There’s no shortage of baby products on the market that promise to fulfill new parents’ every need. The problem is weeding out what works against what doesn’t, and that often depends on babies’ personalities and parents’ ability to both follow directions and stay calm under pressure. That said, there are definitely some baby products that are lifesavers for moms and dads, as silly as they may seem before baby arrives.
But here we’re going to talk about products that are intended for parents of formula-fed babies. Plenty of parents choose formula feeding, and plenty turn to bottles after breastfeeding doesn’t work out for any number of reasons. Regardless, formula feeding has its own unique set of challenges for both new and experienced parents. From learning to how to measure and mix formula to washing and sanitizing bottles to learning to feed babies without overstuffing them, formula feeding can take some getting used to.
Fortunately, there are products that can help, including ten listed here. However, there are also products that you may think you need, but which actually won’t do much good at all- such as the five below. Read on for everything you’ll need to keep your formula-fed babe healthy and happy.
15 Automatic Milk Machine
If you love your Keurig or other easy-to-use coffee maker, you’ll absolutely love this genius invention. It’s like a Keurig for babies- with the touch of a button, it measures, mixes, and warms baby formula to the perfect temperature! It looks like the Baby Brezza was the first major formula machine, but plenty of others have followed it.
That said, you can plan on spending a bit to take one of these puppies home- but think about the time you’ll save prepping bottles. Plus, since the machine is doing all the work, the process is easier on the baby as you can cuddle and soothe him while his bottle mixes. For moms who plan to formula feed from birth, your best bet is to put a formula mixing machine on your baby registry, if you have one. Once you have your machine set up, you just have to load up the powder formula, adjust the settings, and go.
However, a machine like this is only handy if you’re using powder formula with your babe. If you happen to need to use the premade liquid formula, which is common with babies with allergies and preemies in particular, then you’ll have to pour and warm bottles the old-fashioned way.
14 Splurge On A Set
Newborn babies tend to eat often but in small amounts. So some parents might assume they can just grab a couple of smaller capacity baby bottles and be set. But planning ahead and having an arsenal of bottles on hand means you’re prepared when baby suddenly decides they want to eat more, or when you haven’t had time to wash bottles.
Whether you’re choosing to formula feed or you have to out of necessity, no one enjoys washing bottles.
It’s a simple fact that milk- whether it’s formula, expressed breastmilk, or any other kind of “milk”- it all gets gross when it sits in a bottle for any amount of time.
And with a newborn especially, you won’t have the time to wash multiple bottles multiple times per day. Add to that if you are taking the baby out for the day, or if you need to send her to daycare, then you’ll want backups.
Therefore, getting a full set of bottles will help avoid bottle-washing burnout and keep the baby fed more readily. Also, if you’re using bottles with a lot of small parts (like Dr. Brown’s, for example, with vent pieces and whatnot), it’s helpful to have replacements on hand.
13 Manual Mixing Is A No-Go
If you’ve never mixed a bottle for a formula-fed baby while out and about, let me break it down for you. First, you’ll have to carry either bottled water or prep your bottles beforehand with the right amount of water. Hopefully your baby doesn’t mind room-temperature water, otherwise, you’ll need the next couple items on this list, too. Then, you’ll need your can of baby formula with the scoop inside.
You might be juggling your infant and some of his belongings while attempting meal prep, but at the very least, you’ll need two hands or a clean surface to set the bottle lid and formula equipment on. Then you’ll carefully scoop and measure the appropriate amount of formula, then use your amazingly accurate hand-eye coordination to slip the formula into the neck of the bottle. Hopefully, you’re using wide mouth bottles, because otherwise there will be clumping and possibly spillage at this point. Then, of course, you have to put the lid back on and mix the bottle.
But what if there was another way? In fact, there is. There are a few different bottles on the market that I wish had been available when my kids were drinking formula. These models have containers in the bottom of the bottles that store formula. You load them up at home, then when baby gets hungry, there’s a switch or button that allows the formula into the water you’ve already poured into the bottle. It’s seriously magic- and mess-free, too.
12 Picky Babies Prefer Warm Milk
Maybe your infant won’t care what the temperature of her food is. Maybe she’ll be happy to chug down a full eight ounces of cold-from-the-fridge formula. Or maybe he’ll scream bloody murder if the bottle is half a degree under 80, and you’ll be furiously breathing on the bottle and rubbing it with your hands to try and get it to the point of being edible.
