How To Heat Breast Milk When Traveling With Your Baby

If you’re a pumping mama preparing to take your little one on a little trip, one of your main worries will be how to warm your breastmilk on the go. 

Pumping and storing milk in ice keeps it chilled and fresh for several hours, but it may not be ideal to feed your baby chilled milk. You’ll likely need the milk to be warm before giving it to your baby. But how do you achieve this? 

It’s pretty simple, and one option is to immerse the baby bottle in a bowl of lukewarm or slightly hot water for a few minutes before feeding time. There are plenty of other clever ways to do this, stick around to learn more ways to safely and effectively warm breast milk on the go.

Why you should warm breast milk

Since breast milk is warm when infants nurse, most babies prefer it warm when they drink it from a bottle. Frozen or refrigerated breastmilk need to be thawed and warmed before feeding it to an infant. 

It’s simple to warm breast milk, but you must take care to ensure that it doesn’t get too hot for baby or lose any of the nutritional components, especially the antibodies necessary for your baby’s health.

Warming breast milk improves its consistency after storage. The fat in breast milk tends to separate in the bottle when it is frozen or chilled.

Breastmilk can be mixed back to its normal consistency more quickly and readily if you warm it up, or at the very least, bring it to room temperature.

Continue reading to learn how to heat breastmilk on the go and what safety measures you should follow.

Two bottles of breast milk

The best ways for warming breast milk while traveling

Warm breastmilk in a water bath 

This is actually the easiest and safest way to warm breast milk without the risk of destroying beneficial nutrients.  To do this, you will need to place the breastmilk container in a bowl of lukewarm or moderately hot water. 

Get a bowl of medium-hot or lukewarm water; you can do this by slowly heating it on the stove or by getting it straight from the tap, or a nearby coffee shop for free hot water.

The water needs to be warm (not hot water). Put breast milk in the water bath, but make sure that the milk is in a firmly closed bag or bottle to ensure that water doesn’t get in. 

Leave the milk bottle in the water for sufficient time for the milk to warm up to body temperature, this should take about 10 to 20 minutes. 

If you notice that the water is getting cold while the milk is still not warm, you can add more boiled water to the bowl. 

Gently swirl the milk bottle or container to balance out the temperature and integrate the separated fat. Breastmilk should warm up quickly if you’re warming it from a cold state. But it can take twice as long if it was just thawed.

Use a thermos to store hot water

If you’re staying in hotels or Airbnb during your travels, then it’s easy to source boiled water to heat up your breast milk, but what if you’re on a campsite, then you’ll have to do things a little differently.

In this case, I recommend that you bring a thermos specially for storing boiled water to be used for warming your baby milk. Any thermos will do as long as it is leak-proof and has the ability to retain heat for several hours. 

Warm cold breast milk under running water 

Placing the milk bottles under warm running water is another quick and simple technique to warm breastmilk. You can simply place the breastmilk bottle under lukewarm running water for a few minutes, and gradually increase the temperature of the water from lukewarm to medium hot.

Ensure that you closely monitor the temperature of the water, and it should never get hot enough that it starts to steam. Gently swirl the baby bottle to make sure that the breastmilk is evenly heated and fats are thoroughly mixed together. 

Some breast milk bottles on the table

Use a portable baby bottle warmer

Using a portable bottle warmer is one of the most common methods for parents to warm bottles and milk on the go. With a portable bottle warmer, you can very easily warm your baby’s milk during your travels. Portable bottle warmers use different techniques to heat up bottles, some use the hot water bath method to warm the bottle, while the majority use steam.

  • In theory, portable bottle warmers that employ the water bath method function the same way as water baths you may make on your own. The breast milk storage bottle sits directly inside a water bath and is left for a few minutes to get warm.
  • Steam-powered bottle warmers use less water. These warmers use a heating element or hot plate to heat up some water in a separate compartment, and the steam that is produced rises into the bottle compartment to get the breast milk warm. This way of heating is a gradual way and heats up breastmilk more gently.

It’s easy to warm breastmilk in a baby bottle warmer. These products usually have different instructions, but they are mostly similar. You simply have to place the breastmilk bottle in the heating area of the bottle warmer for a few minutes.

