Can Babies Drink Cold Milk?

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

Caring for babies means keeping them warm and cozy. While you might enjoy a nice, cold glass of something while doing so, cold bottles just don’t seem to fit into this picture!

So, when you were adding items to your baby wish list, you may have been tempted to include that fancy bottle warmer. After all, who wants to spend precious time in the middle of the night trying to warm up milk?

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What if we told you, though, that you might not even need to warm up your baby’s milk? Or that there may even be downsides to warming up your little one’s beverage? Keep reading to get the low down on the temperature of your baby’s bottle!

Can babies drink cold milk?

Believe it or not, yes — babies can drink cold milk. Many parents choose to heat up their baby’s milk, but this is mainly done based on the parent or baby’s preference and not for health reasons. (More info on that to come!)

While breastfed babies will get their breast milk from the breast at body temperature, babies who are formula-fed or are taking a bottle of breast milk can drink the contents slightly warmed, at room temperature, or even cold straight from the fridge.

More important than warming the milk is using the right mixture of safe water and formula when making bottles, and storing the formula or breast milk for your baby appropriately.

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Beyond that, they can enjoy their beverages slightly warmed — or straight from the refrigerator, making middle-of-the-night feeds a little easier on you!

Before we get ahead of ourselves though, it’s important to stop and note that you should never feed a baby cow’s milk whether it’s warm or cold.

Cow’s milk is not appropriate for children until they are a year of age, so make sure to stick with formula or breast milk until then! (When the term “milk” is used in this article it refers solely to breast milk or formula.)

Is it safe to feed babies cold milk?

Yes, it’s safe to feed your baby cold milk.

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In fact, frozen breast milk can be used as a form of pain relief for teething babies! (Got a teething little one and curious how to do this? Simply place your breast milk in an ice cube tray. After it freezes, place the breast milk cube in a mesh feeder for your baby to enjoy!)

While many parents choose to warm their baby’s milk, there may actually be more risks to overheating it than having your baby drink it cold.

Heated milk concerns

The first concern is using the microwave. You should never microwave cold breast milk or formula as this can leave hot spots.

Because microwaves do not heat evenly, even if you test the bottle temperature on your wrist your baby could still get their mouth and esophagus burned by hot milk.

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Since the microwave is out, the most common methods for heating breast milk are a bottle warmer or placing the bottle in hot water bath.

However, even when you use a bottle warmer or other heating method to warm your baby’s milk, it’s important to use caution because overheating the milk can destroy the immune building and other nutritional benefits to breast milk.

One study found that bottle warmers, hot water baths, and other warming methods can all cause the breast milk to exceed 80°C (176°F), which is the temperature when many of the beneficial properties disappear. (This is also why microwave heating isn’t recommended; the extreme heat can kill key nutrients quickly.)

If you’re heating your baby’s milk, stick with the lower heat settings on your warmer or a warm water bath instead of using boiling water to avoid overheating.

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There’s also storage to think about. Milk that has been warmed should not be heated or reheated.

If your little one has not finished their bottle after 2 hours of it sitting out, it’s best to throw it out. This will prevent milk from spoiling or being exposed to environmental germs.

Cold milk concerns

Despite some potential risks in warming milk, it’s important to note that there is at least one group of infants who may experience health benefit from having their milk warmed. These are premature babies.

An older study showed that while the body temperature of the premature baby was not significantly impacted by the milk temperature, warming the liquid did seem to lead to greater tolerance of the milk or formula.

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To give your little one the most encouragement for gaining and growing, you can give bottles with cold milk or formula inside a quick dip in a warm water bath to bring the temperature up to lukewarm.

Are there other concerns about babies drinking cold milk?

By this point, you’re probably thinking: So why do some people choose to warm milk when it’s more work to do so?

Again, breast milk directly expressed from the breast is a warm temperature. Babies who spend the majority of their feeding sessions at the breast are used to this warm liquid.

While many adjust quickly to a cold version of breast milk coming from a bottle, some babies are a little more sensitive.

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This can mean they don’t want to drink as much cold milk. If you’re struggling with a baby who isn’t feeding well, it is a good idea to experiment with the bottle temperature to see if they have a preference.

Many parents also get concerned about the separation of liquids that can occur when breast milk is cold. This layering is normal, and doesn’t affect the milk quality. In fact, the mixture can usually be combined with a few gentle swirls.

However, if it doesn’t mix well, warming it a bit can help to encourage the layers to mix better.

If you’re still feeling worried or guilty about giving your baby a cold bottle, you can always slowly transition them. Each time you serve up a warm bottle, heat it a little less. You can see how your little one responds over time and find the temperature that works best for both of you.

Takeaway

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Most of the time warming your baby’s bottle really comes down to personal preference and not health requirements (unless you have a preemie and the NICU has a close eye on the milk temperature).

If you do decide that you want to warm your breast milk or formula, you’ll want to do it safely. This means not overheating or microwaving it. It also means testing the temperature before offering it to your baby.

So, this just leaves one question for you to answer: Does that fancy bottle warmer make it onto your registry?!?

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