Breast Milk Storage – Everything You Need to Know

FAQ

Table of Contents

Perhaps you’ll soon be going back to work, or maybe you’d just like your partner to give you a break so you can enjoy a full night’s sleep for a change? Either way, expressing your breast milk could be a great solution for you, allowing it to be stored and fed to your little one if you can’t be around. Breast milk that has been expressed retains the majority of its health benefits, and this makes it a better option than formula. However, a high standard of hygiene is essential to make sure the stored milk will be safe for your baby to drink. Here, we give you a comprehensive guide to safe breast milk storage.

Which Method Of Breast Milk Storage Is Best?

Breast milk will always be a better and healthier choice for your little one than formula. However, breast milk that has been freshly expressed is better than refrigerated milk. Refrigerated breast milk, in turn, is better for your baby than frozen. Why is this the case? Essentially, it’s because milk that has been freshly expressed contains the highest amount of bacteria-fighting properties and also has more essential fat, vitamins, and antioxidants than breast milk that has either been frozen or refrigerated.

How Long Is It Safe to Keep Breast Milk In Storage?

If breast milk has been expressed safely and cleanly, it can be stored in a freezer, fridge or even at room temperature depending on when you’re going to be using it. Here is a quick CDC-backed overview of how long it’s safe to keep breast milk in storage:

  • Room Temperature (between 60 and 77 degrees Fahrenheit) – 4 hours maximum
  • Refrigerator (39 degrees Fahrenheit or under) – 3 days maximum
  • Freezer (0 degrees Fahrenheit or under) – 6 months maximum

Breast milk that has been previously frozen then thawed out in the fridge can be kept for up to 2 hours at room temperature or up to 1 day in the fridge.

If you’re going to refrigerate or freeze your expressed milk, make sure you’ve labeled the bags or bottles with the date and amount. This allows you to easily manage and track the milk that you’ve stored.

How Do I Use Expressed Milk?

When breast milk has been stored, it usually separates out into layers. The cream (fat) rises up to the top. Before you feed your baby, swirl it gently so the layers can mix. If you shake or vigorously stir the milk, some of its protective and nutritional components could be damaged.

When your little one drinks breast milk from a bottle or cup, the bacteria that is found in his mouth naturally ends up in the milk. Therefore, you should always use a clean serving vessel and throw away partly drunk, leftover milk within a couple of hours of the feed. If you want to avoid wasting any expressed breast milk, put it into storage in smaller amounts so you can use only the amount you need.

A Guide To Breast Milk Storage In The Fridge

These guidelines will help you to store your breast milk safely inside your fridge:

  • Put your milk in the fridge as quickly as you can after it’s expressed.
  • If you don’t have access to refrigeration right after you pump, feel free to temporarily utilize a cooler with ice packs or cooler packs.
  • Store the milk in clean storage bags or bottles made from materials that are BPA-free.
  • You can add a small amount of freshly expressed milk to a breast milk container that’s already in the fridge so long as you cool the milk you wish to add in the fridge first. Never add milk that is still at body-temperature to milk that has already been cooled.
  • Store the milk in your fridge’s coldest part. This will normally be on the shelf over the vegetable compartment or at the rear. Never keep breast milk on the door, as the temperature won’t be as consistent.

Breast Milk Storage In A Freezer

Freezing breast milk is very convenient if you need to store milk for a longer period of time. Here are some tips for freezing your breast milk safely:

  • Put milk in the freezer or cooler immediately after you express it.
  • You can add expressed milk to breast milk that has already been frozen but you must cool it down in the fridge first. You must never add milk at body-temperature to milk that is frozen.
  • To thaw frozen milk more easily and to minimize wastage, consider storing breast milk in smaller amounts (under a quarter of a cup).
  • Remember to check that the containers you’ve chosen for milk storage are suitable for use in a freezer. There are some products that can crack if they are subjected to extreme temperatures. The easiest solution is to use special breast milk storage bags, since they’re freezer-proof and can be labeled easily.
  • Bear in mind that milk expands when it freezes, so don’t fill bags or bottles over three-quarters full.
  • Store the frozen milk at the rear of your freezer as the temperature will be more consistent. If you have a self-defrosting freezer, don’t store breast milk close to its walls.

