Making sure that all your baby bottles and feeding equipment are properly sterilised is very important in maintaining the health of your baby. Here are is a summary of the different methods from the most quick and convenient to the more traditional processes.
In their first year, while their immune systems are still developing and they have not acquired enough anti-bodies yet, babies are particularly vulnerable to bacteria and parasites. This can lead to infections, ranging from mild but still distressing conditions, like thrush, to seriously dangerous illnesses like gastroenteritis, which involve vomiting, diarrhoea and dehydration. In fact, in olden times before sterilisation was widely practised, gastroenteritis was responsible for thousands of infant deaths.
Sterilisation is particularly important for babies that are predominantly bottle-fed with formula milk, rather than breast-fed, as these babies will not be receiving the extra immunity provided by the colostrums in breast milk and will therefore be even more susceptible to infection.
Anything used to feed your baby should be sterilised – this includes all bottles, teats, beakers and breast pumps – and even dummies. It is not enough just to wash any of these items with hot, soapy water.
First, wash all the equipment very thoroughly in hot soapy water, paying particular attention to any places where residues of milk might collect. All traces of milk must be removed before sterilisation. Use a bottle brush and check the teats, rubbing both sides and running water through the hole. Rinse carefully to remove all trace of detergents and then check the teats and bottles for any signs of splits or cracks. Equipment that is worn like this should be discarded as these damaged regions could harbour bacteria and make it impossible to sterilise the equipment effectively.
The dishwasher can be used to wash baby equipment and if doing so, make sure that you have it on the hottest setting. Be aware, though, that your teats will wear out more frequently if you wash them in the dishwasher.
Ways of Sterilisation
Boiling – one of the more traditional methods, this involves submerging the equipment completely in water and then boiling everything for at least 10 minutes. Make sure you set aside a pan for this purpose only and do not use it for any other cooking. Again, be aware that teats will deteriorate more quickly if you use this method.
Steaming – this uses special electric steam sterilisers designed for this purpose and is a very quick and efficient method. All items should be placed up-side down in order to be fully-sterilised. It generally takes 8-12 minutes, followed by some cooling time. However, certain things cannot be placed in the steam steriliser (e.g., some parts of breast pumps).
There are specific steamers designed for use in microwaves, instead of running of mains power and these take from 5-8 minutes to work. They are portable ad do not leave any taste or smell. However, they cannot be used with anything with metal parts and can obviously only be used where there is a microwave handy.
Microwavable bottles – a new innovation, these bottles can be placed directly in the microwave and be sterilised in just 90 seconds. Take care to make sure that the bottles are not sealed during the pressure, otherwise dangerous pressure might build up inside the bottle.
Sterilising solutions – handy when you don’t have any heating source around, these solutions allow you to sterilise equipment in cold water. They take longer to work (1/2 an hour) but you can leave the bottles to soak overnight (24hours max) and as long as the container is sealed and everything is submerged (check that there are no air bubbles), it will keep things sterilised. Some people like to rinse the equipment afterwards in cool, boiled water but there is no need as the chemicals are harmless, even when swallowed.
While the new methods might be quicker and more convenient, it is worth knowing the more traditional methods in case you find yourself away from home and the convenience of electrical gadgets. Whichever method you use, make sure that you fill the bottles up with milk immediately after sterilisation.
In general, it is believed to be good policy to continue sterilising equipment until the baby is one year old, even if he or she is on solid foods and is very mobile, encountering many other stimulants in the environment. In fact, many mothers continue to sterilise equipment until their baby has stopped using them altogether.