Saturday, December 1, 2012

BABY GEAR: Bottle feeding

I knew from the get go that I wanted to breastfeed my baby, but I also knew that I would still need bottle feeding gear on hand for several reasons. Firstly I was investing in a pump so I could feed her breast milk from a bottle when I had to be away from her and also because I planned to have a few cans of formula until I fully got the hang of breast feeding. I didn't buy much bottle feeding gear until after the baby was already here either because I overlooked things or wasn't sure I would really need them.
This is the list of gear I have or considered for bottle feeding

Bottles I thought choosing bottles would be the easiest thing ever, I mean how hard could it be? I figured I couldn't go wrong if I stuck to a good quality brand that had good reviews.  What I didn't factor in was the possibility that my baby might have other ideas and might prefer one bottle type over another. Its definitely been a journey finding the perfect bottle for us.  So far we have tried 3 different bottle types and multiple nipple shapes and sizes.

[1] We started out with the Playtex nurser system with drop-in liners.

I chose to start out with these bottles,because of all the great things I had heard about them. As you can see from the photo above, the bottle is made up of two main parts, the exterior "bottle" called a nurser and an interior disposable liner that you drop in to the bottle.  This system is  supposed to be excellent for newborns because you can squeeze the air out of the liner before putting the breast milk or formula in it and this  reduces the amount of air the baby can swallow during feeding which in turn reduces colic, gas, fussing, etc.  Below you can see the 7 main benefits of using the Nurser system

 There are two different generations of the Playtex nurser bottles;  the original nursers and the new premium nursers. The photos above show the newer, sleeker premium nursers and the photo below shows the original style.

The nurser system is available in gift sets that come with a variety of bottles and nipples sizes so you can try them out and find the perfect fit for you. I stumbled upon two gift sets on sale at Target for about $5 each which was quite a steal since they usually retail for at least $20 each. I was in my 2nd trimester at the time and didn't have much knowledge about them, so I decided to play it safe and get one of each generation, So I had a box of originals and a box of premiums.

What I liked about this brand:  They are great for the newborn stage, it is so convenient to be able to throw the liner away once your done feeding, and not have to worry about washing too many parts. Only the nipple and the nipple ring really come in contact with the milk.  I also like how I had many different nipples to try out, the gift sets include a great range of latex and silicone nipples in slow, medium and fast flow and an orthodontic nipple as well. 

What I didn't like about it:
The disposable liners drive me nuts for several reasons
  • The measurement markings on these liners are totally wrong. The disposable liners themselves have faint markings on them, but they are totally pointless since the liners are collapsible, its like trying to measure liquid in a plastic bag. You basically can never know exactly how much water, breast milk or formula is in the bottle. This is a big problem in the newborn stage when you are trying to monitor precisely how much food your baby is eating. I tried to resolve this by mixing or measuring everything in a different container first, but even then, as you are feeding, you can't tell how much is left in the bottle. You can guess by the markings but its very inaccurate, so you would have to pour the left over milk into another container to find out how much your baby was able eat. So much unnecessary extra work.
  • If you want to mix formula, its pretty much impossible to do it in these bottles, because you need a rigid container to be able to shake the formula to properly dissolve in the water. I foolishly attempted to mix formula in this when my baby was a few days old. I should have realized right away that it was never going to work, no matter how hard you shake the bottle the formula just sloshes around but doesn't dissolve. Again its like trying to mix formula in a plastic bag.
  • Once your baby starts eating more than 4oz of milk at a time, that's when the liners show you their true colors. They will randomly pull free from the exterior nurser bottle and all the milk will spill on you. This is especially frustrating if its breast milk, because it is so much effort to pump, store and then warm up the breast milk, only to have it all pour away right when your crying baby is hungry. This only happens if the liner is more than half full, so I was forced to switch to the 8oz bottles even when I only had 4oz of milk. And even then, I would still have to deal with random milk spillage and there was nothing I could do to prevent it.
Aside from the issue with liners, the exterior 'bottles' are much bulkier than other brands so they take up a bit of space if you going out with them. I also had issues with some of the bottle caps not fitting properly on the nipple rings, which means you go to grab the bottle and it slips out of your grasp and hits the floor.
Eventually we switched from these bottles when my little one was almost 4 months old.

