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  #1  
Old 08-12-2010, 12:10 PM
emmaliminal emmaliminal is offline
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Bacteria and sterlilizing baby bottles

Interconnected question set from new first-time mom here. I'm hoping for factually supported answers -- especially answers with cites.

1) What's a reasonable temperature and length of exposure to heat-sterilize something in a household -- for instance, a baby bottle? (not asking about operating-room level sterilization here). For instance, would running hot (say, 140 F) tap water over/through a baby bottle nipple do anything useful? Is 10 minutes in boiling water overkill?

2a) Does it do anything useful to sterilize something if there's still food for bacteria on it? For instance, if you sterilize a used baby bottle in steam, as is often recommended, but there's still milk residue stuck to the inside of the bottle, will bacteria just grow right back?
2b) If so, how quickly might that bacteria grow back to significant levels?
2c) I'm told that breastmilk has antibacterial properties, and that it keeps longer (as expressed milk) than liquid formula for this reason. Are these antibacterial properties germane in any way to baby bottle hygiene?

3a) Is there good science to support a need for sterilizing baby bottles? Do babies regularly get sick from unsterilized bottles in developed countries, or is this an unsupported holdover thing like so much of baby-rearing advice* seems to turn out to be?
3b) Exactly what bad thing is expected to result from baby bottle bacteria -- some specific illness, general diarrhea, cooties, what?

4) You hear a lot these days about how over-purifying babies' developmental environments might be bad for them -- make them more likely to develop allergies, or otherwise fail to "challenge" their immune systems in ultimately beneficial ways. I've specifically read that kids raised on farms, and therefore presumably exposed to livestock feces bacteria regularly, have better immune systems than city kids. Does anyone know how baby bottle bacteria fit into this scenario?

5) Isn't my son the cutest human being ever? Yes he is. Yes he is the cutest EVER. Cute cute CUTE baby CUTE (blows raspberry on his belly) My post is my cite.

* C.f. my late grandmother's conviction, based on pediatricians' advice in the 40s and 50s, that babies must wear hard-soled shoes as soon as they start to stand up and walk, or their feet will malform. Or the whole "babies should be put on a rigid schedule for sleeping and eating, or they will turn out spoiled" kick of the 1910s and 20s. Or, especially, the "formula-is-more-hygienic-than-breastmilk" thing that's done so much damage around the world.
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  #2  
Old 08-12-2010, 12:18 PM
Zsofia Zsofia is offline
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My grandmother was nuts on the hard soled shoes thing too - my mom kept one pair for when we'd go to see her.
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  #3  
Old 08-12-2010, 02:27 PM
emmaliminal emmaliminal is offline
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Googling on some of this seems to indicate that at least for baby bottles, the sterilization thing may be mostly a holdover -- and that it was intended to prevent problems with bacteria from water; that is, from your basic untreated or poorly treated tap or well water. I somehow had the idea that it was household air & surface bacteria that were the problem. Huh.

Good summary, with source cites, here.

I'm still curious about the facts and mechanics of sterilizing (whatever items) at home, though.

Last edited by emmaliminal; 08-12-2010 at 02:28 PM.. Reason: specificity
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  #4  
Old 08-12-2010, 03:17 PM
Max Torque Max Torque is online now
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Typical home hot water temperatures aren't sufficient to truly sterilize something, so if sterilization's what you're after, holding it under the tap isn't gonna do it. That being said, hot water temperatures are perfectly adequate to give the bottles a good wash and rinse, so in that sense, running hot water over/through a bottle's nipple does indeed do something useful. If, after that, you decide you need to sterilize, steam is probably the easiest way to go.

Any big store (Wal-Mart, Target) will have a couple of options. Most ridiculous and expensive is a special appliance just for steam-sterilizing baby feeding equipment; they cost a lot, and they take up counter space. The cheapest option is bags. They're much like any other plastic zipper bag you'd use for food, but apparently they vent at appropriate pressure so they don't burst. You put whatever you want to sterilize in the bag, add some water (the package will say how much), zip it closed, and microwave it. The steam and pressure sterilize whatever you put in the bag.

