#5. Top 10 things you don’t need for your baby.

The should-have-had-sooner

If you are using bottles to feed your baby you may want to warm them. There’s no reason why you need to; many babies happily take room-temperature or even cold formula, expressed breast milk (EBM), and water. But if warm the milk you must, there’s no need to buy an electric bottle warmer.

#5 Thing you’d be wasting your money on: A Bottle Warmer.

In the ‘olden days’ bottles would be warmed by sitting in a pan of warming water. After a few minutes the contents of the bottle is tested, usually on the wrist ( a very sensitive place where you’ll be acutely aware of the heat), and then given to the baby. In the 70s and 80s microwave ovens became increasingly common in homes. With them came both excitement at the prospect of fast heating and concern about the heating method; a polarity that continues today.

Why some people chose a Bottle Warmer.

Some families have generalised concerns about the microwave. There are sometimes fears about radiation leakage, chemical leach from plastics, super heating, uneven heating, nutrient break down, and more. Several of these fears have little to no basis in science, but can be hard to dispel.  The introduction of bottle warmers to the market allowed anyone who worried about a microwave, but who didn’t want to heat water in a pan, to find what seemed like a middle ground; faster, safer heating. Talk of the chemical BPA being found in some plastics – a chemical which was shown to interfere with human hormones and which is activated by heat – seemed to solidify the argument for the bottle warmer.

How a Bottle Warmer Works

The electric bottle warmer works by agitating water molecules, causing them to heat up.

How a Microwave Works

A microwave works by agitating water molecules, causing them to heat up.

The only difference is that the microwave heats the water or formula inside the bottle directly,and the bottle warmer heats a reservoir of water outside the bottle which then transfers through the bottle into the contents inside.

The arguments against the microwave

Despite the fact that the bottle warmer, the microwave (and water in a pan for that matter) all essentially heat in the same way, there obviously are some concerns specific to the microwave.

– The microwaves are harmful and could leak and irradiate us all. FALSE.

This is a classic case of fear of the unknown. Micro-waves (not the machine, the thingos you were worried about) are a kind of radiation akin to radio or infrared, Unless you fear your baby being near a radio then any fear of the microwave is overblown.

BPA can leach out of the bottle and into the milk. FALSE

because those clever bottle manufactures stopped using BPA. All the brands I’ve ever seen used (Avent, Medela, Tommee Tippee, Nuby, Cherub Baby, Pigeon, Dr Brown, Even Flow) offer BPA-free plastic and glass baby bottles. All plastics do degrade over time, so regardless of how you use them, old and cloudy plastic bottles should be discarded.

Microwaving the formula or EBM causes it to lose nutritional value. FALSE.

All heating and cooking has an effect on the structure of our food and drink (sometimes beneficially, sometimes not) but microwaves have no more effect than any other method of heating. In fact it may help many things retain their nutritional value as the heating time is less.

Things heated in a microwave do so unevenly, leaving super hot spots. 

Now this one is true, but, how this affects heating a baby bottle needs more explanation.  The microwaves are agitating the water molecules, right? That’s why some food gets hot in some spots and cool in others; different amounts of water generating different amounts of heat. If you are heating a bottle of just water in the microwave it is all heated at the same rate, without hot spots. If you heat EBM or formula, all that is needed is to shake or swirl the contents of the bottle thoroughly to evenly distribute the heat. You’ll be testing it for the correct temperature before offering it to your baby anyway, right?

Still not convinced about the microwave?

Never mind, it’s perfectly fine not to use the microwave and yet still not need to buy that bottle warmer. The bottle warmer is simply heating water around the outside of the bottle. That’s better than the water in the pan, how exactly? It’s literally no less work; put water in pan/bottle warmer, place bottle in pan/bottle warmer, turn on heat under pan/turn on bottle warmer, wait a few mins, test bottle for correct temperature, give to baby. Or how about, run hot tap water around the outside of the bottle for a minute? Sit bottle in a jug of hot water? The only benefit is a timer, meaning you can forget about it and it will turn off. While this can be useful – is it worth the $50-$80 a warmer will cost you?

Do you really need to heat the milk at all?

The simple answer is No. Because breast milk is at body-temperature one assumes that babies are used to drinking all their milk warm.  But it doesn’t follow that they need it that way, or even that they would be unhappy with a different temperature. It won’t be long before they’re drinking room-temperature or cooled water, eating foods that are cold and hot, and drinking cow’s milk straight from the fridge. It’s not harmful or mean to start getting your baby used to room-temperature bottles from very early on. They’ll find it easier to enjoy foods of different temperatures later, and transition to cold cow’s milk much easier. And it’s more convenient and flexible for you both at home and out and about.

