Mom feeding baby warm breast milk on the go

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If you’re a breastfeeding mom who occasionally pumps or an exclusively pumping mom, eventually you’ll find yourself wondering how to warm breast milk on the go!

Have no fear, I’ve exclusively pumped for four babies. That means I’ve fed approximately a bajillion breast milk bottles while out and about.

7 practical tips for how to warm breast milk on the go

I’ll share several practical tips with you, but first, I’ll start with the best thing I ever did—my top tip:

Get baby used to drinking pumped breast milk cold!

I know this may sound cruel and unusual, but I’m telling you, if you can get your baby to take a cold bottle, your life will be soooooo much easier.

We didn’t know any better with our first. We always served his breast milk bottles warmed up to body or room temperature.

The few times we found ourselves in a real hurry with no fast way to warm the breast milk, we all paid the price. He was SO angry until we could get the bottle up to an acceptable (to him) temperature.

With our future babies, we sometimes warmed the breast milk bottles and sometimes didn’t. That made it so much easier to feed bottles of breast milk on the go. The babies didn’t automatically turn up their noses at the chilled bottles.

By our last two kids, honestly, we were lazy. Ok to be fair, not lazy, we were just so tired! From very early on, they were accustomed to drinking breast milk directly after I’d pumped it or straight from the fridge. Zero warming, ever. It was glorious!

Okay, but assuming you can’t go back in time and need to warm breast milk on the go NOW, here are some options:

[First, a disclaimer. I’m not a medical professional and this isn’t medical advice. I’m not familiar with the health or wellness status of you, your baby, or your breast milk. These are just tips I’ve used successfully in the past with my babies to make our lives easier. Use your best judgment and make your own decisions.]

Travel with a room temperature bottle of breast milk

Basic science says it takes longer to warm up a refrigerated bottle of breast milk on the go than it does to warm breast milk that’s already close to room temperature.

Because breast milk stays “good” for a rather lengthy period of time (compared to formula) at room temperature, don’t refrigerate a bottle you plan to use in the near future.

Alternatively, if you have a refrigerated bottle of breast milk you’ll need to warm, don’t keep it cold while you’re out and about. Put it in the diaper bag without a cooler/cold pack.

I’d usually pump just before leaving the house (click here for tips on how to pump while holding your baby), so I’d have a fresh bottle. That diaper would stay in the diaper bag and be first on-deck for the next time Baby needed to eat. I’d usually also travel with an extra bottle in a cooler bag for later in case I was out longer than expected.)

The rule of thumb for freshly pumped breast milk is that it’s ideally served within 3-4 hours if left at room temperature, but should be safe for up to 8 hours (see the KellyMom website for a great, detailed table on breastmilk storage and safety).

*Again, I can’t stress this enough: you need to know your baby, their health condition, your breast milk stash (is it freshly pumped? A few hours old? From the freezer? etc.) and whether your breast milk storage circumstances will make it safe for baby. I will admit, by our fourth, we were much more lax about storage and safety standards than we were with our first — but all of our baby’s were full-term, healthy infants. I’d certainly have been more cautious with a preemie or otherwise higher risk baby.

Use a travel bottle warmer

This is probably the most obvious method for warming a bottle of breastmilk on the go, but I’d feel silly if I didn’t at least include it in this list.

{This post may contain affiliate links, which means I may receive a small commission at no additional cost to you if an item is purchased through that link. For more information, click here.*)

A bottle warmer like this one, for example, needs to be plugged in, but it’s very small and portable. If you have access to an outlet, you can easily use this while you’re on the go.

On the other hand, a bottle warmer like this one is just as small and battery-operated, so you wouldn’t be limited by access to electricity. This would be ideal if you’re traveling in a car or airplane and electricity access is hit or miss.Finally, this one uses a USB adapter, so if you’re going to need to warm breast milk in the car, this is an obvious choice. The catch: it’s slow-warming, so you need to put the bottle in the warmer 30 minutes in advance. Great for car trips when you’re planning ahead, not so great for random on-the-go feedings.

This one with a USB charger claims to do it in 20, which is probably more reasonable.

Because the ones with the adapters are pretty cheap, it would probably be a good idea to just leave one in the car at all times. Then you never have to worry about being caught off guard.