We went with a middle-of-the-road option, which was a sort of dome-lidded plastic tray for use in the microwave. Load it up, add water, nuke it, and everything comes out squeaky-clean. I can't answer the rest of your questions, but I will add this: I really doubt that sterilizing everything baby touches is absolutely necessary, so it may be a waste of time. I do feel, however, that doing dishes ain't that hard, so it's no big deal to remove one obvious source of potential contamination.

Since you mention old-timey bad advice, here's the obligatory Amazon link: Mommy Knows Worst: Highlights from the Golden Age of Bad Parenting Advice. My favorite was the excerpt from some lousy book claiming that picking up your child too often could give him an exaggerated sense of self-importance and land him in an insane asylum. Seriously.
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  #5  
Old 08-12-2010, 03:49 PM
Minnie Luna Minnie Luna is offline
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In the lab, we autoclave to sterilize glassware/plasticware for 15 minutes at 121C. Liquids are sterilized at 121C, but for 40 minutes (it takes approx 15-20 minutes for the liquid to reach 121C, depending on volume). Although, not what you are looking for I would imagine for home use, a cycle in the dishwasher would be good enough to sterilize baby bottles.

Not quite the same thing, but when I did wildlife rehab, we had to sterilize bottles in between feedings. We would clean out any uneaten formula in the sink with detergent, rinse them in hot water, then sterilize the bottles. It does no good to sterilize the bottles if there is still formula residue in it. The growth rate of bacteria depends on the type of bacteria. E coli, under ideal conditions, doubles every 20 minutes.
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  #6  
Old 08-12-2010, 04:03 PM
Keeve Keeve is offline
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My 3 kids were all born in the 80's. We never sterilized anything. We scrubbed and washed the bottles and nipples and stuff, perhaps a bit better than we washed the grownup dishes and glasses. No ill effects that we're aware of.

Why? Basically because no one could ever tell us why we should sterilize anything. There are enough germs and stuff in the air, especially in the hospital. We could never figure out why clean was good enough for us but not for the babies. --- Fast forward to today: Looking back, I suppose I have to admit that newborns don't have their immune systems totally up and running yet. Maybe sterilizing is a good a idea for a few weeks. But after that, their bodies need to get used to the real world.

And yes, your son is indeed the cutest ever. Not counting my kids and grandkids.
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Old 08-12-2010, 04:29 PM
Lemur866 Lemur866 is offline
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Within a few months be baby is going to be cramming his hands into his mouth. You can't sterilize the baby's hands. You aren't sterilizing your nipple when you nurse the baby.

So sterilization is silly. Of course, if you've got contaminated water, you have to sterilize the bottles and nipples after you wash them, otherwise the baby will get cholera or whatever from your contaminated water. But if your tap water is clean, then it doesn't make any sense.

Also, insert obligatory "you should breastfeed the baby if you can" here.
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Old 08-12-2010, 05:17 PM
WarmNPrickly WarmNPrickly is offline
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We sterilized the nipples right out of the package because that is what the instructions said. I never sterilized the bottles any more than running them through the dishwasher. I wouldn't sterilize anything the baby drinks out of due to plasticizers and bisphenol-A. We did sterilize the breast pump frequently.
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  #9  
Old 08-12-2010, 05:26 PM
suranyi suranyi is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by WarmNPrickly View Post
We sterilized the nipples right out of the package because that is what the instructions said. I never sterilized the bottles any more than running them through the dishwasher. I wouldn't sterilize anything the baby drinks out of due to plasticizers and bisphenol-A. We did sterilize the breast pump frequently.
That's exactly what I was going to say: The package the bottles come in says to sterilize the nipples before using them the first time; otherwise a good washing is all that is needed.
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  #10  
Old 08-12-2010, 06:32 PM
emmaliminal emmaliminal is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Max Torque View Post
Typical home hot water temperatures aren't sufficient to truly sterilize something, so if sterilization's what you're after, holding it under the tap isn't gonna do it. That being said, hot water temperatures are perfectly adequate to give the bottles a good wash and rinse, so in that sense, running hot water over/through a bottle's nipple does indeed do something useful.
So this help clarify my question. Is the difference between "sterile" and "clean" mostly one of degree? What exactly does "a good wash and rinse" do?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Lemur866 View Post
Within a few months be baby is going to be cramming his hands into his mouth. You can't sterilize the baby's hands. You aren't sterilizing your nipple when you nurse the baby.
Pretty much exactly my thinking. My husband is a bit of a (self-admitted) worrywart daddy, though, and has taken to boiling things now and then.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Lemur866 View Post
... insert obligatory "you should breastfeed the baby if you can" here.
Obligatory "that's excellent general advice, of course, which we are indeed taking; I do pump some, which is why we use bottles" reply here.
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  #11  
Old 08-12-2010, 06:44 PM
Hello Again Hello Again is offline
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Originally Posted by emmaliminal View Post
So this help clarify my question. Is the difference between "sterile" and "clean" mostly one of degree?
Well, yes and no.

