New Parents

baby bottles; do you need a baby bottle sterilizer
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How Necessary Is A Bottle Sterilizer?

Helping you decide if it’s worth the valuable countertop space.

As you’re preparing to parent a baby for the first time, you quickly realize there’s a lot of stuff you’re going to want and need. From strollers to baby carriers to formula dispensers, it’s up to you as the caretaker to determine which are necessary and which are just... not. The problem is, some items are hard to categorize as a want versus need if you’ve never taken care of a baby before. And even if you have, every baby is different and might have specific feeding preferences. One piece of baby gear that parents oftentimes have a hard time categorizing is the bottle sterilizer. It seems like an essential item and is frequently added to baby registries, but is a bottle sterilizer something you actually need and how often will you actually end up using it?

First, these are the main factors to consider:

  1. How old the baby is. Bottles should be sanitized daily for newborns, preemies, and immunocompromised babies), but once you’re past the newborn stage, weekly should be enough.
  2. How often you are bottle-feeding.
  3. If you have a dishwasher. Once your baby is past the newborn stage, the dishwasher can safely get the job done, but you’ll want to be mindful of the cleaning products (detergents and rinse aids) you’re using.

Do you need a bottle sterilizer?

The short answer is no, you don’t need a bottle sterilizer to sterilize or sanitize bottles (we are using the terms interchangeably throughout this piece, per our expert), but it can be convenient. “You could do the old school method — just boil water in a pot — but if you’re a parent who wants to have a shortcut, it definitely is useful to have a sterilizer,” says Brandi Jordan, International Board-Certified Lactation Consultant (ICBLC), and doula with over 20 year of experience. A

Jordan tells her clients to try to have enough bottles in their cabinet for a full day’s worth of feedings. Newborns can eat eight or more times a day. If you are exclusively bottle-feeding, it helps to have 8-12 bottles (and correctly sized nipples) so that you only need to worry about doing dishes once in 24-hour period. “It can be very stressful if you’re a parent and you don’t have family around and you’re having to clean the bottle and sterilize at the same time,” she says.

Here are some questions you might ask yourself when trying to calculate how often you’ll be using bottles and how much time and effort it will save you to have a designated sterilizer.

  • Do you plan on exclusively breastfeeding?
  • Do you plan on bottle-feeding your baby at any point during infancy, either right away or in a couple months time? (Be mindful of the length of your maternity leave, date nights, if expect to share feeding responsibilities with your partner, etc.)
  • How much counter space do you have in your kitchen?
  • Do you have a dishwasher? Do you have a dishwasher you could graduate to after the newborn period? If not, you’ll use the sterilizer a lot longer.
  • Do you have the time and energy to boil bottles as needed to sanitize them?

Another thing to keep in mind is that today modern bottle sterilizers not only sanitize, but also conveniently dry them as well, so you don’t have to transfer them over to a separate rack to air dry. You can simply load it up at the end of the day and hit the on button so that its contents are ready to be used in the morning.

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How often should you sterilize bottles for newborns and infants and why?

Understanding how often you’ll need to sanitize baby bottles and why might help you decide if a bottle sterilizer is ideal for your family. Jordan says the most important time to sterilize bottles is right out of the packaging (or before first use) “because you don’t know where they’ve been sitting, how they’ve been stored, if substances have gotten in the box or on them.”

From there, she recommends sanitizing bottles daily for newborns. This echoes The Center For Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) advice when it comes to infant-feeding items: daily for babies younger than 2 months. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) also agrees with the CDC’s guidelines.

Jordan says sanitizing bottles weekly is fine once your baby is past the newborn stage. For older babies, say 8 months or older, with no heath or digestive concerns, you could be even more lax, but you have to ask yourself if it’s worth the risk of them getting sick.

In terms of when it’s safe to introduce the dishwasher, once baby is past the newborn stage, Jordan feels comfortable telling parents to use the dishwasher to sanitize bottles, and then you want to be mindful of the products you’re using. Instead of strongly-scented detergents and rinse aids, opt for organic, milder products because oftentimes the items in your dishwasher will come out with some residue from the cleaning agents.

Why is it important to sterilize or sanitize baby bottles?

The reason why it’s important to be diligent during the newborn stage is because at birth, the baby’s gut essentially has holes in it. “Those holes that you have in the gut allow things like bacteria to get in because it's not tightly sealed,” Jordan explains. “As they start to eat more and get more nutrients, they start to build that lining of the gut which is going to allow them to be less susceptible to outside bacteria, diarrhea, things like that. Our biggest concern for infants is that they are not getting anything that would cause discomfort that would lead to diarrhea or anything difficult to treat in a newborn.”

Sterilizing breast pump parts and pacifiers

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Follow the same guidelines and instructions for sanitizing pacifiers and pump parts (daily for newborns, weekly thereafter.

Be mindful of the type of pacifiers you’re getting. “I highly recommend for people buying pacifiers that’s one complete piece as opposed to the kind that’s a rubbery piece and plastic because what happens is water gets trapped in there and they are usually filled with black mold. It looks fine on the outside, but if you were to cut it open, it’s really really gross,” says Jordan.

If you’re regularly pumping away from home, consider keeping a stash of these microwavable sterilizing bags in your pump kit.

It’s important to recognize that sterilizing your pump parts is for your safety as much as your baby’s, especially during the first 2-3 weeks as you and your body are getting used to breastfeeding. In the beginning, many people experience cracked nipples and/or some abrasions, Jordan says. These openings allow for bacteria to get in and can cause mastitis, a breast infection, and it can be because something has been introduced during breastfeeding or pumping, she explains. And since these parts see liquid regularly, mold is also something you want to avoid by cleaning them regularly and properly.

In conclusion

Whether or not you should get a bottle sterilizer is really a question of preference. If what’s most important to you is to be prepared for all scenarios, you can always get the sterilizer for just-in-case occasions, and pass it on to another family afterwards, whether you end up using it once, daily, or not at all.


Brandi Jordan, IBCLC, Pediatric Sleep Consultant, Doula, and member Swehl's Motherboard, the brand's panel of advisors made up of doctors, doulas, and lactation experts