Use warm or hot water in a cup or container to warm the breast milk

You don’t need to get the breast milk hot. In fact, overheating breast milk can actually kill off some of the beneficial microorganisms in it. You just want it warm enough that baby will accept it.

In that case, fill a cup, bowl, or whatever other container you have handy with warm water. Put the breast milk bottle in it and let it set. Swirl it around occasionally to redistribute the heat.

When it reaches a suitable temperature, it’s ready to feed.

Where can you get hot water? It depends. If you’re in a restaurant, ask them to give you the boiling hot water they use for tea/coffee. That will warm a bottle very quickly. (Always remember to double-check that it’s not too hot for baby.)

If that’s not an option, there’s always hot water from a bathroom sink. Given the health circumstances of the last few years, most bathrooms provide more plentiful hot water (that’s actually hot) than they used to.

If the idea of water from a public restroom sink gives you the heebie-jeebies, you can always wipe the bottle down with a sanitizer wipe once it’s warm.

As I’ve said, we have four boys. Pretty much everything we own now is just as gross as a bathroom faucet. I try not to get too worked up thinking about germs.

Travel with a thermos of hot water

Obviously, this requires you to prepare in advance. If you know you’re going to need to warm a bottle of breast milk while you’re out, packing a little thermos of hot water can make that process really easy for you.

Just unscrew the lid, put the bottle in, and swirl it around until it warms.

Tommee Tippee –and several other brands – sell “portable bottle warmers” that are really just a thermos. Sure, the “warmer” is ideally shaped to fit their bottles, but it’s still a thermos nonetheless.

Less conventional ways to warm breast milk on the go

A bottle warmer and hot water from a sink are pretty obvious options for warming up breast milk on the go. What about some other, less obvious options?

Car Vents

This isn’t ideal, obviously. But if you’re traveling and you have a cold bottle, well, you’ll try anything. We had to drive our first baby to three very-out-of-town weddings in his first eight weeks.

For a few car feedings, we used the car vents to take the edge of the bottles coming straight from the cooler bag.

Pro tip: close all the other vents except for the one you’re using to blast the bottle. Usually, this will force more/stronger airflow through the one open vent. (Unrelated, I’ve also blow-dried my hair this way in the car before. Clearly, my standards for appearance have fallen a bit since my I decided to become a stay at home mom.)

Speaking of cars – if you’re going to need to warm a breast milk bottle soon and it’s summertime, you can always take it outside and leave it in the car for 10-15 minutes. The temperature inside a sealed car rises rapidly.

Use body heat to warm the breast milk bottle

I’ve used this method to warm a bottle of breast milk on the go more times than I care to recount. For whatever reason, you may find yourself with few other options available to you.

Your armpit, leg pit, crook of your elbow – anywhere you can get some concentrated body heat to take the chill off a bottle is helpful here. Again, it’s not going to get super warm, but you can often get the temperature of the bottle palatable this way.

If you’re really desperate to warm a bottle on the go, you could maybe add a smidge of hot/warm water. Once. If your baby is old enough.

I hesitate to even include this on the list, but it’s accurate. So instead, I’ll again refer you back to my prior disclaimer: This isn’t medical advice. As a rule, you should never dilute breast milk (or formula, for that matter). Your baby’s nutrition is predicated on getting breast milk exactly the way your body made it.

Having said that, once, I did find myself with a freezing cold bottle and a wildly screaming infant. I added a little hot water from the sink. He kept refusing the cold bottle and I just couldn’t handle the screaming. I added just enough to take the chill off.

He was probably around five months old at the time. If he’d been a newborn, I wouldn’t have done it. Newborns are just so fragile and I wouldn’t want to risk anything. Babies are generally allowed to drink plain water starting at six months of age anyway, so I wasn’t too worried about it.

Whatever you do, don’t use a microwave to warm breast milk

Lots of people know you can get “hot spots” when you warm a bottle in the microwave. But that’s not the only problem.

You worked so hard to produce and pump that breast milk for your baby. Warming breast milk in the microwave damages many of the beneficial microorganisms in it. Using another method to heat the bottle is important.

Traveling with a baby – whether it’s for 15 minutes or 15 hours – can certainly be challenging at times. I hope these tips for warming breast milk on the go help you feel more comfortable and prepared.


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