[2] The second type of bottle we tried were the classic 4oz Avent bottles.
These are my least favorite bottles of all.  The only reason we got these was because I was having a hard time mixing and measuring how much milk was in the drop in liners so I asked my husband to buy me a simple bottle I could use for mixing formula. He bought me a three pack of these. They come with a weird adapter ring shown below which is super annoying. The adapter ring doesn't seem to serve any real purpose other than to stop the milk from leaking out of the bottle. I'm not sure why they couldn't just design the bottle in a way that the nipple ring would securely fit on the bottle without the adapter. Its just one more unnecessary part to remember and sometimes in hurry I would put the bottle together without the ring and of course it was leak everywhere. 

The nipple is also really rigid, so my baby didn't like it and all in all not a great bottle. It is okay but nothing special and I wouldn't buy it again. The one good thing about it, is the size. It is nice and compact and easy to carry around

 [3] The third and final bottle that we tried is the Playtex Ventaire Advanced.  I decided to give these a try when my daughter turned 4 months and we were having so many issues with the Playtex drop ins.  I don't have too many complaints about this bottle and plan to stick to these until my daughter stops bottle feeding in a few months.

These bottles are angled in such a way that it significantly reduces how much air the baby can swallow while feeding. The bottle also has a screw on base that has tiny vent holes and a silicone vent disk; these are designed to allow air to vent out of the bottle while feeding. I like this bottles because it has small compact nipple similar to the Dr Brown nipple size, the bottle is slim and easy to hold by the baby. Plus it doesn't take too much space in a cooler or diaper bag. Overall I really like everything about this bottle except that it takes forever to wash because of all the parts. In total this bottle has 6 parts ( the bottle, nipple ring, nipple, cap, base, silicone vent disk) so washing bottles everyday is quite a chore! All the parts also take up more space on a bottle rack.

Bottle rack I currently own two bottle racks and I'm already running out of space on them. I started out with just one which worked fine in the beginning when she only had bottles but now that she is on solids, she has so much extra gear that I was forced to get an additional rack.

The first rack I bought was a spinning rack by The First years

Its nothing amazing. It does what its supposed to do. The drip tray doesn't actually attached to the rack, it just sits under it, so it moves around if you touch it and that's a bit irritating. Over all I do like it and would buy it again. However when I realized I needed another rack, I wanted something a little more compact so I decide to try the grass rack by Boon.

I had seen this in the store many times even before I bought the first rack but I didn't like the look of it, it seemed weird, impractical and difficult to clean. However I heard nothing but good things about it so I decided to give it a try. They do have a larger size available called the lawn. I like how modern it looks and the fact that it allows me to dry items upright which is great for keeping them away from germs. Its especially great for drying and storing my bottle brush. The grass rack is ideal for bottles, caps, spoons but not so great for small parts like nipples. The picture below shows my grass rack.

Contrary to what I expected, it is not difficult to clean at all. In fact it is easier to clean than the spinning rack. I just take the grass out of the white tray and then wash both pieces in soapy water. I sometimes also soak the grass in vinegar.

Recently Boon released stem & twig accessories for the grass rack that are better suited for nipples and smaller parts. I have to say the accessories look really good too. The grass and lawn racks are available in white too.

I have also heard nothing but good things about the Sprout drying rack by Munchkin. That might be the next rack I try if I need another one. I really like the look of it, clearly a lot of thought went into this.

Bottle brush This is something that I totally overlooked. I didn't have a brush by the time we brought the baby home from the hospital. For some reason I thought I wouldn't need a brush since I was using the bottles with the drop-in liners. but of course I still needed a brush for the other bottle parts as well as the breast pump parts. The day after we got home from the hospital, I once again sent my husband out to get me a bottle brush. I didn't specify which type I wanted, because I really didn't know the difference at that point. So he grabbed the first one he found which was the Munchkin deluxe bottle brush

This brush is okay, it does the job and comes with the nipple brush pictured. I don't really understand why most bottle brushes have nipple brushes that screw into the handle of the bottle brush. Whats the point of that? Because no matter what sort of venting system they have, I still don't want to store the wet nipple brush inside the handle of the bottle brush. I want the nipple brush to air dry thoroughly, and I'm sure most moms would want the same thing,  so I wasn't too impressed with this feature. However I was impressed that it came with a nipple brush in the first place since I didn't even know I needed one.  The nipple brush is great for standard size nipples, but not for orthodontic nipples or small breast pump parts.

