How long can breast milk stay out? Well, it depends on whether it’s at room temperature, or it’s been in the fridge or the freezer. Let’s answer all your questions.
We get it, mama. Life with your little one is non-stop.
The juggling act between sleeping schedules, nappy changes, and breastfeeding times is full-on (and of course, you’ve still got to find time to sleep and eat yourself).
Planning a little bit in advance can help, and that might include pumping and storing your breast milk so that you can use it later.
But how long can breast milk stay out?
And what are some of the most important things you should know about storing it and using it?
Don’t worry, mama, we’re here to make breast milk storage manageable.
In this article: 📝
- How long is breast milk good for?
- Top tips for breast milk storage
- How long does breast milk last in the fridge?
How long is breast milk good for?
It depends on what state your breast milk is in – whether it’s fresh, refrigerated, or frozen – and how much time has passed since you expressed it.
Ideally, you should refrigerate or freeze breast milk straight after expressing it (we’ve given you some tips on how long you can store it for below).
If you’ve accidentally left it out on the counter, throw it away if it’s more than four hours old.
Top tips for breast milk storage
Breast milk is liquid gold – not only because it’s so nutritious for your baby, but also because pumping and storing it takes time.
And time is a precious commodity these days.
That means that you want to get it right, so that when you need to feed your little one, you’re ready to go quickly and easily.
We’ve already covered breast milk storage tips in a previous article, but we’ll repeat some of the most important points here:
- Before you pump and store your breast milk, wash your hands and, if you’re using pumping equipment, make sure it’s clean
- Use breast milk storage bags or BPA-free food-safe containers
- Label your container with the date you expressed the milk and the quantity
- Don’t fill the bag completely if you’re planning to freeze it (yes, you can freeze it!)
Now, here’s what you need to know about the state of your milk and when the CDC says you can use it:
Freshly expressed or pumped breast milk
- If it’s on the countertop or at room temperature (77°F or 25°C), you can have it out for up to four hours, ideally in a clean, covered container
- If you’re storing it in the fridge, you can leave it there for up to four days
- If you’re freezing it, it’s best to use it within six months, but up to 12 months is still fine
Rather store your breast milk in the back of the fridge or freezer, rather than the door, where it’s more likely to experience heating changes.
And always use the oldest milk in the freezer first: first in, first out.
Defrosted breast milk that was previously frozen
- If it’s on the countertop or at room temperature, use it within one to two hours
- If you place it in the fridge after defrosting it, use it within 24 hours
You can defrost your milk by placing it in the fridge overnight, by placing it in a container of warm or lukewarm water, or by holding it under lukewarm running water.
Never defrost or heat breast milk in a microwave.
Remember, once your previously frozen breast milk has thawed, it can never be refrozen.
If you don’t use it all, or you leave it out for too long, it’s best to pour it down the drain.
And finally, if your baby has some milk leftover from a previous feeding, use it within two hours.
How long does breast milk last in the fridge?
If it’s fresh breast milk, you can keep it in the fridge for up to four days. If you can use it within three days, even better.
If you’re thawing frozen breast milk in the fridge, leave it there overnight and use it within 24 hours of it being properly defrosted.
While it’s never fun to throw out milk you’ve pumped, your little one’s health is what matters most.
If you haven’t labeled the milk that’s in your fridge or freezer, or your scrambled mama’s brain can’t remember if the bottle on the counter is from this morning’s feed or this afternoon’s one, rather be safe and throw it out.
Here are some more breastfeeding and breast milk tips for you:
How to Dry Up Breast Milk
Breast Milk Storage Tips
The 411 on Breast Massage
7 Breastfeeding Positions to Try
10 Foods to Increase Milk Supply
Breastfeeding in Public: Tips & Advice
What is the Best Breastfeeding Diet?
A Guide to Breastfeeding While Pregnant
How to Stop Breastfeeding (When You’re Ready)
When Does a Pregnant Woman Start Producing Milk?
Tips for Breastfeeding with Large Breasts
My Baby Won’t Burp: What Now?
Can You Overfeed a Breastfed Baby?
Which Baby Bottles are the Best?
What is Power Pumping and Does it Work?
What To Do About Nipple Pain While Breastfeeding