How To Warm Up Breast Milk (& Reheating)

Last Updated On: 

April 1, 2018

After having your expressed breast milk stored in the refrigerator or freezer for days or weeks/months (respectively) now, it’s now time for you to make use of that liquid gold you produced.

Now, while you might think that reheating breast milk is a straightforward process that you can’t possibly carry out the wrong way – think again.

There are certain ways you could go about doing this while maintaining the nutritional benefits of the breast milk you’re warming up again, and there are other ways that would destroy most of these nutritional benefits and promote harmful bacteria growth that puts your baby’s wellbeing at risk.

How To Warm Up Breast Milk

The following section will discuss different methods for warming up breast milk easily and safely.

1) Defrosting The Bottle

The first thing you’ll need to do when defrosting a bottle of breast milk after it’s been in the freezer for some time is removing it from the freezer and placing it in the refrigerator.

When placing the breast milk in the refrigerator, make sure to store it towards the front and not the back. The front side of the refrigerator is usually warmer than the back side, which means the thawing process will be faster and will require less time.

To get this step right, it’s very important for you to have noted down the dates in which you stored each of the different breast milk containers, bottles or bags in the freezer.

Why exactly so? Because you’ll want to take out and thaw the oldest ones while you still have a chance to before they go bad and are no longer safe for baby to consume.

Breast milk can last between 6 to 12 months when properly stored in a deep freezer, while it’s only known to last between 3 to 6 months when stored in a standard freezer.

Leave the breast milk in the refrigerator for 8 to 10 hours so it properly defrosts before moving on to the second phase. Most people like to do this overnight.

In some odd cases, it could take the breastmilk up to 24 hours to completely thaw.

A good way to check whether the breast milk is completely thawed and good to go to phase 2 is to try stirring the contents with a sterilized spoon.

If you can’t seem to find any frozen chunks, then it’s good to go, but if you do manage to come across any frozen chunks (no matter how few they may be) then it still needs some time in the refrigerator before it completely defrosts.

After the breast milk has been completely thawed, you can go ahead and give it to your baby to drink from now that it’s warm enough.

The sooner you give your baby thawed breastmilk to drink, the better – since it’ll still be fresh, will still have most of its nutritional benefits intact and harmful bacteria growth will be at an absolute minimum (if not nonexistent altogether).

On the other hand, if there’s too much of a gap between the time you thaw expressed breastmilk and when you actually feed it to your baby, that’s where trouble starts.

As a general rule of thumb, you can store thawed breastmilk in the refrigerator for up to 5 days before it goes bad and is no longer safe for baby to drink.

Also, and just to ensure that thawed breastmilk lasts as long as possible in the refrigerator before going bad, make sure to store it towards the back of the refrigerator and not the front shelf.

The back area in the refrigerator is usually the coldest, which means the breastmilk will last longer when stored there, while the front area in the refrigerator is usually warmer, which means the breastmilk will last for a shorter time before going bad.

If more than 5 days have passed since you’ve stored the breastmilk in the fridge, please throw it away and don’t jeopardize your baby’s health.

Also, never ever put thawed breastmilk back in the freezer again. Re-freezing thawed breast milk will strip it from its nutritional benefits and will cause rapid growth of harmful bacteria.

2) Pot Of Warm Water

Fill around 50% of a pot with water, turn the stove on medium heat, and wait a few minutes before taking the pot off the stove as soon as you notice the water starts to steam.

Don’t wait too long until the water starts to boil, as it would be too hot for warming up breast milk properly and safely by that time.

Only place the bottle or container of breastmilk you want to warm up inside the pot after you remove it from the stove. Breastmilk should never be subjected to the direct heat of a stove while it’s on.

After placing the bottle or container of breastmilk inside the pot, it’s preferable that you gently move it around in the hot water instead of having it stay still throughout the entire process.

This will ensure even heating throughout all areas.

Take the bottle or container of breastmilk out of the pot as soon as it’s warm enough for your baby to drink, and avoid overheating. Usually, you shouldn’t wait for more than 20 minutes before the bottle or container is warm enough.

One thing you’ll have to be careful of, however, is that frozen breastmilk can easily turn warm water into cold water, which ends up prolonging the whole process of getting the milk warmed up.

If that happens to you before you manage to warm up a bottle or container of breastmilk, then you’ll need to change out the water by warming up another pot filled up by 50% of its capacity.

