Parenting involves a whole lot of processes. From changing diapers and bathing, to feeding and burping, a new baby will occupy a considerable amount of your time.
And with most of these processes, you cannot easily cut corners. This is especially true whenever food hygiene comes into play.
In developed countries, including the US, between 15% and 20% of the population show greater susceptibility to foodborne diseases when compared to the rest of the population.
Infants are among this section of the population that’s more sensitive to food borne illnesses.
The immune system of newborns and infants is still in a developing state, which makes it harder for them to fight off any food-related illness.
So, this means that extra care should be taken when cleaning and handling baby feeding gear.
In this article, we’ll go over all the steps involved in cleaning and sterilizing baby bottles to ensure a safe feed, every single time.
Why Is It Important to Clean Baby Bottles Regularly?
All of your baby’s feeding gear should be thoroughly cleaned after each use. This includes bottles and nipples, rings and ring valves, and the caps that go with them.
All feeding gear should be washed as soon as your baby finishes a feed.
Cleaning with soap and hot water removes all traces of milk left inside the bottles. However, cleaning does not remove all germs, only sterilizing does.
As we’ve seen above, newborns and infants are more vulnerable to infections by viruses, bacteria, parasites and fungi. All of these can lead to serious illnesses.
As emphasized by Texas Children’s Hospital, germs grow quickly when breast milk or baby’s formula is added to a used bottle that hasn’t been cleaned well. All of this means that it’s imperative that baby feeding gear is cleaned properly.
How Often Should Baby Bottles Be Cleaned?
Baby bottles should be cleaned as soon as possible after a feed.
If you’re on the go and you’re not able to clean them to the best of your abilities, try to at least rinse the bottle under tap water and then wash it properly as soon as you arrive home.
Why Is It Important to Sterilize Baby Bottles Regularly?
As noted by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), today’s pediatricians are not as concerned with sterilizing baby bottles as they were a generation ago.
That said, many are changing their advice due to recent reports of contaminated city water supplies as well as increased concern over food safety.
Sterilizing baby bottles will protect your little one against infections, in particular nasty diarrhea and vomiting.
As noted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), inadequate cleaning will lead to germs contaminating the milk that your baby drinks.
Sterilizing is particularly important when your baby is still younger than three months of age, was born prematurely, or has a weakened immune system.
That said, some pediatricians still believe that sterilizing your baby’s bottles is overrated.
Dan Brennan, MD, pediatrician and father of three boys, notes that as long as your water supply is not suspected to harbor contaminated bacteria, thorough cleaning with hot soapy water gets rid of almost all germs.
Regardless of whether you’ve sterilized the bottle or not, once placed on a bottle, the nipple begins to pick up germs in the environment.
Still, sterilizing is without a doubt a necessary added step for further peace of mind and added safety, especially if you’re not sure about the water sanitation at your place.
The CDC suggests sterilizing your baby’s bottles at least once a day.
What’s the Difference Between Cleaning Baby Bottles and Sanitizing Them?
Cleaning, sanitizing and sterilizing baby bottles are all different terms used for different processes. The next time someone confuses these terms for being the same, correct it for them!
When it comes to baby bottles, you must clean and sanitize.
Cleaning makes use of soap and water to remove all milk remnants, and hence germs, from the bottle.
Sanitizing is an added step through which even more germs are killed. Sanitizing provides an added layer of protection against all infections.
Let’s tackle the age-old question of sterilizing vs sanitizing.
Sanitizing is ‘partially freeing something of microorganisms by cleaning or disinfecting’. Sterilizing, on the other hand, is ‘killing, deactivating or destroying all living, viable microorganisms and spores that would be on a surface, in a fluid, or contained in a compound’.
So, the correct term when it comes to baby bottles would be sanitizing. It is impossible to completely sterilize baby feeding gear at home, as the home itself is not a completely sterile environment.
That said, sanitizing baby feeding gear is sufficient.
How Often Should Baby Bottles Be Sanitized?
The CDC recommends daily sanitizing of baby’s feeding equipment for the first three months of your little one’s life. The same applies if your baby was born prematurely or if your child has a weakened immune system.
There is no need to sterilize baby feeding gear for babies and children over the age of one, as long as their immune system is not compromised.
That said, the AAP recommends weaning your little one off bottles and pacifiers once they reach one year of age.
There are other instances where you should be sterilizing your baby’s bottles:
- Before first use, even if new.
- Borrowed or second-hand bottles should be sterilized before first use.
- During and after illness to prevent reinfection.
- If you’re unsure of the safety of the water supply.
How to Clean and Sterilize Baby Bottles
Regardless if you’re using glass, plastic or silicone baby bottles, all of these must be kept squeaky clean at all times.
There are two possible ways of cleaning your baby’s bottles. While the sterilization step is often optional, cleaning is never optional, it’s an absolute must.
That said, sterilization does not replace thorough cleaning. You absolutely must thoroughly clean your baby’s bottles, but sterilizing them depends on the circumstances discussed above.
Wash your hands with soapy water before starting either process.
Option 1 – Dishwasher
- Check that the feeding gear can be placed in a dishwasher.
