You’ve got your breast-milk-storage system in place, but what happens when you decide to use all that milk you’ve saved? You may get lucky and have a baby who will drink cold milk, but for most of you, that isn’t going to happen.
Instead, you’ll need some way to safely warm up milk to at least room temperature without curdling it, affecting the nutrition density or developing hot spots. Enter the bottle warmer. This is a staple in modern households, but before you put it on your registry, let’s take a closer look. As with all your baby gear, the truth is a little more complicated.
Why a bottle warmer might be the right choice
You should never warm milk in the microwave, breast milk or otherwise, since microwaves are in serious danger of scalding portions of your milk. Because the liquid doesn’t heat uniformly, you may test what’s on top of the bottle and serve it unaware that a scalding section in the middle is waiting for your baby’s delicate mouth.
Heating on the stovetop in a water bath has obvious complications because of the eye of the stove. This can scald or melt the bottom of your bottle, and it’s difficult to gauge the temperature you need to heat safely and efficiently.
Bottle warmers claim to take the guesswork out for you. They heat your baby’s milk without hot spots and without scalding or melting the bottom. Plus, there’s no exposed heating element that sleepy parents could accidentally touch.
So what’s the problem?
Breast milk is full of living nutrients that are highly subject to temperature. The constituents of breast milk are essential fats, water, probiotics, and proteins, among other things. These can degrade with heat that’s too high or that happens too quickly.
Many typical bottle warmers use steam heat to gently yet quickly heat milk, but this steam heat can damage the nutrients of breast milk. If it doesn’t have an automatic shut-off, you may end up overheating the milk and ruining it.
Some studies suggest that heating breast milk too high can destroy the beneficial organisms babies need for their delicate immune systems and digestion. Breastmilk should stay below 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit because this is typical body temperature and .
Your bottle warmer must have settings that allow you to safely and efficiently heat breast milk without compromising the natural components that make it so wonderful for your baby. A standard steam-heat warmer may not perform the way you need it to.
Instead, a low-temperature water-bath warmer could help you reheat in a way that’s safe for baby and safe for the milk. Plus, consider if you need a warmer in the first place.
Choosing the right warmer for breast milk
To get the right warmer, you’ll need to consider a few things first.
- Are you warming frozen milk? – Most bottle warmers aren’t capable of thawing frozen milk because they don’t support warming milk directly in the storage bag. You’d have to transfer the milk to a bottle first.
- Does it shut off automatically? – Automatic shut-off prevents your bottle from overheating. It’s a fail-safe way to get your milk to the right temperature without accidentally forgetting about it.
- Does it have a water bath? – Steam-based bottle warmers are too hot to use with breast milk and can cause it to separate. Use a low-temperature water-bath option instead for the safest reheating.
- Does it reheat slowly? – It may seem like the world is ending when you have a screaming baby and a slow warmer, but slow is safer. Slow heating helps preserve the nutrients in the milk along with fail-safes like automatic shut-off.
- Do you need a bottle warmer? – You may not even need a bottle warmer if your baby doesn’t like bottles. Some babies won’t take a bottle, and you don’t need a piece of equipment that just sits on your counter and doesn’t get used.
How do I thaw frozen breast milk?
If you didn’t spring for a bottle warmer that a can reheat frozen milk, there are a few options. The recommended choice is to put frozen milk in the fridge overnight to allow it to thaw slowly without affecting nutrients.
If you need to move a little more quickly, you can place the milk in a warm bath in a container on your counter for around 20 minutes to gently encourage your milk to thaw. Once thawed, if it’s still cold, you can use the lowest setting on your bottle warmer.
Can I reheat milk after it’s been heated?
It’s best to discard any milk that a baby hasn’t consumed because the baby’s saliva may introduce particles that contaminate the milk. Also, it’s best to discard any milk left out for more than four hours for the same reason.
Some experts believe that the living organisms in breast milk will help fight contamination and that reusing milk is OK. Although it may seem like a waste of milk, it’s best to err on the side of caution, especially if your baby is a preemie or immunocompromised.
Invest in a bottle warmer with caution
For some of you, your baby will breastfeed and won’t want to take a bottle at all. If that’s the case, bottle warmers won’t be necessary. If you need to store milk, this is different.
A safe bottle warmer focuses on slow, low-temperature rewarming with an automatic shut-off to ensure that you don’t overheat the milk. A device like this helps ensure that your milk remains just as healthy as it does when it comes out of your body.
No matter how you decide to feed your baby, there are safe devices that can make mealtimes a lot easier. If breast milk is your choice and your baby will take a bottle, choose a bottle warmer with caution to help you feed your baby and make this time of bonding easier.
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