New parents tend to cover all their bases before their baby is ever born. They know exactly what they want the nursery to look like, they research the perfect car seat, which medical choices are best for their family, and they know well in advance what type of birth they’ll prepare for. Most mothers decide fairly early on their pregnancy, if not prior to, if they’re going to breastfeed. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention notes as much as 77 percent of new moms breastfeed, and in 2010, nearly half still were at six months postpartum, yet a lot of parents leave the hospital unaware of how to correctly heat up a bottle of breast milk.
Formula is easy. It comes with direct instructions. Breastmilk doesn’t. Nonetheless, it’s easy to learn and once you do it a time or two, you’re pretty much an expert. Many moms will pump or hand express milk for storage that they can use later on. Some mothers pump exclusively due to reasons such as poor latch caused by tongue and lip ties. Others might pump because of a demanding work schedule that keeps them away from home several hours a day. Furthermore, many moms don’t have very supportive employers. Among women with children under the age of three, 56 percent of them work outside the home, Breastfeeding Law reports, yet just 26 percent of employers have designated pumping areas for moms to make use of. Regardless of the reasons behind the choice, parents and caregivers need to understand there are right and wrong ways to warm up breastmilk.
The Do’s of Warming Up Breastmilk
If you’re attempting to warm breastmilk that has been frozen, the best way is to do it overnight in the fridge. Be aware that it could take up to 24 hours. However, plenty of parents run into circumstances that warrant an urgent need for thawed milk. If this is you, don’t fret. It’s perfectly fine to thaw the milk under cool running water. It’s just not something you want to make a habit of.
Refrigerated milk can be warmed in a similar manner by running the container or bag under warm water. It can also be placed into a cup or bowl of warm water. Since we live in the age of technology, an even faster method is now available to bring your baby’s bottle from chilled to breast temperature in a matter of minutes. The bottle warmer came onto the scene in the late 1950s and has earned a spot on almost all baby registries ever since. Always read the instructions that come with your warmer, because they vary from one style and manufacturer to the next. Despite the practicality and ease that this device brings into the home, research from PLoS ONE notes bottle warmers are guilty of heating milk to high temperatures above 80 degrees Celsius, which can kill important nutrients and proteins in the milk.
The Don’ts of Warming Up Breast Milk
First and foremost, do not default to the letting it come to room temperature method for warming up refrigerated breast milk. Think about it: would you heat up your own food that way? No? Okay then, don’t do it for baby’s food either. (Recommended Reading: store breast milk)That being said, you might be pretty friendly with your microwave. If you aren’t yet, you will be once your sweet little one is waking up and crying every time you try to eat. In all seriousness though, the microwave is no place for breastmilk. It not only has the potential to create hot spots that could scald your infant’s mouth and throat, but it can get so hot that it destroys the composition and nutrients in your milk.
Naturally, milk separates when it cools. The fat floats to the top and the watery mixture stays down below. This is a normal process. Once warmed, the two will combine again. Sometimes the fat doesn’t just dissolve right into the watery mixture though. To combine them, gently swirl the bottle in a circular motion. Avoid shaking or swirling too aggressively since it can damage milk proteins, per Kelly Mom.
Although the scene has been played out a hundred times in television shows and even cartoons over the year, you should never place a bottle in a pot — with or without water — directly on the stove. Not only is this method ineffective for warming a bottle, but it can melt plastic bottles and cause glass ones to shatter. Do not freeze breast milk that has already been frozen and then thawed.
When it comes to reheating and reusing breast milk that has already been offered at another feeding, the verdict is still out. Many moms say go right ahead and others say they would never. From a science standpoint, there is good reason to warn against this practice, since eating from the initial supply could cause a bacterial contamination that is allowed to multiply between feedings, and is then reintroduced at the next feeding. Still, no conclusive research says this is a given. It’s best to err on the side of caution and make your own decision on this front.
Per the San Diego Breastfeeding Center, lipase is an enzyme found in breast milk that helps your infant to digest it. While every woman has it, not all of us experience issues with it when it comes to expressed milk. Sometimes thawed breast milk with high lipase content will develop a sour or rancid smell or soapy taste after being thawed. Plenty of babies will still devour their mother’s milk despite this change in flavor or scent. Others may turn their noses up at it. If your baby isn’t keen on the change, don’t panic. You can scald your milk after pumping or expressing and before freezing. This process kills the lipase enzymes. It’s both safe and effective; just avoid boiling your milk.
Learning how to breastfeed and the ins and outs of pumping and hand expression can be daunting and as such, many parents completely bypass self-educating in the reheating department. The best way to test milk for the accurate temperature is to squirt a few drops onto the inside of your forearm or wrist. If it’s not noticeable, then you know it’s the same temperature as your body and ready for consumption. If it’s too hot or too cold, then you can adjust accordingly.