- Take the bottles apart – all removable parts should be disassembled.
- Place in the dishwasher – tiny items can be placed in a closed top basket or mesh laundry bag to prevent them from ending up in the dishwasher filter.
- If possible, use the sanitizing program on your dishwasher for added hygiene.
- Wash your hands and remove the bottles from the dishwasher.
- If still wet, place on an unused washcloth or paper towel before storing. You should always have this stuff prepared before you sanitize and store infant feeding items.
Option 2 – Handwashing
- Disassemble the feeding gear.
- Rinse all parts under running water.
- Place all items in a clean basin that’s used only for cleaning baby gear. Washing bottles directly in the sink is not recommended because of contamination.
- Fill the basin with hot water and soap.
- Scrub items using a baby bottle brush.
- Use a nipple brush to clean the nipples – squirt water through the hole to ensure no milk remnants remain.
- Rinse under running water.
- Air dry bottle parts, the basin and brushes on a clean, unused dish towel or paper towel.
Every few days, clean the wash basin and brushes thoroughly, either by handwashing them or placing them in the dishwasher.
As emphasized by the CDC, if your baby is under three months of age, was born prematurely or has a weakened immune system, these washing items should be cleaned after every use.
There are various methods you can use to sterilize baby bottles, and all are almost equally effective. It all comes down to personal preference at the end of the day.
Let’s go through each one of these baby bottle sterilizing methods. Again, please wash your hands before starting the sterilization process, no matter which one of these methods you choose!
Method 1 – Cold Water Sterilizing Solution
- Follow the manufacturer’s instructions on the sterilizing solution.
- Place bottles and teats in the sterilizing solution for at least 30 minutes (or as indicated by the sterilizing solution manufacturer).
- Every 24 hours, change the sterilizing solution.
- Check for air bubbles when the feeding gear is in the solution. For this to work properly, there shouldn’t be any air bubbles.
- Place the floating cover or plunger on top of the gear to keep everything nicely snug in the solution
Method 2 – Steam Sterilizing via an Electric Sterilizer or Microwave Steam Sterilizers
- Read through the sterilizer manufacturer’s instructions.
- Place your feeding gear inside the sterilizer, while making sure that the opening of the bottles and teats is facing downwards.
- Take care when opening the sterilizer lid, as the electric steam is seriously hot.
Method 3 – Sterilizing by Boiling
- Check that the baby’s feeding equipment can be boiled (especially if you’re using plastic bottles).
- Place in a large pan of water, and check that everything’s covered well with water.
- Boil all items for 5 minutes.
- Remove items with clean tongs.
Method 4 – Bleach
- Prepare a bleach solution in a clean wash basin – 2 teaspoons unscented bleach per 16 cups of water.
- Submerge the items you want to sterilize, ensuring that everything’s covered and there are no air bubbles.
- Squeeze the solution through the nipple holes.
- Soak the items for at least 2 minutes.
- Remove the bottles with clean tongs.
When using this method, do not rinse off the feeding gear after following these steps. Rinsing will reintroduce germs.
As noted by the CDC, any bleach that remains will quickly break down and will not harm your baby.
For all of the methods listed above, following sanitization, place the feeding gear on a clean unused dish towel or paper towel in an area protected from dirt and dust.
Baby bottles should not be dried using a drying rack. The CDC states that ‘drying racks may trap moisture, allow mold and germs to grow, and be difficult to clean’.
If you do use a drying rack, set it aside for your baby’s feeding gear only. If you use it for anything else other than your baby’s feeding equipment, that won’t work.
Drying racks should be washed, sanitized and thoroughly dried every day for babies under three months of age, premature babies, and those with a weakened immune system.
As your baby grows, this can be extended to once every few days.
Baby Bottle Sterilization Safety Tips
All baby bottle sterilizing methods involve the heat element.
Whatever you do, do not leave hot or boiling water unattended or within reach of your little one(s). Also, do not underestimate the power of steam – it can scald, and badly!
If you’re using chemicals as part of the sterilization process, keep these away from curious hands, too.
A cold glass baby bottle should not be placed in boiling water. Place the bottle in the water and bring it to the boil so that it heats up gradually, preventing breakage.
Glass baby bottles sterilized by boiling should not be left in boiling water for an extended amount of time, as the heat can cause cracks or breakages. Be extra careful when handling hot glass bottles!
When sanitizing bottles in a sterilizer, make sure that the parts are not touching each other. This prevents deformation and damage.
Last but not least, always wash your hands thoroughly before handling cleaned or sterilized bottles!
The cleaning and sterilizing processes you choose to use for your baby’s bottles will greatly depend on personal choice and preference.
While sterilization is not always a must for your baby’s bottles, it’s an important element in baby feeding gear hygiene for little ones that are younger than three months of age, born prematurely, and for those with a weakened immune system.
Following the steps we outlined above ensures that your baby’s feeding gear is as clean as possible at every feed.
Cleaning and sanitizing baby bottles is quite a chore, but it’s one that saves your little one from unnecessary illness!
Happy bottle feeding!