What are bottles and teats?

A bottle with a teat allows you to feed your baby with either infant formula milk and/or your expressed breast milk. Bottles can be made from glass or different types of plastic, and there are many different styles and shapes. The teat is what you baby sucks on and these come in different 'flow rates' (how fast the milk comes out). For a newborn it's important the flow rate is not too fast. As your baby gets bigger he or she can progress to faster flow teats.


Unless you're going to exclusively breastfeed, you'll need some bottles and teats. It can be a good idea to have some bottles and teats just in case, as well as a steriliser to keep your bottles and teats sterile.


How many bottles and teats do you need?

If you're just going to bottlefeed, you'll need at least two bottles and two teats, but it is better to have more as it takes time to wash and sterilise bottles – and time is what you're short of when your baby is very new.

The ideal number of bottles (and teats) is probably six, as this is roughly a day's worth of supplies between washing and sterilising. However, this is a personal choice and often you may start with one style of bottle and switch to another that you find your baby prefers.

Two bottles (and two teats) is probably the minimum you can get away with even if you're going to be mixed feeding (combining breast and bottle).

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You’ll also want to think about how many bottles your steriliser can hold at once, or if you need to get a larger unit.


What size bottles do you need?

Bottles come in different sizes depending on the brand. Generally speaking, all are small (150ml/160ml), medium (250ml/ 260ml) or large (330ml).

Small bottles are designed for newborns, and many manufacturers offer 'starter' packs, which include two bottles and two teats. These are fine if your baby does not drink much in one go (such as when they’re a newborn), but soon become limiting when your baby is drinking more than the bottle can offer in one feed. This happens generally within the first three months, but it's a very individual thing. Small bottles are handy when you're out and about, but they're false economy to some extent as before long you're going to have to buy medium-sized bottles.

Medium-sized bottles are the most practical and popular choice, and most prevalent size. It’s cheaper to half fill a medium or large bottle in the early days, then increase the amount in it, then have to buy a whole new size as your baby’s appetite increases.

It’s worth thinking about your choice of steriliser too – not all sterilisers can fit all sizes (or shapes) of bottles.


What shape bottles do you want?

Bottles come in many different shapes. Some are wide neck, some standard and other are angled.

“Standard” bottles are that classic looking bottle your mum may have used, and have the smaller neck.

Wide neck bottles tend to look quite squat and angled bottles have the teat coming at an angle to the bottle, rather than being straight up and down like the other shapes.

Small-necked and angle-necked bottles are reported to reduce the amount of air a baby swallows as he feeds, thus reducing wind and colic. On the other hand, these bottles are harder to clean. Wide necked bottles are easier to clean.

If you're going to bottlefeed with your expressed breast milk, think about choosing your breast pump first. Some breast pumps are only compatible with matching bottles, and you can express straight into the bottle you’ll eventually feed from, cutting down on the kit to sterilise and the transferring milk. Others can be used with virtually any bottle, or have their own collection bottle for decanting to feeding bottles later on.


What types of teat do you need?

Teats have holes in them that dictate how fast the milk flows out - the greater the number of holes, the faster the milk flows.

Manufacturers grade their teats 'slow', 'medium', 'fast' and 'variable' flow. Others using a numbering system where 1 is the slowest flow and 4 or 5 is the fastest. All teats have a stamp on them that tells you what speed they are.

Teats can be silicone or latex, and standard-shape or 'natural'. Silicone is less flexible than latex but more durable. You can also get anti-colic teats, designed to reduce the amount of air your baby swallows. There are even disposable teats for single use while out and about.

All babies start with slow flow teats. It's time to move on when your baby becomes frustrated with his milk (you'll know when this happens!). A teat flow is too fast for your baby if he starts to choke, have trouble swallowing or you see milk leaking out of his mouth.


Do you need BPA-free bottles?

Bisphenol-A, or BPA, is a chemical used in some polycarbonate bottles to make them hard and clear. Although more common a few years ago, there are now very few bottles available which still contain BPA - only the cheapest products, some supermarket own brands, and some cartoon-character branded options are left.

There’s now compelling scientific evidence linking low-level exposure to BPA with several chronic conditions, and BPA bottles have been voluntarily withdrawn from shelves in Canada and the USA. There’s growing pressure on the government to ban BPA in baby bottles in the UK. BPA-free bottles are clearly marked as such on the packaging, and alternatives include:

  • PES (polyethersulfone)
  • PP (polypropylene)
  • Glass

Check out our safety update on BPA and the alternatives.


Do you need anti-colic bottles?

Colic is inconsolable crying in a healthy newborn baby with bouts of fussiness and irritability. The condition has no known cause but is harmless, although it can be very distressing for you! Some recent research indicates that it may be down to inflammation caused by a bacterium in the gut. Whatever the cause, it's very common, affecting up to two out of every 10 babies, beginning when your baby is 2 to 3 weeks old. Most babies outgrow colic by 4 months.

While opinion on the cause of colic varies, painful wind may contribute to it and some parents choose anti-colic bottles to cut down on the amount of air their baby swallows when feeding. However, even breastfed babies can suffer with colic.

Anti-colic bottles are usually vented, contain valves, or have a specially designed teat, to let air out when your baby drinks, thus cutting down on the amount of air your baby swallows. Brands that offer anti-colic designs include Dr Browns plastic and glass, Vital Baby, Born Free plastic and glass, Nuby, Philips AVENT, Tomy, and Yoomi.

Mums are divided in opinion when it comes to the effectiveness of anti-colic bottles. Anti-colic bottles are more expensive and can be fiddly to clean. It can also take some trial and error to find an anti-colic bottle that makes a difference to your baby.

Bottles aside, you can also help your baby through colic with our guide.


Where do you start?

Glass or plastic, small, medium or large, anti-colic or standard and different-sized teats – the choice is huge. Start your search by reading our in-depth bottle and teat reviews.