How to Prepare a Bottle of Breastmilk

You’ve been diligently pumping and storing milk for your return to work. Or maybe you have a dinner date with your partner now that your baby is a little older and you’ve pumped some milk to leave for the sitter. What now? How can you get the milk ready to feed?

Are your hands clean?

Always wash your hands before preparing your baby’s feeds, and make sure your bottle preparation area is tidy.

What are you using for feeding?

Most parents will opt to feed expressed milk with a bottle and teat. Other options include a soft cup, a spoon or a medicine dropper. The spoon and medicine dropper may be useful for very young babies who need only a small amount of supplement. Cup feeding is appropriate at any age. A sippy may be useful for a baby who refuses bottles.

New bottles, teats and other feeding devices should be sterilized before the first use, and should be cleaned with hot, soapy water after each feeding (or put in the dishwasher). If your baby has health problems, you may need to sterilize more often. Check with your baby’s healthcare provider for a suggestion as to the frequency. 

Is the breastmilk fresh, refrigerated or frozen?

Freshly expressed milk can be kept at room temperature for 4-6 hours, as can refrigerated or thawed milk that’s been brought to room temperature. So, if you’re sending your milk to daycare or you’re out and about shopping and want to have a bottle on hand, don’t worry about needing to refrigerate the milk or keep it in a cooler.

If you’re using refrigerated or frozen milk, be sure to use the oldest milk first. Researchers believe some of the nutrients in expressed breastmilk start to change over time. For example, vitamin C decreases the longer the milk is stored. In addition, you’ll avoid wasting milk that has been stored too long.

Freshly pumped breastmilk can be fed to the baby without any other preparation. Simply put it in the feeding device - most often a bottle - and feed your baby.

If the milk has been refrigerated, your baby may take it cool, but will probably prefer it to be warmed. Remember, it comes at body temperature if it’s straight from mom. Immediately before feeding, you can warm the milk by placing the bottle  in a bowl of hot tap water (not boiling) for about 15 minutes.

Frozen breastmilk takes a little more planning to use. You can thaw the milk in the refrigerator overnight, then heat it as you would refrigerated milk. Or you can use a hot water method: either place the milk in a bowl of hot water until thawed and heated, or hold it under running hot water until it has no more ice crystals (just make sure the container is watertight so you don’t inadvertently add water to the pumped milk). Thawed milk can be left at room temperature for 4 hours, but may be refrigerated, heating it immediately before use. Thawed breastmilk should be used within 24 hours, or it needs to be discarded. Never refreeze thawed milk.

Never use a microwave to thaw or warm expressed breastmilk (or formula for that matter). Not only do microwaves heat unevenly causing “hot spots” that might burn your baby, nutrients and antibodies in breastmilk could be destroyed. 

Swirled not shaken

You will notice when pumped milk sits for a while the cream starts to separate. You can stir this in by gently swirling the milk once it’s warmed. Avoid vigorously shaking the milk as this can lead to lots of air bubbles which can cause a gassy baby.

What if you have some breastmilk left from an earlier feeding?

According to the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine, because baby’s saliva will have introduced some bacteria to the expressed milk while feeding, any unfinished milk left in a bottle should be discarded after 1-2 hours.

What if you don’t have enough breastmilk for the feeding?

If you don’t have enough pumped milk, you may need to use formula, too. Some parents will mix the breastmilk and formula in the same bottle. But, because unfed formula needs to be discarded sooner, you’d hate to waste even a drop of breastmilk by throwing it out with the formula. So, it may be better to feed what pumped milk you have first; then, provide the needed formula afterwards. In addition, never use breastmilk as the water component of formula or add unmixed powdered formula to breastmilk to an effort to increase the calorie content.

Posted by:
Michelle Roth

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