"Sterile" means you destroyed every living thing on its surface (method: autoclave at 270F)

"Sanitized" means you killed most of the harmful things (method: immerse in boiling water, 212F, for 15 minutes)

"Clean" means you removed visible dirt and oils. Along the way, you killed the sort of organisms that are killed by soap and water.
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  #12  
Old 08-12-2010, 07:27 PM
lazybratsche lazybratsche is online now
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Bacteria are eating and growing on the dirt and oils, so when you clean with ordinary soap and water you're also removing the vast majority of bacteria.
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  #13  
Old 08-12-2010, 08:32 PM
GiantRat GiantRat is offline
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IANAParent (which is good for both me and the rest of society).

Sterilizing seems like overkill - the moment you add formula/milk/toxic sewage/ whatever to the bottle, it's no longer sterile. In fact, touching it makes it no longer sterile. "Sterile" is, in many senses, an artificial concept in the home.

Babies have, surprisingly, survived for thousands of years. Mortality and disease rates have certainly gone down (which is a good thing) with increased hygienic controls but, hell, the US is supposed to be the "most sophisticated awesomely advanced country the universe ever thought of," and yet it has higher infant mortality rates than some "less civilized" countries.

BTW - at some point by the age of 3, your kid is going to taste it's own bodily excretions. It's just what kids do. And it's gross.

No yo quiero ninitos (or Spanish lessons).
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Old 08-12-2010, 08:34 PM
Keeve Keeve is offline
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Originally Posted by Lemur866 View Post
You aren't sterilizing your nipple when you nurse the baby. So sterilization is silly.
Yes! Thanks! It's been so long since my kids are grown up, I had forgotten this most elegant answer t the question.
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  #15  
Old 08-13-2010, 08:51 AM
Max Torque Max Torque is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by emmaliminal View Post
Quote:
Originally Posted by Max Torque View Post
Typical home hot water temperatures aren't sufficient to truly sterilize something, so if sterilization's what you're after, holding it under the tap isn't gonna do it. That being said, hot water temperatures are perfectly adequate to give the bottles a good wash and rinse, so in that sense, running hot water over/through a bottle's nipple does indeed do something useful.
So this help clarify my question. Is the difference between "sterile" and "clean" mostly one of degree? What exactly does "a good wash and rinse" do?
"Clean" is a subjective term, but basically means "free of obvious crud and filth." "Sterile" means "completely free of all germs and contaminants." Somewhere in between is "sanitary", which means "free of germs that could cause illness." It takes a lot of effort to get all the way to "sterile", and like others have said, the condition of being "completely free of all germs" doesn't last long in a typical home.

"A good wash and rinse," by which I mean a soap-and-hot-water scrubbing with a bottle brush followed by a clean water rinse, takes off all the surface gunk, stuck-on formula, and what-all. It removes anything that would likely serve as a good environment for the growth of bad bacteria. That being said, a bottle still isn't technically "sterile" after a good wash, but it's plenty clean enough for baby feedin'. If it gives you peace of mind, you can then proceed to sterilizing, but like everyone else has said, it's very likely not necessary. You'll realize this around the time your baby starts crawling around and sticking everything in his mouth. The dog's tail, bugs, cigarette butts from the bus station floor.....
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Old 08-13-2010, 09:36 AM
VernWinterbottom VernWinterbottom is offline
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You'll find as the baby gets older the amount of time you feel like spending to sterilize bottles drops significantly.

