How To Heating Up Breast Milk Correctly: Preserve the Nutrients

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how to warm breast milk - How To Heating Up Breast Milk Correctly: Preserve the Nutrients

While nursing is convenient, sometimes you have to leave your baby. That might be for work or for a trip to the store, and you need to teach your caregivers how to warm breast milk properly. Heating up breast milk isn’t like warming a bottle of formula, but it’s not complicated either.

Breast milk has right and wrong ways to be reheated. When done incorrectly, you can cause the breast milk to lose some of its nutritional value.

No matter if you are heating frozen or refrigerated breast milk, the key is to heat it gradually and evenly. Failure to do so can lead to overheating.

Also, no rule tells you that you must heat up breast milk. Some babies will drink it cold, but most prefer it to be warm just like it would be out of the breast.

Once you warm up the breast milk, put a few drops on your wrist. It should feel neutral – not cold and not hot. You don’t need to use a thermometer to figure it out.

Make sure you swirl, not shake, the milk around the bottle to help distribute the cream and milk together. If you don’t, you might have cold and warm spots.

  • 32 to 78℉: You can safely feed your baby milk in this temperature range. Some babies will refuse milk this cold, and it’s not optimal for baby’s digestion. Who can blame them? They’re used to warm milk!
  • 98℉: This is your average body temperature, so it’s a great target temperature for breast milk. It’s going to be just like what baby will receive from mother’s breast. At this temperature, you don’t have to worry that any of the nutrients or probiotic qualities of the breast milk will be diminished.
  • 99 to 105℉: In this range, the milk is considered safe and lukewarm. It might be slightly warmer than the temperature out of a mother’s breast, but it’s not hot enough to hurt your baby or to destroy the nutrients.
  • 106℉ and above: It’s not recommended to heat breast milk this hot. You can burn your child’s mouth. Studies show us that the quality of breast milk starts to diminish(source) when heated to this range and beyond.

How to Heat Frozen Breast Milk

If you store your breast milk in the freezer, there are a few tips you need to heat it up properly.

  • Thaw in advance: First, if you can remember, move the breast milk from the freezer to the fridge the night before you need to use it. This step works best if you know you have to leave the next day, like if you have to go to work.
  • A small amount of storage: A bag of breast milk will take 8 to 24 hours to thaw in the refrigerator, so it’s best to put it in the night beforehand. Storing your bags in 2 to 4-ounce portions make the process go faster.

If you have to heat up the frozen breast milk right away, place the milk in a cup of cool water. You want it around room temperature, not hot or warm. You may need to change the water because frozen milk will change the temperature of the water.

Now that the breast milk is thawed, start to gradually increase the temperature of the water. Don’t make the water hotter than 104 degrees Fahrenheit. It does take around 20 minutes to reach temperature if done slowly but properly.

Step to Heat Frozen Breast Milk:

  1. Try to take the milk out the night before to let it thaw in the refrigerator.
  2. If you don’t do that, put the milk in a cup of cool water. Let it thaw slowly and change the water as needed.
  3. Gradually increase the temperature of the milk to reach the right temperature for the milk.

How to Heat Refrigerated Breast Milk

The great thing about heating milk from the fridge is that it’s already thawed, so half of the work is done. Some people just tell you to run water over the bottle or bag until its warmed. The problem with that is you waste so much water.

The simplest way to heat refrigerated breast milk is to put it in a warm bowl of water. Wait 15 to 20 minutes, then come back to check on the milk.

Another simple method is to simply leave your bottle of chilled milk on the counter to reach room temperature. The only bad thing about this is you don’t want to leave it out for longer than 2 hours. It can make the warming process go faster.

Most importantly, don’t heat the milk on the stove and never heat breast milk in the microwave. All you will do is destroy all the good nutrients in your milk.

Steps to Heat Refrigerated Breast Milk:

  1. Put in a bowl of warm water.
  2. Wait 15 to 20 minutes. Check the milk.

Should You Use a Bottle Warmer to Heat Breast Milk?

You can use a bottle warmer if you want, but it’s not necessary once you learn how to warm frozen or refrigerated milk by using water.

Using a bottle warmer risks overheating the milk, reducing its beneficial properties. Make sure you read and follow instructions. Every bottle warmer is different, and reading the instructions help to reduce the risk of overheating the milk.

If you do decide to use a bottle warmer, make sure you pick one that circulates water rather than uses steam technology. Steam tends to create hot spots and uneven distribution of heat, as well as heating the milk too high.

Also, make sure they use a timer to stop the process. You need to be able to set a timer to make sure it doesn’t heat for half an hour because you forgot to get it! The timer should make an audible beep to alert you and stop the heating process.

How Long is Heated Breast Milk Good?

Heated milk has a shorter shelf life than freshly pumped milk. Once frozen or refrigerated breast milk is warmed up to room temperature, experts recommend that it should be used within 2 hours. This recommendation leans on the cautious side. Many moms leave it out for longer without worries, but 2 hours is optimal.

You should try to avoid feeding baby leftover milk. Once saliva is introduced to breast milk, bacteria transfer to the baby bottles. The risk is low, and the antibodies in properly heated breast milk should fight bacteria. However, leaning on the side of caution is smart.

This is another reason why it’s best to store milk in small portions. Storing in 2 to 4 ounce portions makes thawing and reheating faster, and it means you don’t have to waste extra milk if baby doesn’t finish his bottle.

When Breast Milk Goes Bad

Breast milk is amazing, but it can go bad. In fact, if left out longer than advised, it can spoil. Signs to watch for include:

  • A Bad Smell: Spoiled breast milk smells sort of like spoiled cows milk. It will have a distinct smell. However, some mothers report a metallic or soapy smell from their milk. This doesn’t mean your milk is bad. Instead, it is caused by higher levels of lipase, and most babies drink this milk as well.
  • A Bad Taste: If you’re questioning the freshness of your milk, take a taste. If your milk tastes sour, then it’s not good to feed to your baby.
  • Improperly Stored: Breast milk stays fresh in the refrigerator for three to five days. Any longer than that and your milk isn’t good. Make sure you store your milk in the middle of the refrigerator rather than the door. The door is where the temperature changes the most.
  • Separate Layers That Refuse to Mix: Breast milk typically separates into fat and non-fat layers when stored. You’ll notice that in bottles left in the refrigerator. Milk that is still good will combine with a gentle swirl. If your milk won’t mix when swirled or there are chunks, it’s spoiled.

If you aren’t sure, lean on the cautious side! Toss it out. It’s better than making your baby sick.

What's Your Best Warm Breast Milk Experience?

Breast milk heating is also an important job. By following safety rules, you can heat breast milk easily, and ensuring your baby is nourished.

Do you have a preferred method of heating up breast milk? Share your knowledge in the comments.

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