How To Use Breast Milk That’s Been Frozen

When you defrost breast milk, there are a few steps to follow to ensure safety for your little one:

  • You can defrost breast milk in the refrigerator. It takes about 12 hours. If you need to defrost the milk more quickly, you can hold the bag or bottle under running warm water. Never leave breast milk that has been frozen to thaw out at room temperature.
  • When frozen milk is fully thawed, it can be kept for up to 2 hours at room temperature or for a maximum of 24 hours in the fridge.
  • Never heat or thaw breast milk that has been frozen in boiling water or in your microwave. This could damage the protective and nutritional properties of the milk and could result in hot spots that may scald your little one.
  • Any breast milk which has been thawed and then left out at room temperature must be given to your little one within 2 hours. Any milk that hasn’t been finished must then be thrown away.
  • Don’t refreeze thawed breast milk.

What About Plastic Bottles or Containers?

You might think that all plastics are equal, but certain plastic bottles can actually pose a great deal of risk to your baby. Many plastic bottles are created using the compound bisphenol A (BPA). While this chemical may be great for storing your water at work, this chemical can actually have a very dangerous reaction when used to store breast milk.

You can usually determine the type of plastic that a container uses by taking a look at the recycling number. If the container you want to store your breast milk in has the number 7 on it, that means that it contains BPA, so avoid that bottle like the plague when it comes to breast milk. Plastics numbered with 2, 4, or 5 don’t contain BPA and are generally safe for use with breast milk.

A Guide To Warming Breast Milk

A full-term, healthy baby can drink stored breast milk that has been warmed up to body temperature or stored at room temperature. While some babies prefer to drink their milk warm, other little ones don’t mind slightly cooler milk.

You can warm stored breast milk by putting the bag or bottle into a bowl, jug or cup of warm water for several minutes so that it comes up to body temperature (99 degrees Fahrenheit). Alternatively, you can buy bottle warmers for this purpose. Never allow the milk’s temperature to exceed 104 degrees Fahrenheit and never use your microwave, because this may overheat the milk. Once the milk is warm, swirl it gently without stirring or shaking so the separated fat can be mixed in.

My Breast Milk Smells Strange

When you take breast milk out of storage you may find that it smells off. There’s a reason for this. The enzyme lipase breaks down the fats, releasing fatty acids to prevent harmful bacteria from growing. Some stored breast milk develops a rancid or soapy smell. However, as long as you’ve followed the guidelines above for safe storage, it’ll be safe to feed your baby. That said, some babies are reluctant to drink milk that smells different. You can resolve this problem by heating up the milk to a scald (so that it bubbles at the edge but doesn’t boil) before cooling it quickly and freezing as this will deactivate the lipase.

What About Breast Milk Storage While I’m Traveling?

Sometimes, you may need to transport expressed breast milk, for example, between home and work. If you need to do this, use ice packs and a cooler. Whenever possible, store expressed breast milk in a fridge, whether this is at home, your little one’s childcare center, or your place of work. Make sure you’ve labeled it clearly. If there isn’t an available fridge, you should put the milk in a container that is properly insulated and add some ice packs that have been deep-frozen. As long as you have enough ice packs, the breast milk will remain at the same temperature as it would be in a fridge for as long as 24 hours. If you’re planning to carry expressed milk around with you, ice packs will be useful again, particularly if the day is warm. However, you can safely freeze or refrigerate breast milk even after a short period of storage at room temperature.

Some Final Pieces of Advice

The longer your breast milk is in storage, the more time and effort you’ll need to put into:

  • Being hygienic when expressing, handling and storing the milk.
  • Ensuring the milk is being stored at the right temperatures (you should use a freezer or fridge thermometer).
  • Checking for any bad odors or flavors that could indicate the milk may have gone off.

If anyone in your family is unwell and suffering from diarrhea or vomiting, you should give your baby fresh milk instead of frozen as this will ensure the best possible protection for your little one from the sickness.

Storing breast milk can definitely be a bit overwhelming. Its standards for storage are far higher than with other foods, and the care you need to take might require some getting used to. But b studying and following these steps, the process will eventually become second nature so that you can rest easy knowing that your breast milk is safely stored and spend your time and effort giving your baby the love they need.