When you’re feeding a baby from frozen or cold stashes of breast milk, you might be wondering: How should I thaw breast milk from the freezer or warm breast milk coming out of the refrigerator?
The goal is to try to get the milk to be between room temperature and body temperature (about 68 to 98.6 degrees) — anything hotter and you can scald your baby’s mouth and hurt the nutrients in the breast milk. Remember, you’re feeding them breast milk, not a cup of hot chocolate!
Here are some answers to commonly asked questions about the best way to warm breast milk.
Q: Can I Feed My Baby Breast Milk Without Warming It Up?
A: Yes. Breast milk doesn’t have to be warmed! It’s perfectly fine for babies to drink it cold. Many babies prefer warm milk (i.e. milk that’s at room temperature), though experts say most can get accustomed to a change. Some parents say cold milk can trigger acid reflux in babies that are prone to it, but other parents of babies with reflux say just the opposite, that cool milk may be helpful.
Q: Can I Heat Breast Milk in the Microwave?
A: NO!! Whether you’re thawing breast milk that is frozen or warming cold milk, never use a microwave. It may seem handy, but microwaving breast milk isn’t recommended, for several reasons. First of all, microwaves heat breast milk unevenly, so even though it might feel fine when you stick a finger in to check, there could be hot spots inside that can burn a baby’s mouth. The CDC also cautions that microwaving can destroy the delicate nutrients in breast milk.
Q: What’s the Best Way to Thaw Frozen Breast Milk?
A: The best way to thaw frozen breast milk is in the refrigerator. Remove the oldest container of frozen breast milk from your freezer, then leave it in the refrigerator until it thaws. Once it’s completely thawed, you have 24 hours to use the milk.
If you need something faster, you can put the sealed container of milk under running water – lukewarm, not hot – until it’s thawed. You can also fill a cup or a bowl with warm water, then put the sealed container of breast milk in the warm water until it’s no longer frozen. Once it’s thawed, gently swirl or shake the container to make sure the different levels of milk get mixed together. This usually takes about 20 minutes, depending on the water temperature.
Q: What’s the Best Way to Warm Up Breast Milk That Has Been in the Refrigerator?
A: If you have your breast milk already in the fridge and you just want to bring it to room temperature, you can either take it out a half hour or so before you need to use it (here’s some handy information on how long you can leave breast milk out on the countertop). If you want the milk slightly warmer, you can either put the container of breast milk under cool running water and then gradually increase the temperature until the milk is the desired temperature, or, if that’s too time-consuming, you can put the sealed container of milk into a pan of water that’s been heated on a stove or in a cup/bowl of water that’s been microwaved until the breast milk gets to room temperature. This can take anywhere from 2 to 8 minutes, depending on temperature of the breast milk when you start, the temperature of the water you’re using, and how warm you want it to be.
Q: Should I use a bottle warmer?
A: The short answer: That’s up to you.
Bottle warmers use water baths or steam to heat up breast milk. Some varieties will even thaw breast milk that’s been frozen and can be used on bags of milk in addition to bottles. The amount of time a bottle warmer takes to heat up milk can vary, from 3 to 7 minutes or more, depending on the size of the bottle and the type of warmer.
Most people who use bottle warmers, though, quickly realize that there are certain flaws common to bottle warmers:
- They can overheat the breast milk if the bottle is left in too long.
- The breast milk may be the correct temperature, but the bottle parts, including the nipple, may get extremely hot.
- Some require adding water with each bottle that is warmed.
- They can get dirty or moldy.
But bottle warmers can also be convenient for parents or caregivers who want to keep one in a baby’s room. Or perhaps the thawing options and the ability to warm multiple bottles at once might win you over. It’s your call.
However you decide to warm or thaw breast milk, always remember to check its temperature before feeding. It should feel lukewarm to the touch. Then it’s time for bottles up!