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Breast Milk Storage Tips & Guidelines

2 years ago7 min read
Last updated: Jan 20 2023

If you choose to pump breast milk for your baby, you won’t want to waste a single drop of that liquid gold! But thankfully, expressing and storing breast milk doesn’t have to be a complicated chore. Having the best breast milk storage tips and tricks will help you own your new mama routine like a boss.

Mom feeding baby breast milk

So, how long is breast milk good for? And how can you store and use it correctly? Keep on reading, mama!

In this article: 📝

  • Why store breast milk?
  • What is the proper way to store breast milk?
  • How long is breast milk good for at room temp?
  • How long can breast milk stay in the fridge?
  • How long does breast milk last in the freezer?
  • It’s also worth remembering…
  • Can you combine breast milk from different days?
  • Can I put breast milk back in the fridge after baby drinks from it?
  • How do you use frozen stored breast milk?
  • What should stored breast milk look like?
  • Storing breast milk for premature or hospitalized babies

Why store breast milk?

The most obvious reason to pump and store breast milk is if you’re going to be away from your baby for work. But keeping a stash of expressed breast milk is still a great idea for many other reasons:

  • You can offer feeds from a bottle if that is the way you or your baby prefer.
  • Your baby can have breast milk even when with another caregiver.
  • Stored breast milk is a great back-up in case of illness.
  • It can be mixed with baby’s first foods.
  • You can donate pumped breast milk to babies in need.

What is the proper way to store breast milk?

As with any food prep, make sure your pumping equipment is clean, and wash your hands first. So, how to store breast milk…

  • Use specific breast milk storage bags or BPA-free food-safe containers.
  • Store your breast milk in small portions, i.e. one feed per container, to reduce waste.
  • Label your container with the date of when you expressed the milk and the quantity enclosed. When providing your milk to a childcare provider, make sure to include your baby’s name on the container.
  • If you plan on freezing the milk, don’t fill the container completely, as the breast milk will expand when frozen.

How long is breast milk good for at room temp?

If you’re planning on using your breast milk on the same day you expressed it, you might be wondering how long can you keep breast milk not refrigerated? Well, when kept at room temperature (77°F or 25°C or colder) you can use freshly expressed breast milk within 4 hours.

If it’s previously frozen and thawed breast milk, you will need to use it within 1-2 hours of it reaching room temperature.

How long can breast milk stay in the fridge?

Freshly expressed breast milk can be stored in the fridge (40°F / 4°C or colder) for up to 4 days.

Thawed, previously frozen breast milk can be stored in a refrigerator for up to 24 hours. That’s 24 hours from the time it’s thawed, not the time you took it out of the freezer.

How long does breast milk last in the freezer?

If you’re planning on freezing your breast milk, it’s best to get it into the freezer asap after pumping. Freshly expressed breast milk can be kept in the freezer (colder than 0°F / -18°C) for up to 12 months, though you should probably use it within 6 months for optimal taste and nutrition.

It’s also worth remembering…

Where you’re freezing your milk matters. If you only have a freezer compartment inside a refrigerator, it is only safe to freeze breast milk for up to 2 weeks. With any freezer or fridge, it is best to store the milk towards the back, so it is least affected by changes in temperature with the opening door.

Your breast milk composition naturally adapts to your baby’s growth (which is amazing!!), so if you’re feeding your baby straight from your breast, the milk they receive will be exactly what they need, right then. It also means the milk you expressed and stored when your baby was a newborn will probably have a different composition to the milk your baby needs at 5 months of age. Research has also shown that levels of fatty acids and vitamin C can decrease over time in stored breast milk. The takeaway? Even though it’s safe to store breast milk in the freezer for 6-12 months, it’s best to rotate through your stash frequently.

And never — nope, NEVER — refreeze thawed, previously frozen, breast milk.

Can you combine breast milk from different days?

Yes! Make sure the fresh milk is thoroughly chilled before adding it so it doesn’t alter the temperature of the older milk. Always use the stored milk according to the oldest date on the label.

Can I put breast milk back in the fridge after baby drinks from it?

Yes! If your baby doesn’t finish their feed, you can use the milk again for up to 2 hours, kept at room temp or in the fridge. That goes for fresh, previously refrigerated, or previously frozen, breast milk.

How do you use frozen stored breast milk?

There are 2 methods to thaw frozen breast milk. You can remove the breast milk from the freezer the night before you need it and defrost it in the fridge overnight. Or, if you find yourself quickly needing some milk, you can place the container in some lukewarm water, or run it under some lukewarm water. Breast milk doesn’t take long to defrost. Phew!

However desperate you are, refrain from using the microwave to warm up your milk — it can create dangerous hot spots that might burn your baby’s mouth.

What should stored breast milk look like?

It’s normal for refrigerated or frozen breast milk to be a slightly different color or smell compared to fresh breast milk, and it may separate, with a creamy layer of fat rising to the top. Before feeding the stored breast milk, give it a swirl (rather than a shake) to combine the layers.

If your pumped milk has a soapy smell or taste, it might mean it has a high lipase content or activity. This can sometimes happen very soon after pumping the milk, or it can happen after prolonged storage in the fridge or freezer. If this seems to be an issue with your breast milk, you can scald the milk in a pan on the stove before storing it.

If you notice any lumps, or a strange, sour smell or taste, there’s only one place for your milk to go — down the drain! Sorry, mama.

Storing breast milk for premature or hospitalized babies

All these guidelines are designed for healthy, full-term babies. If your baby arrives early or is seriously ill, speak to your medical team, who will advise you on the best way to feed your baby your breast milk. Don’t worry, mama, you’re doing an amazing job!

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