It never ceases to amaze me that in a time in which even baby formula commercials feature strong plugs for breastfeeding over bottle-feeding, baby bottles are still one of the most prevalent symbols for babies. I look around at baby shower balloons and new baby gift bags and am truly stunned at how many have a bottle theme. What is even more astonishing, however, is the bottle aisle itself.

I recently ventured into a massive baby supply store on a quest to buy a baby shower gift for my college roommate. Though I am known for my tradition of giving books as gifts for babies, I like to choose a few items from the registry as well so my gift is multi-use. I walked into the store with the print-out of my friend’s registry clenched in my hand and began scouring the store for the items. When I reached the bottle aisle though, I had to take a moment to stop and stare. I was standing before a wall of bottles of every shape, size, and color I could image. There were glass bottles, angular bottles, and bottles with bags inside meant to mimic the breast. I had to question myself: how many types of baby bottles could there possibly be, and does it really make a difference?

During the 1930s, the medical community was up in arms over breastfeeding and determined it was unhealthy due to the possibility of spreading germs through the baby’s contact with the mother. This changed after a few years, and mothers returned to breastfeeding. As the tendency began to shift back, however, a hard push attempted to convince as many mothers as possible to breastfeed. Though many mothers still choose to formula-feed, there seems to be a sense of guilt for many, which can be seen in the type of bottle they choose. Many bottles have been designed to closely mimic the feeling and function of feeding at the breast. These bottles were developed to help babies suffer from less gas and stomach pain, both of which are common for bottle-fed babies. Mothers who breastfeed though, also choose them, thinking they will make it “safe” for them to pump milk which can later be bottle-fed to their babies.

Research shows this is not really the case. While these bottles may make things less difficult for babies who are bottle-fed, for breastfed infants, they can have a detrimental impact. Bottle feeding, regardless of the type of bottle, decreases the duration of breast feedings and can lead to frustration and even lack of eating among babies whose mothers intend them to be breastfed. This has been shown to be directly correlated with overall length of breastfeeding with babies who are given bottles within the first weeks of life becoming far less likely to be fed exclusively breast milk for even the first few months.

Artificial nipples are different than natural nipples, and babies who eat from these artificial nipples can become accustomed to the feeling, which makes them less willing to work harder for the milk directly from the breast. Because the act of actually nursing from the breast, as opposed to just consuming breast milk, has been linked to several health and psychological benefits, experts now strongly recommend any mother who wishes to breastfeed completely avoid the introduction of any type of artificial nipple during the newborn period.

Source: Howard, Cynthia R et al. Randomized Clinical Trial of Pacifier Use and Bottle-Feeding or Cupfeeding and their Effect on Breastfeeding. Pediatrics. Vol. 111 No. 3 March 1, 2003, pp 511-518