While my kids definitely preferred warmer milk, they never outright refused a meal that wasn’t up to temp. However, some babies do, and it’s not worth the crying and distress- especially when they’re little. Therefore, in my opinion, the most crucial piece of equipment for formula-fed babies is a bottle warmer.
Plus, warmer water helps avoid clumps in the formula, which in turn reduces the number of bubbles in the bottle since you don’t have to shake as vigorously.
If you invest in a Baby Brezza or similar formula prep machine, you obviously won’t need a warmer for at home (but stay tuned for the next must-have for when you’re out and about). If you don’t have the formula machine, however, a bottle warmer is just the thing for those late-night feedings.
Ideally, you’ll have prepped some formula ahead of time, but that’s only possible if your baby eats about the same amount of formula each feeding. Then you can fill the warmer with the right amount of water (it’s usually a tiny bit), drop the bottle in, and press a button.
11 Staying Warm On The Go
So maybe you have a bottle warmer at home, or, if you’re fortunate, that automatic formula mixing miracle. But what about when you leave the house? Gone are the days of schlepping a thermos full of hot water along with you- today’s bottle warmers have come a long way since my first kid was born!
The most common type of travel bottle warmer is a sleeve that somewhat resembles a cupholder. You plug the warmer into your vehicle’s outlet (cigarette lighter), slip the bottle into the sleeve, and wait till it’s warm. Many models take quite a long time to warm up, but if you know when your baby needs to eat again, it’s convenient to turn it on ahead of time.
Other kinds of travel warmers use gel sleeves that you can either pre-heat or pre-freeze to keep food at the right temperature. They come in cases that hold the temperature until you’re ready to heat or cool something. Other warmers just use insulation to keep a pre-warmed bottle a decent temperature.
Whatever option you choose, I promise it will be simpler than trying to warm water in a gas station microwave or by holding a bottle of water between your legs and trying to use your body heat to get it up to baby-approval temp.
10 Can Schlepping Is Optional
Maybe your baby doesn’t care about formula or water temperatures, or you can’t be bothered with vehicle plug-in equipment. Lucky you- but also, are you still carrying around that can of infant formula everywhere you go? In the beginning, I did that. With my first son, between attempting to pump what little breastmilk I could and mixing bottles of formula the rest of the time, I had an entire arsenal of baby feeding products that ranged from essential to ridiculous.
Now that I know better, I might have invested in at least a Tupperware container and a small funnel to make bottle mixing easier! But there are tools that are even easier. For example, take these formula storage containers with spinning lids. Mine had three compartments, with a spout on top of the lid. You filled each compartment with the right amount of formula for one bottle (or a certain number of ounces), then snapped the lid on.
When the baby was ready to eat, you could spin the spout to the right section, flip open the spout top, and pour the formula into the bottle.
Granted, this was easiest with wide mouth bottles, but it was an absolute lifesaver in cases where I didn’t have a surface to prep bottles on, or if I wasn’t able to wash my hands directly before making the milk.
9 Simple Steam Clean
Whether you’re an overanxious first-time parent or the mom of a preemie, making sure baby’s bottles are clean is a top priority. Washing happens often and daily, but although it’s rare, there are super-bug strains that can resist even the best washing routine. That’s why many parents, myself included, routinely sanitize bottles, nipples, pacifiers, and anything else that goes in baby’s mouth.
But boiling a big pot of water takes forever, plus you have to scrounge around for the BBQ tongs if you want to remove the bottles at the right time. Therefore, steam sterilizer bags that go in the microwave are a lifesaver. Sure, you could invest in a counter-top steam sterilizer, but most people already have a microwave, making the bags easier on the budget. They also help save space, plus you can reuse them multiple times before they’re used up.
The nice thing about steam sterilizing is it only takes a little bit of water (fill the big with the amount of water that the directions instruct) and everything is steam-clean in a matter of minutes. Depending on the power of your microwave, sterilizing can take up to about five minutes. Most breast pump parts can be sterilized too, helpful for moms who are combination bottle feeding.
