How to safely store breast milk

May 23, 2011 at 4:39 a.m. ET

Once you’ve determined which breast milk pump is right for your lifestyle, the question becomes: How do I safely store my baby’s food? Heed this advice from lactation consultants about the proper guidelines for breast milk storage.


Expressing your breast milk is one thing, making sure it's safely stored is quite another. Here's how to keep expressed breast milk fresh and ready for your hungry baby, whether dad's picking up a feeding, a babysitter is on duty or you're headed back to work.

1Freezer or fridge?

Moms actually have three options for breast milk storage – room temperature, refrigerated or frozen.

The milk storage guidelines provided by the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine clinical protocol denote how long freshly expressed breast milk can be stored and under what conditions:

  • Room temperature -- three to four hours, optimal; six to eight hours, acceptable
  • Refrigerated -- 72 hours, optimal; five to eight days, acceptable
  • Frozen -- six months, optimal; 12 months acceptable

Taking a quick trip? Breast milk can be stored in a cooler with ice packs for about 24 hours, adds Madeline Arkin of The Breastfeeding Center for Greater Washington. Keep in mind, however, "If you've previously frozen breast milk, it shouldn't be stored at room temperature or in a cooler," Arkin adds. "It can be kept in the fridge for about 24 hours, but never refreeze the milk."

2Defrosting and warming up breast milk

Babies who nurse are used to, well, body-temperature milk. That awareness can have some parents concerned about feeding cold or chilled breast milk to their little one.

"Even cold milk is safe if a full-term newborn is willing to take it," says Arkin. "The less tampering with breast milk, the better." If you do feel it's necessary to take the chill off the milk before feeding your child, she recommends a gentle dip in a cup of warm water. "Breast milk is a gentle being and very precious, so you don't want to boil it." Microwaving is a no-no, too.

The method most often recommended by lactation consultants for defrosting is a gentle thaw in the fridge overnight. Freezing milk in small amounts also helps it thaw more quickly. Whatever you do, always remember to date the milk you've expressed and use the oldest milk first.

3Breast milk storage accessories

There is a huge range of products available for storing breast milk -- from glass to plastic bottles, freezer bags to freezer trays measured out in one-ounce portions. "Breastfeeding should always be what works for you," says Arkin. "A lot of women will choose freezer bags because they're practical and can store large volumes of milk for going back to work. If you're pumping one day and plan to feed that pumped milk the next day to your baby, there's no reason to freeze it."

It may take a bit of trial and error until you develop a comfortable routine and method for storing your breast milk. Rest assured, the effort is worth it for your child, your wallet and your own peace of mind.

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