of both breast milk and formula. Instead, set the bottle or container in a pan of hot water for a few minutes.)

At 4 to 6 months old, however, babies don’t care so much about temperature, Dr. Sears says. Some even prefer it straight from the fridge. “My nutty daughter liked her milk cold,” says Kristin Arnold Ruyle, a mother in Tampa, Florida. “If it got warm she wouldn’t drink it.”

How Long Does Formula Keep?

That depends somewhat on what’s in the bottle. If it’s formula, you can keep it around for up to an hour (counting from the time the baby’s mouth first touched the nipple), but it should be tossed after that. And if your baby takes longer than an hour to finish? Dr. Sears recommends ending the feeding, since bacteria can start to grow in the formula. “Chances are, he’s falling asleep and the feeding is over anyway,” he says. Or, you could try a faster-flowing nipple.

Dr. Sears says breast milk from a feeding can be saved for two to three hours—and you don’t have to refrigerate it because breast milk contains antibodies formula doesn’t.

Can I Re-Heat Formula?

If it’s formula and you’re just taking the chill off by placing the bottle in warm water for a minute or two, that’s fine, says Victoria Regina, a registered nurse with an OB-GYN practice in Newburgh, New York. The formula should still feel cool when you test it on your wrist. Be sure to refrigerate it within 15 minutes and use it at the next feeding, or within 24 hours. Don’t reuse formula after getting it truly warm, however (like if you heat it to body temperature or higher). The higher heat will promote bacteria growth and could make the formula less nutritious if reheated.

Breast milk doesn’t have to be refrigerated in this scenario either, according to Dr. Sears. You can keep it out at room temperature (66 to 72 degrees F) for up to 10 hours.

Is It OK to Nurse, Then Offer Formula?

Yes! Many moms supplement breastfeeding with a bottle, and breast milk and formula mix fine in a baby’s belly. According to Dr. Sears, the two can even be combined in one bottle. In that case, make sure to feed the baby right away, so there won’t be any confusion about proper storage of a bottle that contains both breast milk and formula. Some experts, however, do warn that supplementing can cause a decrease in milk supply.

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