Back when we didn’t have access to reliable, clean water or any other home filtration system, parents would boil baby bottles to ensure they are properly sterilised and rid of all harmful germs.
However, cleaning alone was not enough because newborns have very low immunity towards bacteria and infections. Sterilising was just as important as it kills off all remaining germs and reduces your baby’s chances of getting sick. Parents were encouraged to clean all feeding equipment right away and to keep sterilising until their baby reaches 12 months old.
As a result, parents were still boiling bottles up till the late 1940s before the first chemical sterilisation pill was introduced. Although some parents continue to boil their bottles, today in our time, they can have a choice between:
- Sterilising tablets
- steam sterilisation
- microwave sterilisation and
- UVC sterilisation.
Sterilising by boiling
Boiling the bottles is a pretty straightforward affair. You put the washed bottles, teats, rings and caps in a large pot. Next, fill the pot with water until everything is covered, making sure that there are no air bubbles in the bottles and boil for 5 minutes. The bottles are fished out with tongs and stored in clean, sealed containers until you are ready to use them. You also need to use everything you sterilised within 24 hours of boiling.
- It is the cheapest method of sterilising.
- You probably already have all that you need, since all you need is a pot and a stove.
- Risk of overboiling to which you will have to stand guard by the stove for at least 15 minutes.
- Risk of accidents and burns, especially when you have kids or pets at home because you’re dealing with hot water.
- Teats tend to degrade faster in boiling water.
Sterilising with tablets (chemical)
The sterilising tablet is a type of bleach that is diluted in water so that it is safe for your baby but strong enough to kill germs and bacteria. There is no need to boil any water when using the tablet – you just drop them into cold water. However, you do need to follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully so that the result is an antibacterial solution that is the right strength so that it is effective. Just like boiling, you leave the washed bottles, teats, rings and caps thoroughly submerged for the recommended amount of time. When done, remove them from the solution, making sure to shake off all excess solution before using. There’s no need to rinse or dry all feeding equipment and remember to store them in a clean container until you are ready to use it. Another crucial thing to note when sterilising with chemicals is to use only plastic or glass equipment as the chemical solution will eventually eat away metal equipment and containers.
- You can add and remove items throughout the day as the solution remains effective for roughly 24 hours unless stated otherwise on the packaging.
- It is portable and easy to set up; it does not require any heating up.
- Does not cause bottles and teats to degrade more quickly as there is no heat involved.
- Some babies might be sensitive to the ingredients in the solution, and since it is a chemical, they usually have an expiry date.
- The solution is only effective when used in the right concentration.
Steam sterilisers are fully automatic units where you can steam bottles, teats and other feeding equipment at high temperatures to kill germs and bacteria. They are super convenient because all you do is put your washed bottles into the unit, add water according to specifications and switch it on. The best part is that it switches off automatically, leaving you without the risk of anything boiling over. As per usual, use them within 24 hours of sterilising and when not in use, store them in a clean sealed container.
- The units are super simple to use
- They are fully automated and leave little room for human error.
- They do not cause bottles to degrade as quickly as boiling does.
- The units can be quite expensive.
- They are also bulky and take up a lot of space.
- Depending on how hard the water is in your area, scales could develop on the metal parts of your steam steriliser.
Microwave steam sterilisers
Another similar concept is using microwave steam sterilisers, that looks like a covered bowl of sorts. They are usually not very big, and you may need to sterilise everything in batches. Place the clean bottles into it, replace the cover and put the whole thing into the microwave oven. Make sure you read the instructions, especially about what microwave power to use since not all microwave ovens are the same. Of course, no metal parts allowed. Do not attempt to cut corners by placing everything straight into the microwave to sterilise them, because you will only end up melting or damaging the bottles as well as other pieces of feeding tools. And these things are costly!
- Easy and super quick to use.
- Generally inexpensive.
- Also doesn’t degrade feeding equipment as quickly as boiling does.
- You will not be able to disinfect baby feeding equipment that has metal parts.
- Risk of getting burned.
- Microwave sterilisers can be really small, which will require you to sanitise everything in batches. Or they could also be huge and bulky, leaving you with little space to store them when they are not in use.
But with sterilisers having come a long way, more so now with COVID happening all around the world, parents have turned to UV sterilisers to kill bacteria, mould, and viruses. Truth be told, UV sterilisers are not something new. Beauty parlours and hospitals have been using it to sanitise frequently used tools and various types of equipment properly. They were not popular back then because they are usually commercial standard and considered bulky. But today they are smaller and come in consumer-friendly designs while still using the same ultraviolet light to kill germs and viruses. And because no liquid is involved, parents are also able to sterilise toys or other household products – which is a plus whenever a child is sick and especially during the current pandemic.
- UV baby bottle sterilisers today are very lightweight, compact and small, making them extremely convenient and portable.
- Able to sterilise other things like soft toys and fabric toys as it does not involve using liquids.
- Also fully automatic
- You may need to sterilise in batches due to its compact design.
- It takes around 10 minutes to sanitise, which is quite time-consuming.
- Will cause plastic and silicone bottles to turn yellow faster.
- Probably the most expensive steriliser out of the entire lot.
But let’s back to the question at hand: do you really need a steriliser?
Recently experts are saying that it is no longer necessary to sanitise baby bottles and other feeding tools after every use. You do, however, need to sterilise them before their first use because goodness knows where they were before they were packaged. After that, parents only need to sterilise from time to time. You are not encouraged to sterilise after every use because over sterilising by continually subjecting them to heat will cause the bottles to break down faster, resulting in parents needing to replace them more frequently.
Why is frequent sterilising no longer necessary? Simply because our water supply is reliably clean today. Water filtration upgrades over the years make it safe for parents to stick to washing the bottles thoroughly with detergent and only sterilising periodically once the baby is past three months as per Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) standards.
However, there are some instances when you will need to sterilise more often, and these include:
- using borrowed or pre-loved bottles regardless of whether it is within the family or from a friend
- when the baby is sick
- when the baby is premature or has other health issues which usually means they have lower immunity and
- when you do not have access to clean drinking water where you can risk the build-up of harmful microbes.