My recommendations

Personally, I’m comfortable using BPA-free baby bottles in the microwave (this goes for sterilisers too).

  • Heat the water/formula/EBM in the bottle with the lid and teat off (to avoid steam build up in the teat).
  • Get to know your microwave and how long you need. Always underestimate when using an unfamiliar microwave.
  • If heating formula or EBM shake bottle well after heating to evenly distribute heat.
  • Test the temperature of the milk on the inside of your wrist before giving it to your baby.
  • Try offering your baby room-temperature bottles before assuming he won’t like it. If he does prefer warm, try lowering the temperature to room-temperature slowly over a period of time.

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You might like to read:

List of BPA free bottles

Baby Bottle Warming

Where to buy BPA free bottles

Stupid Baby Products

4 Comments

Filed under Baby Product Advice, Babycare Advice, General, Tips and tricks

4 responses to “#5. Top 10 things you don’t need for your baby.

  1. Caitlin

    I’m curious about the advice of heating EBM with a microwave. I have never heard, been told or read anything that suggests this is an acceptable method for reheating. The following are just a few really reliable and reputable sources who strongly disagree with your suggestion. The Australian Breastfeeding Association, Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne and the Better Health Channel run by the government.

    https://www.breastfeeding.asn.au/bf-info/breastfeeding-and-work/caregivers-guide-breastfed-baby

    http://www.rch.org.au/uploadedFiles/Main/Content/nutrition/WC_P7_Formula_and_EBM_Preparation_NNU.doc

    http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhcarticles.nsf/pages/Bottle_feeding_with_expressed_breast_milk

    • You are quite right Caitlin, the official advice is to avoid microwaves equally with EBM and formula. There is no reason why EMB needs to heated differently to formula so long as it is heated slowly and carefully. Most sites with official advice will elaborate on their reasoning to avoid microwaves to point to potential hot spots and potential overheating causing nutrient degradation. The sites you mention, and others, clearly state that that the reasons for not using a microwave are that there is a possibility of these hotspots and of overheating, and therefore it is warned against.* The key concern is one of heating too high and/or too long or too unevenly. This is also possible with other heating methods, but less observable in a microwave, which is where the main problem lies.
      Though it is clearly nowhere near as important (!), think of this like the warning against melting chocolate in a microwave. Because you cannot watch the chocolate as it heats you can easily overheat and ruin it, so it always advised that you do it over a double boiler and never in a microwave. This is not because it is impossible to heat chocolate in a microwave but because it impossible to say for how long, or at what temperature, or give any advice that guarantees you will get it right. Using the microwave to heat EBM or formula is warned against by official health sites because it is impossible, with so many variants available, to give accurate information about how long or at what temperature to warm the milk to avoid overheating, and no way to guarantee that the contents will be mixed properly after heating to dispel hot spots. The only way to guarantee that parents avoid these problems is to warn them off the microwave altogether.
      On my site I discuss and share information that is a mix of my education and experience. While health sites like those you quote are great resources for medical based advice, sites like mine are designed to build on that information with real life experience and observations; each resource style is best used in conjunction with one another and not alone.
      My education and experience have taught me that though there are no specific guidelines a heath site can give you, if you are careful with your microwave, test and learn how long to use it so that milk does not overheat, and shake well to avoid hot spots and test before giving to your child, that it is both a safe and nutritional way to heat formula and EBM.
      The advice I give on this topic is not designed to replace that of medical practitioners and official health bodies, but to provide an experienced voice, with suggestions for real life applications of formal guidelines 🙂

      * eg:
      http://www.cdc.gov/breastfeeding/recommendations/handling_breastmilk.htm
      http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhcarticles.nsf/pages/Bottle_feeding_with_expressed_breast_milk

  2. is it right that microwaves heat things from the inside out? could that be where the concern about hot spots in the milk come from?

    • No, despite this being a commonly heard thing, microwaves do not cook from the inside out. In fact, they are more likely to cook from the outside in, as the amount of energy absorbed decreases as it gets closer to the centre. Most people will recall trying to heat something in the microwave that was hot on the outside and frozen on the inside? While the saying is wrong, it is still linked to the idea of hot spots and some parts of the heated item being hotter than others. The most important thing when heating your baby’s bottle in the microwave is to warm it not super heat it, and to shake shake shake that bottle, to distribute the heat evenly.
      Do Microwaves Cook from the Inside Out?

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