There’s nothing worse than trying to put off a crying, hungry baby.
When they want food, they want it now and have little patience for the time it takes to heat a bottle safely.
Here is how to warm baby bottles, at home or on the go, so that your baby gets fed quickly, without all the fussing and tears.
The Basics of Bottle-Heating
First of all, let’s make one thing clear: It’s not medically necessary to heat a baby’s bottle; it is a matter of preference (1). While young babies, especially, may have a strong preference for warm milk, older babies may be more open to tolerating lukewarm or cold milk.
When a baby nurses, the milk that is released is body temperature, around 98.6 degrees. For us adults who like our coffee around 160 degrees, that seems downright icy. This is why “heating” a bottle is a misnomer.
Instead of working to “heat” the bottle, try to gently raise the temperature to match the typical temperature of the body. This will preserve the nutrients in the milk and prevent burning (2).
There are several different ways to warm a bottle:
- Microwave (not recommended).
- Baby bottle warmers.
- Stove-top (not recommended).
- Counter-top methods.
- Using tap water.
Bottles that are microwaved also continue to “cook” after they’re removed, making the temperature increase further and putting your baby at risk for burns.
Heating bottles on the stove-top in boiling water can also cause milk to heat unevenly, warm too quickly, or overheat all at once. You can heat water on the stove and then use it to warm a bottle, but make sure to remove it from the stove before putting the bottle in to warm. Bottle warmers or a mug of warm tap water are a safer bet.
If your baby prefers their milk warmed, check out our advice below to make sure you’re finding that perfect temperature quickly and safely.
Choose a Glass or BPA-free Bottle
When you’re heating your baby’s bottle, it’s important to be mindful of the possibility of chemical leaching. Glass baby bottles are a great choice to give you peace of mind, but some parents are dissuaded by their weight and the possibility of breakage.
The good news is that these days all baby bottles sold in the U.S. are manufactured without bisphenol A (BPA) if you’d prefer to use plastic. BPA (used to make rigid plastics, keep plastics from growing bacteria and prevent rust) is an estrogen-like chemical that can potentially cause health problems (3).
If you are using old or secondhand plastic bottles, you may want to check whether or not they contain BPA. You may also need to check if your bottles were purchased outside of the U.S. Consult the manufacturer to ask if you’re not sure.
If you prefer to use the bottles you have but aren’t sure about their BPA content, don’t worry, you can still use them! Just heat your milk or formula in a glass container and then transfer it to your existing bottles to avoid the leaching issue.
While most of these methods heat your baby’s bottle evenly, it’s always better to be safe than sorry. Gently swirl (don’t shake) the milk to mix it up and make sure there are no hot spots and that the temperature is consistent throughout the bottle.
Test the Temperature
No matter which method you use, remember — safety first! Always test the milk before giving the bottle to your baby to avoid burning their mouth. Dab a few drops of milk onto your inner wrist; you should feel almost nothing if it’s the appropriate temperature.
Most babies prefer milk that’s as close to body temperature as possible. If you feel no warm sensation on your wrist, the temperature is perfect. If it’s slightly cool, it may still be acceptable, but if you feel any heat at all, the bottle is too hot. Wait until it cools down to offer it to your little one.
4 Ways to Safely Warm Your Baby’s Bottle
1. Set the Bottle in Warm Water
One of the most tried-and-true bottle-warming methods is the counter-top method — and it requires no special equipment! Heat some water on the stove, in the microwave, or run the hot water tap. The water should be warm (not hot) but not boiling.
Remove the water from the heat source and place the bottle into it, allowing it just to sit and be gently warmed by the water. Swirl the bottle occasionally to make sure all the milk gets heated through, but avoid shaking vigorously as this can introduce air bubbles.
This method is easy and costs nothing, but it can take several minutes to warm your baby’s bottle to the desired temperature.
2. Warm Milk Bags Under Tap Water
Because the plastic is thin, and the breast milk is spread across the bag in a thin layer, you can bring it up to the right temperature quickly and efficiently by just running the bag under warm tap water.
When it feels like it’s heated through, transfer the milk to your bottle.
3. Prepare Formula Bottles with Warm Tap Water
If you’re mixing a bottle of formula and have a sink on hand, there’s no need to go through the extra step of heating your bottle. Simply run warm water directly into the bottle when you’re mixing your formula.
If you’re concerned about the purity of your local tap water, boil it for one minute and then allow it to cool to the appropriate temperature (98.6 degrees) before making your baby’s bottle (4).
4. Use a Bottle Warmer
There are several different options on the market, so make sure you choose one that fits the size and shape of the bottles you’re using. These take the guesswork out of warming bottles — a simple touch of a button warms your bottle to the perfect temperature, hands-free.
There are even some that are made for the car in case you’re away from home. And if you’re formula-feeding, you can choose one that dispenses, mixes, and heats the water all in one simple step. It’s like a Keurig for your baby!
While a baby can take a cold bottle, the reality is most of them prefer not to. Using an electric bottle-warmer or setting a bottle in warm water on the counter are two of the best ways to heat milk — but you still need to be mindful of safety and ensure the temperature is even.
I think all mothers can relate to frantically wanting to feed their screaming baby as quickly as possible, but we need to make sure we’re doing it the right way, every time.