Toward the end we were (almost) saying, "Yeah. . . that looks clean enough. . ."
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Old 08-13-2010, 11:01 AM
Maastricht Maastricht is offline
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My son is two, and like you I breastfed, then pumped and fed him breastmilk in bottles for another six months. I did a lot of research, but I can't really find my cites anymore.

What I remember was this: expressed breast milk contains antibacterial stuff that prevents it somewhat from going bad. Freezing and microwaving expressed milk does harm this, (but does no other damage) so freezed and microwaved milk has about the same shelf life as cows milk from the store.

I cleaned the bottles and nipples mechanically with a brush like this to remove remains of milk that might have served as feeding grounds for bacteria. It was important for me that the brush would hang down, so it would dry, so the brush itself would not become bacteria infested (a much more realistic risk ; moist dishrags and sponges are the most dirty things in most households) Otherwise I cleaned bottles in the dishwasher the first six months. Nipples too, in this handy box for in the dishwasher.

Last edited by Maastricht; 08-13-2010 at 11:02 AM..
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Old 08-13-2010, 11:21 AM
Zsofia Zsofia is offline
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Originally Posted by VernWinterbottom View Post
You'll find as the baby gets older the amount of time you feel like spending to sterilize bottles drops significantly.

Toward the end we were (almost) saying, "Yeah. . . that looks clean enough. . ."
Yeah, you're gonna pick the pacifier up off the floor and blow on it before long.
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Old 08-13-2010, 07:08 PM
Sue Duhnym Sue Duhnym is offline
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I've got two kids, never sterilized anything (dishwasher only, for bottle; handwashing with a sponge for the breastpump) and they're still alive and kicking. Healthy and thriving, even.

My big one used to let the neighbor's dogs lick her, and then she'd try to lick them and it would end with me pulling a laughing toddler away from a the grossest French kiss you've ever seen.

The little one likes to lick the screen door and gnaw on wood chips from the flower beds.

Trust me, sterilizing bottles is the least of your worries.
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Old 08-13-2010, 07:15 PM
Leaffan Leaffan is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Zsofia View Post
Quote:
Originally Posted by VernWinterbottom View Post
You'll find as the baby gets older the amount of time you feel like spending to sterilize bottles drops significantly.

Toward the end we were (almost) saying, "Yeah. . . that looks clean enough. . ."
Yeah, you're gonna pick the pacifier up off the floor and blow on it before long.
By the time the second kid comes along, you don't even do that much.
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  #21  
Old 08-13-2010, 07:28 PM
Smeghead Smeghead is offline
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Yeah, OK, we're all on the "let's not go overboard with the sterilization" bandwagon, with which I generally agree. But keep in mind it takes a month or two for your baby's immune system to really kick in. Save the "let's toughen him up" mentality for a little while, and just play it safe for the first bit of life.
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Old 08-13-2010, 07:40 PM
medstar medstar is offline
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My mom said that when my oldest brother was born, their first, they sterilized everything he touched. They stopped when he was six months old and just tossed everything in the dishwasher. When my youngest sister was born, their seventh and last, they threw everything in the dishwasher, but only blew off the obvious dog hair on her pacifier before popping it back in her mouth when she was six months old.
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  #23  
Old 08-13-2010, 08:39 PM
aruvqan aruvqan is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by VernWinterbottom View Post
You'll find as the baby gets older the amount of time you feel like spending to sterilize bottles drops significantly.

Toward the end we were (almost) saying, "Yeah. . . that looks clean enough. . ."
It is sort of a joke between myself and the mother of my 6 goddaughters..

first child - you sterilize everything they come into contact with
second child - they drop the pacifier, you wash it with soap and water
third child you rinse it off
fourth child you wipe it off on your jeans
5th child you hand it back to them
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