3) Exposure To Cool Running Water

If you’re not really feeling this whole thawing and defrosting thing with the refrigerator’s wait, you can warm expressed breast milk by having cool water run over the container it’s in.

There’s no need for the water to be too hot – in fact, it’s dangerous if the water is excessively hot. Exposing breast milk to hot water will cause hot spots and will lead to damaging a significant portion of the enzymes breast milk contains.

Make sure the water you have running is just warm enough, just a little bit higher than room temperature.

Continue allowing warm water to run over the breast milk container until you notice that it’s completely thawed and no more frozen breast milk chunks are to be found.

After the breast milk has properly thawed, that’s your cue to start slowly and gradually increasing the temperature of the running water. Slowly and gradually increasing the temperature of the running water will ensure even heating. At no point during any of this should the water be hot enough to an extent that it starts producing steam.

A good rule to stick by is to not have the water go above 104 degrees Fahrenheit at any point throughout this entire process.

In the end, all that’s left for you to do is gently move the breast milk around in its container to make sure that it’s been evenly warmed up. You don’t want any one specific part to be warmer than other parts.

Be careful not too stir the breast milk too powerfully, though, because that will cause bubbles that end up giving your baby a nasty (and very uncomfortable) case of gas.

The only reason I don’t really like or recommend you use this method is because you end up wasting too much water for a task this simple – much more water wasted in comparison to the other methods mentioned in this list, at least.

4) Bottle Warmers

Ah – onto my all time favorite method of warming up breast milk, simply because of how easy and hands-off it makes the whole process.

Bottle warmers work on warming up a bottle of breast milk either by means of a warm water bath or by making use of steam. I tend to prefer steam bottle warmers only because they use up less water and I like to preserve valuable resources.

The first thing you should do is carefully follow the instructions set by the manufacturer of the bottle warmer you have at your disposal.

Different manufacturers are likely to have included different instructions because their products operate in slightly different ways, so get that part nailed down before doing anything else.

Generally speaking, though, most bottle warmers require very similar steps to get them working.

You’ll first have to fill up the water reservoir, then place the bottle of breast milk inside the machine in its own designated compartment, adjust a few dials (or buttons – depending on the type and model of bottle warmer you have) to determine what temperature you want to work with, hit “start” and you’re good to go!

When time is up and the heating process has been completed, you’ll be notified by the machine with an alarm sound or other notification methods that are often designed by different manufacturers.

Why Should I Warm Up Breast Milk?

When you express breast milk and store it in the refrigerator or freezer for future use, you’ll need to warm it up again for your baby to want to drink it.

Babies are known to prefer drinking milk (regardless of whether it’s formula milk or expressed breast milk) that’s the same as their body temperature, and the majority of babies out there will reject drinking cold milk.

Important Things To Keep In Mind

1) Not Too Hot

It’s crucial that any expressed breast milk you’re warming up for your baby does not become too hot.

If you subject the breast milk to too much heat, it’s going to lose a lot of its nutritional benefits.

To make sure that the breast milk you’ve warmed up is just warm enough for baby to enjoy and desire it, run a small test by pouring a few drops on your inner wrist.

If you feel pain because it’s too hot, leave it out for a while so it cools down before giving it to your baby.

If it still feels cold, you need to warm it up a bit more. If it feels perfectly warm enough, you’re good to go!

2) Warm Is Not A Must

Always remember that it’s not an absolute must for you to warm your baby’s breast milk bottle before they feed from it.

From a health and medical standpoint, it’s perfectly fine for babies to drink cool expressed breast milk.

It’s just that getting them to drink cool breast milk is much more difficult to drink warm breast milk, since the majority would much rather drink something that’s room temperature.

3) Never Microwave

You should never ever, ever, EVER try to warm up breast milk by putting it in the microwave (nor should you attempt to do this with milk formula, either).

Subjecting expressed breastmilk to microwave heat is a surefire way to completely destroy most (if not all) the nutritional benefits your liquid juice had in the first place, and will make it very dangerous for your baby to drink because of uneven heating and the risk of getting mouth and throat burns.

4) Knowing When It’s Gone Bad

When going through all of these different processes and steps, it’s easy for you to make mistakes and cause a good batch of breast milk to go bad.

You’ll easily be able to tell that it’s no longer suitable to have your baby drink from when you take a sniff at it and sense a horrible stench, and it no longer looks the same as well.

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