Nutritional Support
April 4, 2021

Are Air-based Breast Milk Warmers Safe for NICU Use

Human milk is packed with nutrients that help NICU babies heal and grow. Make sure you’re preserving those nutrients by choosing the safest human milk warmer.
Human milk is packed with nutrients that help NICU babies heal and grow. Make sure you’re preserving those nutrients by choosing the safest human milk warmer.

Human milk has a huge number of benefits for all newborns — especially for infants in the NICU. Often called “liquid gold,” human milk is packed full of essential nutrients that support all aspects of a baby’s development. It includes antibodies that protect against illness, white blood cells that fight infection, and enzymes and beneficial bacteria that support the immune and digestive systems. The long-chain fatty acids in human milk help a baby’s brain, nervous system, and eyes develop, and human milk even contains hormones that regulate appetite and promote bonding between mother and baby.

Warming human milk is a well-known best practice both in and out of the NICU. When human milk has been heated to the “Thermal Neutral Zone”— between 97.6°F and 98.8°F — it’s the perfect temperature for the baby’s consumption. Any colder and the baby will have to increase their basal metabolic rate to expend the energy necessary to warm the milk themselves, which can be dangerous for NICU babies. Any warmer and the milk’s vital nutrients are ruined, plus you run the risk of scalding the baby’s mouth.

When you get the temperature just right, you preserve the efficacy of the human milk and make the baby more comfortable while they feed. The best (and safest!) way to warm human milk is to use a human milk warmer that uses water instead of air. Here’s why.

The Dangers of Air-based Human Milk Warmers

The primary reason why air-based human milk warmers aren’t recommended for NICU use is that they don’t distribute heat evenly. Air-based warmers and non-hospital grade warmers are not intelligent enough to consistently heat milk to the Thermal Neutral Zone. You might have hot spots here and cold spots there depending on where the warmer directs the air.

Water, on the other hand, is a much more even conductor of heat because its molecules are arranged very closely together. Also, water has a specific heat 1000 times greater than air and a thermal conductivity 24 times greater than air. Water-based human milk warmers leverage water’s thermodynamics to offer a more controlled way to heat milk, making them safer and more reliable than air-based alternatives.

A Safer Choice: A Water-based Human Milk Warmer

Protecting already vulnerable NICU infants should be a top priority for any hospital. One easy way to improve safety is by using a cutting-edge human milk warmer like the Koala Nutritional Warmer. The Koala Warmer is a safe solution designed by a NICU nurse specifically to help fellow NICU nurses warm human milk as safely and effectively as possible.

The Koala Warmer uses the latest technology to take all of the guesswork out of warming human milk. Its patented integrated temperature feedback loop uses unique, custom algorithms to prevent overheating and the resulting damage to the nutrients in human milk. Instead of blasting the milk with dry heat, the Koala Warmer uses a gradual warming and mixing system. The warmer’s vibrations move and warm both the water and the milk for an even distribution of heat, ensuring that there are no hot or cold spots that could harm a baby’s gastrointestinal tract.

The Koala Warmer also takes complex thermodynamics into account. If you bake a cake in an oven and then turn the oven off without removing the cake, the residual heat from the oven will continue to warm and potentially overcook the cake. The same logic applies to warming human milk. To further prevent overheating, the Koala Warmer gradually heats the milk to just shy of the Thermal Neutral Zone before shutting off and letting the residual energy heat the milk to the perfect temperature.

The Koala Warmer also includes three different warming settings  — Fridge to Feed, Frozen to Feed, and Frozen to Fridge — that ensure human milk is always warmed safely no matter how the milk has been stored.

Getting the Best Human Milk Warmer into Your NICU

The perfect warmer for any NICU that’s serious about infant safety is the Kentec Koala Warmer.  At Kentec Medical, our specialists can help procurement managers get the Koala Warmer and other high-quality milk management products into their hospitals. Kentec can also provide procurement managers with other products that increase NICU infant safety, like enteral feeding products and blood draw systems, to make a safer NICU environment all around.

We believe that providing superior customer service is essential to helping healthcare providers do their jobs safely and effectively. We’ll be here to guide you through every step of procurement so you can focus on what matters most — helping babies in the NICU.

Contact Kentec Medical today to learn more about how we can help you create a safer, healthier NICU!

Works Cited

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  • Hassiotou F et al. Maternal and infant infections stimulate a rapid leukocyte response in breastmilk. Clin Transl Immunology. 2013;2(4):e3
  • Lönnerdal B. Nutritional and physiologic significance of human milk proteins. Am J Clin Nutr. 2003;77(6):1537S-1543S
  • Savino F et al. Breast milk hormones and their protective effect on obesity. Int J Pediatr Endocrinol. 2009;2009:327505.