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Know-how: Preparing bottles for feeds

Milk can breed nasty germs, so it's important you prepare bottles properly to minimise the risk of infection for your baby

Posted: 21 October 2007
by Maria Muennich

If you've decided to bottle feed your baby, or if you sometimes bottle feed your breastfed baby, then you might feel slightly daunted by all the bottle paraphenalia on the shop shelves: Bottles, teats, brushes, sterilising equipment and bottle warmers. Because your young baby's digestive system is very susceptible to bacteria and because milk bottles provide an ideal breeding ground for some rather nasty germs, it is important that you prepare your baby's bottles with a good deal of care. The good news however, is that despite the variety of equipment on offer, preparing your baby's bottles hygenically needn't be terribly complicated and once you know what you're doing you may quickly establish a good routine with minimum faff. Here's what you need to know to get started.

Cleaning & sterilising
You'll need to both clean and sterilise your bottles and any expressing equipment before each use. Cleaning can be a bit of a tricky job, particularly with narrow-necked bottles, but you can buy specially designed and inexpensive bottle brushes to help. Bear in mind that you can't sterilise bottles that aren't properly clean of all bits of milk residue, so you do need to be thorough. Use a fresh bowl of hot water and washing up liquid rather than washing bottles after your dishes, turn teats inside out to clean thoroughly and rinse the bottles and teats well.

There are several ways of sterilising your clean bottles:

  • Boiling fully covered in a pan of water for ten minutes will do the job without the need for any new equipment. You'll need to keep the lid on the pan until you make up the bottles and also make sure that you don't become distracted and forget the boiling pan!
  • Chemical sterilisers take longer, but you can leave the bottles in the solution for up to 24 hours before making up bottles
  • Steam sterilisers are probably the most convenient and easy to use, most sterilise in under eight minutes and can be left unopened for a few hours before making up bottles. You can buy either electric or microwave versions
  • Dishwashers may have a hot enough cycle to sterilise bottles (bottles etc. should still be washed first) but you'll need to make up the bottles straight after the end of the cycle. Check your manufacturer's information to see whether your dishwasher will do

For more information on sterilising options take a look at our buyer's guide to sterilisers.

Making up bottles of formula
When making up feeds, first make sure that your work area and hands are clean. Using normal tap water, boil fresh water and leave it to cool (covered) as per the instructions on your milk powder. Measure the right amount of cooled, boiled water into your sterilised bottle and then carefully add the correct measure of milk powder. Fit your cap and teat to the bottle and shake well to fully dissolve the powder and test the temperature of the milk by shaking a little onto your wrist - it should feel slightly warm but not hot. If the milk is too hot then allow it to cool further by standing it in the fridge or in cold water before giving it to your baby.

It used to be common practice to make up a whole day's feeds in advance and store them in the fridge, however, because of the higher risk of contamination with salmonella and other bacteria in made up bottles, the government now advises that all feeds are made up freshly. But don't despair, this doesn't mean that you have to go through the whole sterilisation rigmarole before each and every feed as you can still prepare sterilised bottles with boiled water and keep those in the fridge for up to twenty-four hours.

When you need to make up the feed simply add the correct amount of milk powder and then warm the feed using a bottle warmer or water bath. Some people find bottle warmers convenient, but you may find it an unnecessary piece of equipment when standing the milk bottle in a bowl or pan of hot water for a few minutes will do perfectly well.

Out and about
When you're out and about you can take a sterilised bottle of cold boiled water out with you, and then warm up the bottle with a bottle warmer or water bath before adding the milk powder. Or you can take a bottle of hot boiled water in an insulated bag - most baby bags include one these days - so it's still warm when it's feed time and you just need to add the milk powder and check the temperature (it may need to cool further) before giving your baby the feed.

Taking pre-measured milk powder in a separate container cuts down fuss and baggage. If you take a bottle of cool boiled water then it may be a good idea to take a flask of hot water and suitable container so you can make up a water bath to warm your feed water wherever you are at feed time.

At night and first thing in the morning You could apply the same tips at night time to cut down on bleary-eyed preparations in the middle of the night: Keep boiled water in an insulated bag close at hand for the first feed, measure out the correct amount of milk powder into a separate container for each night and first morning feed and keep a flask of hot water and a suitable container for making a feed-warming water bath without needing to go and boil the kettle.

A few dos

  • Boil fresh tap water when preparing your baby's feed - mineral or softened water may not have a suitable mineral content and filtered water may harbour bacteria
  • Use freshly drawn water for bottles - repeatedly boiling water alters its mineral content
  • Always measure milk powder with the scoop provided
  • Always add milk powder to the correct amount of water, rather than measuring water on top of the milk powder
  • Warm your bottles with a bottle warmer or water bath rather than a microwave - not only is it really easy to over-heat water using a microwave, but microwaves also heat unevenly and might create hot patches that can burn your baby
  • Throw away any milk that your baby doesn't drink in one feed, you can't save the milk for later
  • Throw away any damaged/cracked bottles or teats, as bacteria can breed in the cracks

Bottles for expressed milk
If you're expressing breastmilk to feed to your baby then you'll need to clean and sterilise all your expressing and feeding equipment in the same way as for formula feeding. Expressed milk can be kept in the fridge (but not the fridge door, it's not cold enough) for up to 24 hours and up to three months in the freezer. Use a waterbath or bottle warmer to warm expressed milk and, as with formula milk, throw away any leftover milk at the end of the feed. For more on expressing milk, take a look at our guide to expressing breastmilk.

And finally...
Successful bottle feeding can have a lot to do with getting the right bottle and teat for your baby, particularly for getting the flow right for a newborn. If you need a bit of help sorting through the plethora of products on offer then make sure you read our feeding bottles buyer's guide.

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