Do you really need to sterilise your breast pump parts or your baby’s bottles? How, and how often? What equipment do you need? Erin Harrison explains what you need to know about sterilising.
As a new mum or mum-to-be, the world of sterilising can be a complicated and confusing one (actually, aren’t most things about motherhood a little baffling?). But why do we even need to sterilise? Because babies’ immune systems are still developing when they are little, and just like we need to be careful how we cook and prepare food, infants need to “eat” from bottles that are safe from harmful bacteria. And, of course you don’t want to do anything that could risk the health and safety of your baby – so you’d like to make the best choice when it comes to the process of sterilising. Here is some useful info on what sterilising options are out there, so you can make the right decision for your family.
Boiling in water on the stove
Obviously this would have been the original way to sterilise baby bottles, and many people do still do it today. You just have to put all the equipment into a pot, fill with water, and let it come to the boil. Once it is bubbling, turn off the element, drain out the water, and keep it covered until you need to use it. Otherwise, remove items with tongs and place on a clean, dry surface where they won’t come into contact with food or anything else that isn’t sterilised. (A large plastic container with a lid is good for storing clean bottles and feeding equipment.) If you are going to use this method, just be careful with glass bottles. You can put a clean cloth at the bottom of the pot to reduce the risk of it breaking.
Pros: It requires no special equipment, and apart from the minimal water and electricity use – it doesn’t cost anything. You can do it anywhere there’s a cooktop!
Cons: Unless you have a pot big enough, you may have to only do a couple of things at a time, and of course it can take five minutes or so to bring water to a boil – so it isn’t the quickest way to sterilise everything.
There are many different varieties of microwave sterilisers on the market, most manufactured by brands which also make breast pumps or bottles. Some only fit a specific bottle type, whereas others will take most kinds of bottles – so make sure you select the right one for the equipment you are using. And don’t forget to check that the steriliser you choose will actually fit into your microwave, as they can be quite bulky.
Pros: It’s a relatively quick, easy process. Just wash everything and then pop it into the steriliser, where it can then stay covered until needed. They are also budget-friendly – most are around $50.
Cons: Obviously you need a microwave in order to use a microwave steriliser, so if you visit someone’s home, or stay somewhere that doesn’t have one, then you’ll have to resort to a different method. It is also not recommended for glass bottles unless specifically stated in the steriliser’s instructions.
Electric steam steriliser
Electric steam sterilisers work the same way a microwave steriliser does: By heating up water to create steam. Again, you need to check whether your bottles will fit into it (if you don’t buy the brand that matches your equipment) and clear some space on the bench, because it will be an everyday item for awhile.
Pros: They are extremely portable and pretty much fuss-free.
Cons: They are at the pricey end of the market – from around $100 and up (if you want to get the one to match your bottles). It’s also probably not something you would want to travel with if you are unsure of whether you will have access to a power outlet.
You may have heard your mum or nana talk about Milton tablets, but there are also a number of other similar products available on the market. Before microwave and electric sterilisers, most homes would have a packet of these tablets, which dissolve in water. They are also often used in hospitals. Essentially, you wash your bottles in hot, soapy water, and then place them in a clean container with enough water to cover all the equipment. You drop in a tablet or two, depending on the instructions, and in 15 minutes the items will be sterilised (times may differ for each type of tablet). Whatever you don’t need, you can just leave in the solution for 24 hours before you need to wash and re-sterilise. It also needs to be noted that equipment does come out with a sort of “film” on it, but it shouldn’t be washed away.
Pros: It is an easy way to sterilise bottles no matter where you are. Portable, and relatively cheap ($8 for 30, which will last you around two weeks) you don’t need access to electricity or a microwave, making it the ideal choice for travelling.
Cons: Some people really don’t like the smell (and a few babies might not either). It also takes around 15 minutes for the equipment to be sterilised, and we all know 15 minutes is a long time in the land of a hungry baby!
Microwave sterilising bags
Similar in concept to microwave sterilisers, these convenient bags use steam to sterilise bottles and breast pump parts in the microwave, except in a bag instead of a hard plastic container. You simply add water and zap for the prescribed amount of time.
Pros: Great for travelling if you know you’re going somewhere with a microwave, and bags can usually be reused several times.
Cons: Bags aren’t very big – most will only hold a few bottles and accessories, so if you’re planning to sterilise a bunch of things at once, you’ll need to do in batches.
Tips for sterilising
- Everyone has differing opinions on when you can stop sterilising bottles and feeding equipment, but New Zealand Government* guidelines say that you must do it up to three months of age. This is, of course different for premature babies or those with compromised immune systems. Always check with your GP if you are unsure.
- All bottles, teats, and other items need to be washed in hot water with detergent before sterilising them.
- No matter what method you use, you need to always have thoroughly clean, dry hands and if you use tongs to handle the equipment, they need to be sterilised too.
- If you don’t use the equipment within 24 hours of sterilising it, you need to do it again before use.
- ALWAYS follow the instructions from the manufacturer, otherwise you could damage your equipment, risk injury to yourself or others, or simply not sterilise items properly.
- What needs to be sterilised? Everything that is used in the feeding process – bottles, teats, fastening rings (the thing that holds the teat on the bottle), and lids/caps. You should also sterilise any pumping equipment and dummies (but be careful to check whether all methods are appropriate for your items).