Also, it’s important to always watch the warmer closely to prevent overheating, and unplug when it’s not in use. 

Use a hot hand warmer

Portable hand warmers are another option, especially if you don’t intend to carry a bottle warmer. This method is especially great if you have to quickly heat up some food for your infant to feed.

You can keep your baby food warm for a while using a hand warmer because it lasts for a few hours. If you choose this strategy, be sure to avoid leaving the milk sit for a long time and only warm it when your baby is ready to feed.

Some hand warmer brands are odorless, disposable, and secure. These are great for warming baby bottles, you remove them from the packet, shake them, allow them to warm up slowly, and then use them to warm your baby food before feeding. 

How to warm frozen breastmilk 

Warming frozen breastmilk is not much different from warming refrigerated breast milk, the major difference is that you have to wait for the frozen milk to thaw before you warm it. 

To thaw frozen breast milk for warming, take it out of the freezer and place it in the refrigerator overnight, or allow it to fully defrost about 7 hours or more. Then follow the same guidelines for warming ice-cold breast milk. Breast milk should not be thawed at room temperature.

If the only milk you have is frozen, and you urgently need to feed your baby, an alternative method is to place the frozen milk under cool running water for about 15 to 20 minutes, before gradually increasing the temperature of the water to warm (not hot). It’s important that you start with cool water because it gradually increases the temperature.

You should never use hot water to thaw frozen breastmilk because this can destroy some beneficial enzymes and delicate nutrients in the fresh milk.

The last thing you want is to destroy essential nutrients in your baby’s food. Baby milk should be allowed to thaw gradually before attempting to warm it to body temperature. 

A baby's hand grasps the breast milk bottle


Do you have to warm breastmilk?

Breastmilk doesn’t have to be warmed. The temperature at which your baby milk must be used after being thawed is not very important because babies can eat it as long as it has melted into a liquid and is free of ice crystals. Cold or room temp milk is okay, just ensure your baby eats at the right time.
However, a lot of infants favor warm breast milk because it’s slightly warm when they’re nursing at their mother’s breast. Babies find warm milk to be soothing and calming, which makes feeding more pleasant.

How warm should breastmilk be?

It should be slightly warm but not hot. The ideal temperature for human milk is the same as the average body temperature. Breastmilk is naturally heated by the mother’s internal body temperature to about 98.6 F. Warm baby bottles can be an indicated that it’s warm enough for baby to eat.

How do I know if my breastmilk is warm enough?

To check the temperature of the breastmilk or baby formula, gently squeeze a few drops onto the inside of your wrist.
The milk shouldn’t feel particularly hot or chilly on your skin; rather, it should feel neutral. It’s very important that you check the temperature of the breastmilk or baby formula before you bottle-feed to ensure that it isn’t too hot.
It’s better that the milk is a bit cold, than too hot, because hot milk will scald a baby’s mouth. Also, never stick your finger into the milk bottle to avoid contaminating the milk with bacteria.

Can warmed milk be refrigerated again?

Reheating breastmilk in a bottle is not safe. Give your baby about an hour to finish it, then throw away what’s left. You can immediately give your child breastmilk after warming it.
Warm breast milk shouldn’t be left out at room temperature, and you shouldn’t freeze it again. You should discard the remaining breast milk in the bottle if your infant doesn’t finish it.

Can you warm breastmilk in a microwave?

Never microwave breastmilk to defrost or warm it. Breastmilk can lose nutrients when microwaved, and hot spots can form and burn a baby’s mouth.

Key takeaways on how to warm baby milk on the go

There are several ways to warm breast milk, and the process is really straightforward. To avoid burning your child, be sure to correctly follow the directions.

Here are 3 easy steps for heating breast milk on the go:

  • Thaw: Your breast milk should thaw overnight in the refrigerator, as this is the best way to preserve the nutrients in the milk. It needs to become entirely liquid. 
  • Warm: Immerse the cold milk in a dish of warm water for 10 to 15 minutes.
  • Swirl: Gently shake the milk bottle to evenly distribute the heat and mix in the separated fat.

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