You need to clean the bottle, nipple, cap, and other feeding items after use. Is that enough, or do you need to do something more? You’d never hear the end of it in the old days if you did not sterilize or sanitize before storing them. Nowadays, you could skip this step unless it is the first use. Of course, that assumes your water supply is clean.
Before continuing, let’s differentiate some words that you keep coming across. They are seemingly the same and yet so vastly different.
Basically, you remove leftover milk and other possible contaminants using soap and water.
This process is meant to reduce the number of microorganisms to a level that they cannot populate and cause your baby harm.
By definition, this is used in labs and hospital operating rooms. Instead of reducing, you are eliminating all microorganisms.
Notice how in the context of baby bottles, the term “sterilize” often comes up. In most cases, any measure you take in this regard is more sanitizing rather than sterilizing.
Hence, for this article’s purpose, we use the word sterilize to be loosely the same as sanitizing.
How Do You Clean Infant Feeding Items?
Bottles and nipples are not the only feeding items your baby uses. It also includes other parts such as rings and caps. Some might even come with valves or membranes. You could also consider spoons, syringes, medicine cups, and other alternative or supplemental nursing systems that need cleaning. And there are two ways to do that – manual by hand or using a dishwasher.
Handwashing Baby Feeding Items
You should have separate cleaning tools used exclusively for cleaning baby bottles and other feeding items – brush, basin or container, and tong. Also, remember that the baby items should not touch the sink as it may have germs that could cause contamination.
1. Wash your hands with soap thoroughly for 20 seconds using only soap and water.
2. Take apart the feeding item (bottle, nipple, cap, ring, and others).
3. Rinse each piece one at a time under running water. It does not matter if the water is warm or cold.
4. After rinsing each piece, place in a basin or container. Pour hot water and add soap.
5. You can use a tong to hold each piece while scrubbing with a brush. Also, be sure to squeeze water through the nipple hole. You want to make sure that tiny little space is also cleaned.
6. Once again, rinse each piece under running water, making sure there are no soap residues.
7. Place each piece on a clean dish towel or paper towel. You should also clean the brush, basin, and any other cleaning items. Air dry all of them in an area that is free of dust. Do not pat dry with a dishtowel to avoid transferring germs.
Cleaning Baby Feeding Items in a Dishwasher
For convenience, you can use a dishwasher, but only if your feeding items are dishwasher-safe.
1. Take apart the feeding item (bottle, nipple, cap, ring, and others).
2. Rinse each piece one at a time under running water. It does not matter if the water is warm or cold.
3. Place all the pieces in the dishwasher. You would want to place small parts in a closed-top basket or a mesh laundry bag to avoid losing them or ending up in the filter.
4. Run the dishwasher. Ideally, use hot water and a heated drying cycle to kill more microorganisms.
5. Once the dishwasher is done, wash your hands with soap thoroughly for 20 seconds using only soap and water.
6. Remove each piece and place it on a clean dish towel or paper towel. Allow to air dry in a clean area, free of dust. Do not pat dry with a dishtowel to avoid transferring germs.
How Do You Sterilize (or Sanitize) Baby Bottles, Nipples, and Others?
Do you need to, or can you skip this step? As strange as this question is, there is a prevailing thought that you do not have to sterilize baby feeding items. That is because the quality of water today is vastly improved compared to decades ago. However, if you live in places where water sanitation is not ideal or want to stay on the safe side, go ahead by all means.
Cleaning and sterilizing (or sanitizing) is mandatory with newly bought bottles and other feeding items to eliminate any manufacturing residues. You should also do it if your baby was born premature, has a weak immune system, or is younger than three months old.
For older, healthy babies, sterilizing is not required. It is extra work but if it makes you feel better, then do it.
Note: If in case you cleaned the feeding items with hot water and a heating drying cycle in a dishwasher, you do not have to do this step.
There are several methods you can use to sterilize. Pick one and do it after cleaning the feeding items. While at it, you might as well include the basin, brush, and other tools you might have used. Once done, you can place them on a clean dish towel or paper towel to air dry.
Submerge the different parts of the feeding items into boiling water for five minutes.
Electric Bottle Sterilizer
You can easily buy an electric bottle sterilizer. There are plenty of options, but all of them are easy to use. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions on its operation, and once turned on, it uses high-temperatures to kill germs and bacteria.
Microwave Steam Sterilizer
Instead of an electric bottle sterilizer, you can opt for a microwave. You only need to fill it with water halfway and put the bottles, nipples, and caps inside. Using steam, it kills up to 99.9% of germs and bacteria in only two minutes.
Yes, you can use it too as a last resort. Prepare a bleach solution by mixing 2 teaspoons of unscented bleach into a gallon of clean water. Submerge all pieces of feeding items entirely for two minutes. Remove using a tong and place on a clean dish towel or paper towel to air dry. There is no need to rinse since the remaining bleach breaks down during the drying process and cannot hurt your baby.
How Should You Store Baby Bottles and Nipples?
Storing is easy. First, you need to wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Then, put or assemble everything back together. You can now place them in a protected area that is dust-free, ready to use when needed.
Final Thoughts on Sterilizing Baby Bottles and Nipples
When you talk to other moms, consult experts, many would recommend forgoing the sterilization process. That comes down to a matter of trust – is your water supply clean? Secondly, you should also think about the possible contamination of baby bottles and nipples due to poor hygiene.
One study conducted in Peru aimed to determine the extent and factors that contributed to bottle contamination. Keep in mind that this research focuses on the shantytown communities of Lima.
Believe it or not, the rate of fecal bacteria contamination is higher from bottles (43.8%) than in caregivers’ hands. (21.7%), putting babies at risk of respiratory and enteric infections.
The probable cause is due to bottles being rinsed only, which may leave milk residues. In turn, it leads to biofilm forming on the interior surface. Consequently, bacterias such as E. coli grow and thrive in biofilm communities. Compared to glass, cheap plastic bottles used in low-income households are also more prone to bacterial contamination.
Although bacterial contamination of baby bottles is worrisome, the solution is easy – clean with soap and water, and be sure to scrub the surfaces with a brush.
You can sterilize the bottles and other feeding items – that should eliminate up to 99.9% of bacterias and germs. For convenience, use an electric or microwave bottle steamer. Just to be sure that the risk of contamination while drying and storing is low, be sure they are placed in a dust-free area.