We have used varying amounts of formula almost since our baby was born. Since my wife is in charge of breastfeeding, I have taken responsibility for formula feeding, and since I have lots of opinions, I have decided to write product reviews. Here, I compare two manual methods, one bottle at a time and the Dr. Brown’s 32 ounce formula pitcher, and a high-tech one, the Baby Brezza Formula Pro Advanced.
The first product is not a product at all: I started off mixing formula on an ad hoc basis in the feeding bottle. I initially shook the bottle to mix before moving on to stirring with a chopstick. Shaking produces the most even mixture – there’s a reason cocktails are shaken – but a lot of air bubbles, which makes a baby gassy. Stirring with a chopstick worked well – there’s a reason cocktails are also stirred – once I learned to alternate the stirring motions and stir for about 20 seconds. Without vigorous enough stirring, small clumps of dry formula would remain on the bottle after feeding. Having figured out technique, I was satisfied stirring formula as needed, but it was laborious since it had to be done with each new feeding. These feedings usually occurred at night, making the stirring extra annoying.
My wife then learned about the Doctor Brown’s 32-ounce formula mixing pitcher and promptly bought it. The pitcher is basically a French press: you put in formula and water, stir, and then depress and raise the fanned plunger for additional mixing; the plunger blades rotate as it goes up and down. If you have a French press already and you are not using it for coffee, save yourself the trouble of buying a new object and use it for mixing formula. The mixing pitcher is cheaper and less stylish, but it otherwise does the same thing. I threw out our French press years ago because I do not like the flavor they impart or the time they require to clean. For $9, the Dr. Brown’s pitcher was worth trying.
The advantage of the pitcher over ad hoc mixing is that you can make large batches of formula and then decant it as needed. The pitcher is as convenient as we hoped. I make enough to last a day and store it in the refrigerator, so we are never worried about bacterial growth. It does not get more convenient than removing the pitcher from the refrigerator, twisting open the mouth, pouring however many ounces is needed, closing the mouth, and returning the pitcher to the refrigerator. Cleaning is very easy. Overall, the pitcher was a great $9 investment and is my preferred method of preparing formula.
My main complaint about the Doctor Brown’s pitcher is minor: the handle is designed to fold and detach from the plastic column attached to the plunger fan. I am not sure why the handle has to detach. Since doing so allows one to separate the plunger fan from its plastic column, column from the plunger fan, I suppose the ability to separate every part of the pitcher allows for maximum cleaning. (Every product in baby world must be so clean that it is amazing babies survived before soap and the knowledge of germs. I have never owned a French press that can be so thoroughly disassembled, which feels like the main difference between them and the pitcher.) When cleaning the handle and plunger, I found the handle would detach pretty easily. It also gets back on easily enough, but since I am not concerned about the tiny bit of germs that could maybe potentially one day accumulate in places I could not otherwise clean, I find this feature annoying more than anything else. Compared to the Baby Brezza, however, this quirk is nothing; it at least reflects thoughtful design.
The mixing pitcher is especially wonderful in comparison to the Baby Brezza Formula Pro Advanced Baby Formula Dispenser (BB). We received the Baby Brezza from a generous family member who had several friends rave about it. It also has great reviews on Amazon, but I truly truly truly do not understand why. (Are the reviews bought? It seems like you cannot trust any “user” review online.) Before getting to specifics, there are already two warning signs. First, the spelling is actually “baby brezza”. I do not supper lowercase first letters in product names. Second, a good life rule is to avoid products with too many adjectives; I had to confirm the product name several times because I could not believe one could be so long. Here are some questions the name makes me wonder: What was wrong with the advanced? Is there an amateur advanced that I should consider? Is there a type of formula that is not baby formula? Why would this machine not work on it? Should I use formula? Would my protein power work in this machine?
The evisceration that follows is based on two days of use; I could not justify more when the product is clearly inferior to a well-mixed pitcher. Overall, the BB is a very poorly designed device whose core “advances” are replicable much more cheaply. The BB is a shiny gadget more than a useful tool.
I exaggerate slightly: if one insists on feeding a baby warmed formula, then the BB is useful because it warms the water as it mixes. (It also dispenses at room temperature, but that is no different than using water on your own and so not really value add.) We have never warmed formula, however, because doing so means more time with a crying baby, risk of burning the baby, and our baby never appeared to have issues drinking formula that was refrigerator temperature. While the BB purportedly has other features that justify a price more than 20 times greater than the Dr. Brown’s pitcher, each of those is inferior or no better than simpler alternatives. In addition, water can be quickly warmed and kept at a certain temperature with any number of cheaper electric tea kettles or water dispenses.
The biggest fault of the BB is that it dispenses formula less well than a pitcher, which is egregious because one of the most prominent selling points of the BB is that it dispenses perfectly mixed formula on demand. In fact, the machine poorly mixes the formula. Some dry formula always visible on the side of the bottle, something that never happens with a pitcher or manual mixing. The dispensed concoction also clearly does not have formula at a consistent density: the first emission is water with very little formula, them a thicker formula mixture comes out, followed by another thin mixture. Since the BB promotes automatic mixing as a feature and dry formula on the side of the bottle is nutrients a baby will not receive, the failure to properly mix is galling.