8 Hold On Baby
You’ve probably seen snapshots of impossibly tiny babies holding their own bottles. Well, not all infants are equipped to handle hanging onto their bottles while they eat. But as they grow, there is a tool that can make it a little easier. Whether your baby demands to hold her own bottle or you simply have multiple little ones to tend to, letting your bub hold their own beverage has its perks.
All you need is a simple contraption that holds the bottle and lets baby grab on. These are especially useful for babies that can grasp but have difficulty wrapping their hands around a bulky bottle. There’s also the benefit of keeping glass or otherwise delicate bottles from hitting the floor if the baby (or anyone else) drops them.
That said, while I think baby bottle holders are a great idea for older infants, I’m not down with the idea of bottle propping. If you do a search for baby bottle holders on any retailer’s website, not only will you come up with these handy ball-shaped bottle cages, but you’ll also see foam wedges and clips that are meant to position the bottle for baby while you do other things. These aren’t safe, since a baby that’s too young to grasp a bottle is definitely too young to turn away if they’re choking or being smothered by the device.
7 Keeping Counterspace Clear
This might be a no-brainer for many parents, but at first, I didn’t own a bottle rack. It may have had something to do with my intention to breastfeed, but even when I was mostly making bottles, it didn’t immediately occur to me to buy a bottle rack. Since then, I’ve also read that it’s just as “clean” to use dry paper towels to put clean bottles on, but that means soggy towels and more waste than I’m comfortable with.
Fortunately, most retailers realize the importance of convenience nowadays, and there are plenty of bottle racks to choose from.
Mine was a folding model, but it was hard to clean since water could pool in the bottom. The ones that look like grass are a fun addition to your countertop, and since you’ll be using and staring at it daily, you might want to look for something that’s visually appealing. There are more modern and minimalist looks, too, if that’s your thing, but the important features are durability, capacity, and the ability to wash them.
Once the bottles dry, you can always put them away out of sight. Then again, if you’re like me (and plenty of other formula-making parents), you may just pluck damp bottles from the bottle rack right after you finish washing them because baby is inexplicably hungry again.
6 Go Baby Go
It seems like when babies are small, it takes more than just a fully stocked diaper bag to go anywhere. You need diapers, wipes, food, and extra clothing, of course, but you may also wind up needing burp rags, blankets, sun shades, toys, cleaning supplies, spare binkies, and more. So when it’s time for baby’s bottle, you then have to unpack everything to locate the bottles and the formula.
When I went places with my formula-fed babies, I often used a formula container to transport powder formula and pre-filled our bottles with water. But they still rolled around in the diaper bag, the formula got thrashed around and sometimes spilled when I opened the compartments, and occasionally we had a leak- whether from a slow-dripping bottle nipple or an improperly applied screw-top.
That said, I can’t help but recommend a separate bottle cooler for baby’s meals. Hands-down the easiest baby travel tip for our family was to pre-make formula bottles, then chill them in a portable cooler. On the road or at our destination, I used our vehicle bottle warmer to heat baby’s milk so he could eat upon arrival or at a pit stop. Of course, you can only do this if your refrigeration methods are up to par, so keep in mind how long you’ll be out and how long you can keep the formula fresh.
5 Please No Propping
Now you’ve read about ten things you absolutely need as a formula-feeding mama, but there are a handful of things you may think you need, but actually don’t. Here’s a story about the first one on this formula-feeding mom’s list.
I’ll never forget the time I watched a new mom place her baby in his infant swing, wad up a blanket, then mix a bottle of formula and prop it on the blanket. I wasn’t even a mom yet, but I recognized that leaving a young infant swinging back and forth with a bottle in his mouth that he couldn’t control probably wasn’t a good idea.
And while not all infants are completely helpless when it comes to holding their own bottles, bottle-propping devices still rub me the wrong way.
From pieces of foam board to complex contraptions with straps, hooks, and clamps, there are all manner of devices meant to feed babies without requiring caregivers to stick around.
I appreciate the fact that some mamas literally do not have enough hands to hold their bottle-fed babes- multiples are a clear example- but leaving babies alone while they eat isn’t ever a good idea. That’s why I can’t recommend any bottle-propping equipment, unless you absolutely can’t hold your baby but can still be nearby in case they choke.