The bottle brush itself is not so great.The bristles are super hard so it sprays water everywhere when you try to take the brush out of the bottle. It is also quite hard to get the brush inside the bottle in the first place. I really don't think the bristles need to be that hard, since this is only for washing bottles rather than scrubbing pans.  I like to replace my bottle brush often since it gets a lot of use, and for some reason I made the mistake of buying this same brush twice in a row. I think its mainly because this is the only bottle brush available at my local Target. Anyway after the nipple brush ripped one of the valves for my breast pump I decided enough was enough and I needed to get better brushes.

I decided to try the OXO bottle brush.  because I heard it was softer than the Munchkin brush and was slightly better.
It definitely is softer, however the nipple brush that comes inside it is ridiculously silly. Its not even a real brush. The pictures below show the nipple cleaner that comes with it and how you are supposed to use it.

The most accurate description of the nipple cleaner is USELESS! The bottle brush itself is just okay. My husband thinks it's too soft and almost feels like you are washing the bottles with a wash cloth, but at least it doesn't drench me by spraying water everywhere.

Finally I also have the Avent brush I got this because it was on sale and I wanted to try it out. I also thought it would be great for traveling.

This brush also has soft bristles  like the OXO brush so that's kind of a good thing. It is an okay brush but the nipple cleaner is again pretty bizarre. If you look closely at the tip of the brush handle you can see that it has grooves. That part of the brush is supposed to be the nipple cleaner. Yeah. Clearly some of the people that design these nipple cleaners, have no clue and don't apply basic common sense. How is that piece of molded plastic going to effectively clean the nipple?

Finally I recently purchased the Munchkin cleaning brush set

I bought these because the new bottle brushes I bought don't have good nipple brushes. The old nipple brush that came with the Munchkin bottle brush is soon going to be thrown out and is too wide for some of the small parts. This set is pretty great. I like that the base of each brush is labelled with the words SPROUT, STRAW or VALVE. It makes it easy to identify them.  I use these for cleaning the straw and sprouts of her sippy cups and straw cup too.

Mixing pitcher As I mentioned earlier, its pretty darn impossible to mix formula in the drop-in liners by Playtex, so I was constantly having to mix formula in the Avent bottles and then pour it into the drop-ins.  In anticipation of my baby starting daycare I decided to order the Dr Brown's formula mixing pitcher. Even though I was breastfeeding my baby I thought I would have to stop breastfeeding her once I went back to work.

This pitcher allows you to mix formula without shaking individual bottles. You can make up to 32 oz of formula at once, which is the equivalent of four 8oz bottles.   I really liked the concept of this and I really wanted to like it, but I never even got to try it out. Despite my doubts, I was able to continue breastfeeding when I went back to work so I never needed to make more than one bottle of formula a day. This pitcher is not worth using for anything less than 8 oz of formula and I've never had to make more than that per day. I sometimes add 1oz or 2oz of formula to each of her bottles of breast milk but nothing more than that. I sadly returned this unused.

Bottle warmer
While I was home with my baby on maternity leave I heated up breast milk by placing the bottle in a bowl of warm water. I usually fed her formula at room temperature. When I started going out to church and other social events I needed a faster way to heat up her bottles. I know a lot of people heat up bottles in the microwave but you really shouldn't do this. Breast milk is destroyed by the microwave and even formula cans have a printed warning that it shouldn't be microwaved. I personally didn't want any of my baby's food to be put in the microwave, so I had to find a good bottle warmer.

I really wanted to get the Kiinde Kozii which is one of the only warmers designed specifically for breast milk. I love that you can heat up the milk directly in the breast milk storage bag, that proves how gently it heats the milk. However the price really turned me off. I wasn't about to spend $70 on a warmer that I would only use occasionally.

I considered a few other options like the Dr Brown's warmer and the Avent warmer, but I didn't like certain things about them like how hard they were to clean so I decided to try the Quick Serve Bottle Warmer by The First Years.