The BB also dispenses less well than a pitcher because of the dispensing quantity and increments from which it forces the user to choose. The BB will only dispense formula in one-ounce increments from 2-10. For the most part, those quantities are fine, but they too inflexible. For example, if you first pour three ounces but then decide you want four, you are out of luck since one-ounce pours are not allowed. Similarly, if you want a half ounce, there is nothing you can do; you have to underfeed or waste a half ounce. The two-ounce minimum is likely related to the cadence of the dispensing I mentioned above, though I cannot think of a good reason why half ounce increments are not allowed. The BB locks the user into much more restrictive pour sizes than manual mixing.
Another way the BB wastes formula is by requiring the hopper, the top of the machine that holds the dry formula, to always be about one third full. There is a minimum fill line marked on the hopper, and the instructions are very clear to not let formula go below this line. Having used the BB and seen how little mixing occurs, I am not convinced this requirement is meaningful. Nonetheless, parents are fearful, and I for one did not want to test this line. What that means is that one will at some point have to waste a not insignificant amount of dry formula or live with the fear that you are harming your kid because you are using formula from below the line. Even more formula will have to be discarded if the batch in the hopper is recalled. For example, say Batch A is getting close to the minimum line, so you add Batch B. Batch A then gets recalled, so you have to throw out Batch A and B. If the Baby Brezza were designed so that new formula is not required until the hopper is completely empty, this contamination would not occur. While the probability of this happening is quite low and the wasted formula would not endanger a child’s health, this possibility nonetheless reflects poor thinking on the BB designers’ part. Finally, the line is unclear because the way the machine mixes formula causes it to have uneven height, so the formula can simultaneously appear above and below the line. I could find no product documentation explaining how to work with this ambiguity. Once again, the BB is poorly designed.
The BB also risks wasting formula because the hopper is translucent, meaning the dry formula could spoil from sunlight exposure. Sunlight is bad because it degrades the nutrient content of food and encourages bacteria growth. If you have the misfortune of living in any California dwelling built in the last 20 years, i.e. something with too much glass and not enough walls, then your BB will almost certainly get exposed to too much light. That was certainly the case with us and our 2007 condo: in the summer, the only place shielded from hours of direct sunlight is next to the stove. In addition to that counter space being already taken, we did not feel like it was a good idea to keep formula next to heat and open flame. And while the risk of sunlight damage is probably low, like most of the risks that scare parents, that it is even one reflects poor design. With only 5 minutes of reflection, I have thought of three alternative designs that are better because they are safer: the hopper could be opaque on the sides and translucent up top, completely opaque except for a narrow clear vertical slit, or completely opaque but with an internal monitor to alert the user when a refill is needed.
Similarly, I do not think it is a good idea to have a water reservoir as large as the BB’s. The BB is designed like a k-cup coffee maker: one adds a large amount of water to a reservoir, saving time on fetching water. While convenient, standing water also increases the risk of contamination. While the risk is almost certainly small if the starting water is clean, it is nonetheless an extra one introduced by bad design. Moreover, the reservoir is not opaque (though it is not as translucent as the hopper), so sun exposure will increase the rate at which contamination spreads.
The other faults, of which there are still many, are not deal breakers but are quite annoying. The design of the dispensing nozzle means an empty bottle needs to be placed all the way back against the BB. Because of the way the device is designed, it initially looks like the bottle should be placed in the middle of the dispensing platform; doing so leads to wasted formula, as I learned the hard way. The BB also is too bulky, about the size of a pressure cooker. Many parents will have enough counter space, but we did not; well, technically, I was able to squeeze the BB onto our kitchen counter, but it made everything feel cramped.
Perhaps the most annoying part of owning the BB is cleaning, for two reasons. First, after every fourth use the BB makes the user clean the funnel through which the formula pours. If one does not remove the funnel, the device will not dispense again. While it is laudable that the designers of the BB finally found some method of expressing a concern for hygiene, I did not like this meddling. If one is doing several small pours, then this cleaning becomes more frequent than with a pitcher. And I bet most people, myself included, will not keep track of every 4 pours, meaning every 5th pour will be slower than desired because the user will have to clean the funnel. This bump cuts against the main selling point of the BB, speed. The second cleaning issue is how many parts there are. The hopper has six parts to clean, and the manufacturer also suggests cleaning the plate on which one sits the bottle when dispensing formula. Six to eight parts is a lot more than the two to four the Dr. Brown’s pitcher requires, and it does not help that the parts are more intricate and therefore harder to clean than the pitcher.
When a product costs X times more than a competitor, it should be at least X times better. Since linear increases are a high bar, let us be generous and say it should be something like times as good. Instead, the Baby Brezza is closer to – 5% – as good as the Dr. Brown’s pitcher. In all seriousness, the only people for whom I see the Baby Brezza being useful are those who do not refrigerate formula, do not want to buy an electric kettle with temperature control, and have lots of counterspace protected from the sun. If that description fits you, then great! Buy the Baby Brezza and be happy. For the other 99% of the world, save your money and mix large quantities manually.