4 Hands-Free But Not Headache-Free
Speaking of hands-free feeding, have you seen the now-common hands-free bottle feeding method that parents often rave about? It’s basically a standard bottle, but instead of tipping the bottle to feed, baby sips formula through the nipple, which is connected to a tube that brings the formula from the bottle. The idea seems genius at first- parents can prep the bottle, and baby basically feeds himself.
But it’s not quite that simple. There’s a little bit of physics involved in getting the formula going from the bottle through the tube. Some babies might not appreciate working to get the formula sucked up into the nipple, resulting in frustration when they don’t get food from the bottle immediately. There’s also the potential for them to suck up the air while they’re eating.
Beyond that, there’s also the fact that more parts mean more to clean in between feedings. I’m not sure I’d want to clean the tubing every two to three hours so the baby could use it again, and I also don’t trust that the tube will stay put while the baby eats. While plenty of parents rave about saving themselves from wrist pain and prolonged feedings, I see how this product is helpful in a handful of situations. Overall, though, I don’t see these contraptions as a necessity, especially since there’s a higher potential for failure the more parts are involved.
3 Special Suds For Babies
Let’s be honest: parents buy plenty of things for babies that aren’t necessary. From cute outfits to décor they won’t even look at or appreciate for years, first-time parents especially tend to buy whatever strikes their fancy. But at the same time, we’re always on the lookout for what society tells us we need to buy to keep baby healthy, clean, and fed.
Consider “baby” dish soap. Most dish soap has dyes and fragrances, which, granted, is what most people want when scrubbing dirty dishes. But those dyes and scents aren’t good for us. Which is why baby dish soap emerged. Leaving out the bad stuff means you don’t have to worry about baby’s exposure to harsh chemicals in dish detergents.
This sort of bothers me on principle because we want the best for our babies, but at what age do we revert to “normal” dish soap that has all these “harmful” chemicals?
Personally, I opt for a more natural dish soap anyhow, one that I don’t feel worried about using on baby products or anything else. Which is maybe why I’m biased when it comes to “baby dish soap.” Bottom line? Aim for the least amount of additives, colors, and scents, and just forget about the label that says it’s specifically for babies.
2 Wanting For Water
If you’ve ever toured the baby aisle at any grocery store, retail store, or even gas station, you’ve likely seen nursery water. But what is it, and why does bottled water belong in the tot aisle?
Nursery water is processed water, usually steam-distilled, that may or may not have fluoride added to it. Historically speaking, fluoride has been added to water in a bid to reduce tooth decay. But today, there’s a lot of argument on the subject, with critics saying that fluoride is dangerous and has no place in drinking water. Harvard Public Health Magazine tackled the topic and concluded that more research is needed to determine whether fluoride is safe in specific concentrations and for specific populations.
That said, most babies probably don’t need fluoridated water. First of all, the jury’s still out on whether fluoride will actually help prevent cavities- plus it does have negative side effects if children consume too much. Also, most pediatricians prescribe vitamins that include fluoride for your infant (mine did). There’s also fluoride in many public water sources, and it occurs naturally in many foods.
All of that combined may be too much for your baby’s system, but there’s no way of tracking fluoride intake in your infant. That’s why I think nursery water is overrated, and best left to situations where babies have a confirmed need for fluoride (which is rare!).
1 Bottles That Imitate Life
Have you seen the sometimes giggle-inducing baby bottles that attempt to mimic the breast? Some companies even go so far as to name their bottles after breasts. Sure, there are some babies that are immensely picky and won’t drink from a bottle that doesn’t at least feel like the mom, but in most cases, parents care more about what the bottle looks like than the baby does.
When I tried to find a source for information about nipple confusion with breastfed infants, or even bottle-fed infants using different kinds of nipples, there was information overload and no two sources seemed to agree on anything.
While most parents who choose to formula feed aren’t trying to get baby to the chest, there are still concerns about what type of bottle is best or most “natural.”
The thing is, the best bottle for a hungry baby is one they can drink from without struggle. So while a bottle that’s constructed to mimic the structure of the breast might seem intuitive, it may not be what your baby needs to eat comfortably.
Besides, even babies who are born prematurely and bottle-fed for their first few months of life can learn to breastfeed if that’s what mom wants, so the type of bottle and nipple aren’t all that important when it comes to feeding babies.
References: Harvard Public Health Magazine