Nutritional Support
March 4, 2021

Breast Milk Warming Best Practices

Make sure babies get all the nutrients they need by following these best practices for warming breast milk.
Make sure babies get all the nutrients they need by following these best practices for warming breast milk.

Given that breast milk contains so many nutrients that are essential to a baby’s health, it’s no surprise that it’s often referred to as “liquid gold.” Whether it’s in a NICU or a mother’s home, that gold is often warmed to increase the baby’s comfort and to aid in their digestion. After all, babies are used to getting breast milk right from the source, where it’s expressed at the mother’s natural body temperature.

Even though there’s nothing wrong with offering a baby room temperature or even cold breast milk, warming it is generally considered to be the best option for keeping babies happy and comfortable. The problem is that if breast milk is warmed improperly, you run the risk of destroying some of the nutrients that make it so valuable. Following these best practices can help ensure you know how to warm a bottle of breast milk without damaging it.

Best Practices for Breast Milk Warming

Know Your Temperature Ranges

The goal of warming breast milk is to achieve its natural temperature when first expressed — the average human body temperature of 98.6º F. Of course, you can’t always achieve that exact temperature. That’s why there are broader ranges that serve as good breast milk guidelines:

  • 32 to 78º F: Milk this temperature is safe for babies, but it may not be as optimal for their taste preferences and digestion.
  • 79 to 98.6º F: A good lukewarm temperature that’s safe for babies.
  • 99º to 105º F: This range is still considered lukewarm. Even though it’s a little warmer than the ideal, it isn’t so hot that it will destroy the breast milk’s nutrients or pose a danger to the baby.
  • 106º F and up: Breast milk that is any hotter than lukewarm isn’t recommended. Not only can the milk burn the baby’s mouth, but studies also show that the higher the temperature and the longer the breast milk bag has been exposed to heat, the more beneficial properties of human milk (including probiotic bacteria and white blood cells) are destroyed.

Agitate, Don’t Shake

Due to the large fat globules in breast milk that quickly break apart into lipids and aqueous compounds, breast milk is prone to separation. You might be tempted to shake the breast milk bag to mix the milk back together, but you need to resist that temptation. Shaking breast milk too hard can actually damage some of the bioactive components found in the milk. Instead, carefully agitate the milk until it’s mixed together.

Never Use the Microwave

It’s important to remember that warming breast milk isn’t the same as warming any other liquid. Warming breast milk in the microwave might seem like a quick and easy solution, but it’s never recommended. Not only can the microwave destroy the nutrients in breast milk, but it also heats the milk unevenly. This creates hot pockets of liquid that can burn the baby’s mouth. You should only ever use a breast milk warmer or warm water to heat the milk — never a microwave or even a stovetop.

Thaw Breast Milk Safely

There are three ways to thaw breast milk safely: under lukewarm running water, set in a container of lukewarm or warm water, or in the refrigerator overnight. If you use the latter method, you should use the milk within 24 hours of thawing. Once breast milk is warmed or brought to room temperature after the freezer or refrigerator, you should use it within two hours. Also, you should never refreeze breast milk after thawing it.

Watch the Water You Use

Make sure the water you’re using to heat your breast milk is either lukewarm or warm — never hot. You also need to make sure the water you’re using isn’t contaminated in any way. Water systems, including those that lead to hospital and home tap water, have long been recognized as potential sources for healthcare-associated infections. The best way to avoid the risks of contaminated water is by using a breast milk warmer that keeps the water well away from the milk itself.

Get the Right Breast Milk Warming Products with Kentec

NICU nurses have to be incredibly careful when it comes to warming breast milk for infants. After all, it’s critically important that these babies get all the nutrients they possibly can from the milk. That’s where medical-grade breast milk warmers come in. As the market leader in human milk banking, pasteurizing, and processing solutions across the United States, the Kentec Medical team has spent years in research and development to bring better milk management products to our companies. Our latest innovation, the Koala Nutritional Warmer, was developed by a former NICU nurse and specially designed to help NICU nurses follow breast milk warming best practices.  

The Koala Warmer is an easy-to-use breast milk warmer with an integrated temperature feedback loop that uses unique and custom algorithms to prevent overheating and the resulting damage to the nutrients in breast milk. The solution has three different modes of warming — Fridge to Feed, Frozen to Feed, and Frozen to Fridge — that help ensure nurses are always warming breast milk safely. Thanks to its even heating measures, the milk heated in the Koala Warmer never has any hot or cold spots so the baby’s mouth is always safe.

Kentec Medical is here to help procurement managers get high-quality milk management products, like the new Koala Warmer, into their hospitals. At Kentec Medical, 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 procuring and installing your new milk management products so you can focus on what matters most — helping babies in the NICU.

If you’d like to learn more about the milk management products we offer (including the Koala Warmer), or if you have any questions, contact us today.

Works Cited

Czank C, Prime DK, Hartmann B, Simmer K, and Harmann PE. Retention of the immunological proteins of pasteurized human milk in relation to pasteurizer design and practice. Pediatric Research (2009), 66(4):374-379.