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BODY WATCH : A New Angle : Sure, these bottles may look a bit odd. But the updated design can make feeding easier--and may even reduce the incidence of ear infections.

August 22, 1995|KATHLEEN DOHENY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The latest design in baby bottles looks weird, like someone left it in a hot car.

But manufacturers say these new models--which are angled near the top--are the wave of the future, already making a dent in the $100-million-a-year consumer baby-bottle market.

At least four companies offer the new shapes, which proponents say work better because throughout the feeding the nipples stay filled with liquid, not air.

Advocates say the new designs also reduce gas and make it easier to feed the baby in a semi-upright position, which can reduce the risk of choking and eliminate the flow of liquid to the middle ear (which can contribute to ear problems).

In one company-sponsored study, 326 mothers were asked to feed their babies with the curved Betta Baby Bottle for 18 months and 326 others were asked to use any conventional bottle, says Don Holbrook, president of manufacturer Betta Medical Inc. While 44% of infants fed with traditional bottles had three or more ear infections during the study, only 2% fed with the Betta bottle did.

The American Academy of Pediatrics warns parents not to feed a baby in the supine position to prevent middle ear problems, but doesn't endorse one bottle design over another, referring parents to pediatricians for advice.

Some experts say traditional bottles work just fine. Feeding position, not bottle type, is the key, says Richard Bradley, a USC physician assistant and clinical instructor in pediatric medicine.

In a study of 90 infants, published in the Journal of Pediatrics, Bradley and his colleagues evaluated hearing before and after feedings with traditional bottles with babies in either the supine or sitting position. "When fed supine, 60% developed fluid in the middle ear. When fed sitting up, 15% had evidence of fluid in the middle ear."

His bottom line? "Prop the baby, not the bottle." Or, he says, sit the baby up immediately after a supine feeding--that will clear 90% of fluid buildup.

Meanwhile, parents are divided, especially because the new models typically cost more. At one San Fernando Valley pharmacy, an eight-ounce Betta Bottle sells for $2.99 and the same size traditional bottle is $1.77.

"Our bottle costs more to build," says Betta's Darrell Frampton, in part because the molds are more expensive.

Jolene Pendleton of Burbank considered buying the new bottles for her 11-month-old daughter, Danielle, but stuck with the traditional bottles she had used for 3-year-old Amanda, citing the extra expense as one reason. "I didn't see what the big difference would be," she says.

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