The one thing I really like about this warmer is that I can use it for warming up the purees I make for her. The 4oz canning jelly jars fit in there snugly and her food is warm in a few minutes.
When it comes to warming breast milk or formula, this warmer is annoying and very inconsistent. It is supposed to work in such a way that if you put in a certain amount of water, the water heats up and the steam warms the bottles. Once the water runs out the warmer shuts off automatically and the bottle should be warm. It doesn't work this way. It is always either too hot or not warm enough, so I basically have to baby sit the warmer and keep checking it. Also the chart they provide that tells you how much water to use is a joke. Its like they just made up the numbers, none of it works.  The annoying thing is that once the warmer shuts off, it has to cool down before you can use it again,which means if the bottle wasn't warm yet you have to wait a while to use it. I found that its best to just put in more water than I need and then keep checking it til it's done. It only cost me $15 so I can't complain too much about it. Its cute and compact and easy travel with, it is also easy to clean.

Bottle feeding outside the home can be tricky. In the first few months I avoided this at all costs I would only go out for short periods of time and use my nursing cover to breastfeed her in the car. Once she started daycare and going to church it was time to figure out a better solution for keeping her bottles of breast milk cool while in transit. I received a few free cooler bags like the Lansinoh bag I mentioned in a previous post, as well as Enfamil cooler bags that I got in the free Enfamil gift bags from the hospital and the pediatrician's office.  The only down side of the free cooler bags is that none of them are big enough to hold more than 2 bottles at a time.
I started out with  Rachel Ray insulated lunch tote. I used this to transport her bottles to daycare in the first month. It worked pretty ok. It has a zipper to help maintain the inside temperature.

Then I heard about the Pack it freezable lunch bag. I loved the concept of it so I was excited when I found it on sale at Walmart. Now I use it pretty much every day! It is pretty great. 

Just like the name says, it is freezable. The pack can be folded and then frozen overnight.  It has some type of gel lining through out the entire bag, so instead of a regular cooler bag that needs ice packs, this bag is an icepack in itself!  The one thing I don't like is the velcro closure, I wish it could have a zipper instead but I guess that wouldn't work with the whole folding and freezing part.  It is a truly innovative idea, excellent not just for baby bottles but anything you want to keep cool.

For long days out and traveling, I use this Playmate cooler in combination with the Pack-it freezable bag and as many ice packs that can fit in there. This ensures that everything stays cool for as long as possible.

And while we are on the subject of ice packs. My favorite ice packs that I use daily are soft packs by Enfamil. I got them for free in the gift bags given to me by the hospital and the pediatrician's office, and they are really efficient. They stay cold forever! On one occasion I forgot to put them back in the freezer when I got home from daycare but they were still cold the next morning after being out of the freezer for over 24 hours.

I tried to buy more of them since I only have two, but I couldn't find them anywhere! In the end I gave up and bought sheets of reusable ice from target. They work okay, nowhere as good as the Enfamil packs though because these sheets seemed to be filled with regular water, whereas the Enfamil packs are filled with gel.

Formula Dispenser I considered a formula dispenser when I wasn't sure if I would be able to continue breast feeding once I started work full time.  There is no need to pre-mix the bottles and carry them around in coolers if its 100% formula. It is so much easier to just pre-measure the amount of dry formula and store it in the dispenser and then add it to the bottles of water only when you are ready to feed the baby. I heard good things about the Munchkin formula dispenser, but in the end I never bought it or needed it since I am still breast feeding. 

Sterilizer Pretty much all bottles, nipples, breast pump parts and pacifiers need to be sterilized before the first use. Some people sterilize their bottles every single day after that. Most medical professionals say that sterilizing every day is definitely unnecessary, but if it makes you feel better then by all means go ahead. I sterilize everything before the first use by boiling in a pan and then every few weeks I may decide to put them in a pan of boiling water for a few minutes. I definitely do not sterilize everyday!   I did consider buying a sterilizer but most of the more affordable brands need to be put in the microwave and I'm adamant about not putting any of her feeding supplies in the microwave.
At one point I considered the Avent  3-in-1 steam sterilizer, but by then my baby was already about 4 months old and  the few doctors I spoke to said they thought it was pointless and unnecessary so they made me reconsider.  I was also thrown off by some of the bad reviews about the sterilizer being hard  to clean and also causing a bad taste and odor in the bottles. I decided not to mess with the bottle cleaning system we already had set up, since it was working fine for us.

1 comment:

  1. This is such a comprehensive breakdown of baby feeding/bottle gear that I am going to make sure I return to it one day when I'm expecting a baby. Who knew that there was so much to chose from baby bottle wise?
    I had no idea!