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How To Store Breast Milk Properly

How do you store breastmilk? Don’t let the information overwhelm you. Storing and feeding your baby pumped milk is actually very simple once you know the safe handling rules. The most important thing to remember is sanitation. Bacteria can grow easily in bottles that stay wet and warm all day, so be sure to wash them in hot, soapy water. Also take advantage of your dishwasher's heat dry setting to kill any bacteria in your pumping supplies, bottles, and bottles nipples.


When it comes to storing breastmilk it’s so important to store it in such a way that it is still fresh and safe to eat at a later time. You don’t want spoiled or old milk lying around, which could make your baby very sick from an overgrowth of bacteria.


The main reason women often pump exclusively is so they can go back to work. But pumping milk is also important for mothers who just want some free time to go to gym class, leave the baby with a sitter, run errands, leave the baby with grandparents overnight, or do some chores around the house. Once your baby is old enough and you are both comfortable with bottle feeding, weaning from the breast might be a great option for you! Many mothers breastfeed at night for bonding time, but they pump exclusively during the day. You can make a schedule that is customizable for you and your lifestyle!


Whatever your choice may be, pumping and storing breastmilk is a method that ensures your baby is still getting the nutrients from breastmilk without you having to be there physically.


Rules For Storing Breastmilk

Handling and storing breastmilk has many of the same rules as storing any other type of food. It’s important to do it properly so everyone stays healthy! Here are the basic storage rules:


1. Breastmilk is safe for your baby to consume up to 4 hours after pumping if it is kept at room temperature (around 77 degrees Fahrenheit.)


2. Breastmilk is safe for your baby to drink within 4 days of sitting in the refrigerator. Discard after 4 days.


3. When your baby uses a bottle, it's natural for bacteria from his mouth to reenter into the nipple and bottle. This is why if your baby does not finish their milk, don’t let the baby drink the leftovers after 2 hours. Be sure to throw it away and get fresh milk within 2 hours to avoid sickness.


4. To freeze breastmilk to serve at a later time, pour the milk into breastmilk freezer bags and freeze. It’s important to buy the freezer bags in the baby aisle at your local supermarket because they are designed to store human milk, while other plastics could have BPA in them which is not safe. These bags are usually just a few dollars and are not expensive. If you are not able to use freezer bags, use a clean glass jar with a lid. Don’t forget to date the containers with a marker so you can use the oldest milk first! Frozen milk is safe to use after 12 months of refrigeration, but it is recommended to use it up within 6 months if at all possible.


5. If you are pumping at work and store your milk in a portable cooler, your milk is safe for up to 24 hours before it needs to be refrigerated.


Here is a “cheat sheet” to help you remember the basic rules of storage and use.


Thawing And Warming Breastmilk


Fresh breastmilk is the best food for your baby. Refrigerated breastmilk is second best, followed by frozen breastmilk which is third best. Freezing it can make it lose some of its higher qualities, but it is still better than formula. Some mothers add a scoop of formula to their breastmilk to help their babies stay fuller longer. Be sure to talk to your pediatrician or lactation consultant before you begin to mix the two.


Fresh breastmilk has bacteria-fighting properties and is higher in antioxidants, vitamins, and fat than milk that has been stored in the freezer. But when you make more milk than your baby can drink, you have no other choice but to head to the freezer!


To thaw breastmilk quickly, place it in a cup of warm water or hold it under the water faucet until melted. It should thaw within 5 to 10 minutes. Also, you can plan ahead! If you know how many ounces your baby will drink, place that amount of breast milk in the refrigerator to thaw overnight for the next day. It is good for 24 hours in the fridge once thawed.

Breastmilk does not have to be served warm. You can serve it at room temperature or cold. It depends on your baby and their needs and wants. (Never put breastmilk in the microwave as it can create hotspots and burn your baby!)


Also, try not to shake thawed breastmilk before serving as it can damage the milk’s components. Instead, swirl it around or kneed the milk bag to redistribute the separated fat back into the milk.


If you put frozen breastmilk in the refrigerator but your baby didn’t drink it that day, the milk is good for up to 24 hours from the time it thawed. Discard it after 24 hours.


Never refreeze thawed breastmilk!


Extra Tips:

  • Remember to add dates to milk so you never wonder how old it is.

  • Freeze different amounts of milk. This way if your baby drank a whole bag and just needs 2 more ounces, you won’t have to thaw 6 ounces to feed them just 2.

  • Because liquid expands when frozen, leave space at the top of the bag when preparing to store.

  • Never mix different temperatures of milk together. For example, don’t mix cold milk from the fridge with body temperature milk. Instead, chill one or allow one to warm up to room temperature before mixing.

  • Always drop a few drops of milk on your wrist to check the temperature after warming it. It should feel warm, not hot.

  • If you make more milk than your baby will drink, consider donating it to a mom and baby in need! Contact your local lactation consultant and ask them how to donate, or use Facebook breastfeeding groups to reach out to local mothers.

If you have more questions and need further assistance, call your local Mary’s Pregnancy Resource Center for more information.

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