Yes, you can safely store your breast milk and use it later. There are many reasons why breastfeeding mothers may need to pump and store their breast milk: the baby is premature and cannot latch herself/himself, the baby is having a nursing strike and refuses to latch, or the mother need to be away for relatively long time (for work, studies, wedding, or for other reasons). Our article will sum up for you the key breast milk storage guidelines proposed by the major healthcare and breastfeeding institutes so you can do it safely and without harming your little one.
Containers for breast milk storage
Any clean container such as screw-cap bottles or plastic cups would go, if your baby drinks pumped milk occasionally. However, if your baby drinks mainly pumped milk, then use containers that are believed to preserve the important ingredients of the breast milk. The renowned pediatrician Dr. Sears suggests using glass or hard-sided (not cloudy) plastic containers as they provide the best protection to key nutrients of the milk such as fat and immunoglobulins. Always use plastic bottles or cups that are marked as “Bisphenol A free” or “0% BpA.”
Many mothers prefer special breast milk storage bags to refrigerate or freeze breast milk. Those plastic bags do not thorn easily and take less space in the freezer. However, beware that it is easier to pour milk when filling into those bags than into bottles. Make sure the bags are not filled past the measurement indicator line.
Indicate the date when your milk was pumped and the quantity on the container before storing. If you have mixed milk from different pumping sessions, indicate the date of the first milk expressed.
How much to store
You cannot refreeze thawed milk. If the baby drinks only part of thawed milk, you can store the remaining milk for 1 hour at a room temperature or 2 hours in a fridge before offering it again. If the baby does not drink it, you will have to discard it. Therefore, try storing breast milk in small quantities to avoid waste. In general, 2 to 4 ounce (about 60-120 ml) batches are the most convenient ones. It is always safer to heat up more milk when the baby asks for more.
Few rules on storing milk from different pumping sessions
If necessary, you can mix and store in one container milk expressed during different pumping sessions. Always cool the newly expressed fresh and warm milk in the fridge for few hours before mixing it with the previously pumped one. Never add warm milk into a container of previously refrigerated or frozen milk.
What if your fridge or freezer broke down
If your freezer broke down or your power went off, the first immediate action is to prevent the milk from completely thawing. Open the freezer as little as possible. Think of buying and filling your freezer with extra dry ice. It is safe to use the milk or return it into a working freezer if there are still ice crystals in the milk.
Where to store pumped breast milk
If you are going to use the beast milk in 4-6 hours, you can keep it at a room temperature below 79°F (26 °C). There is no consensus among lactation consultants on how long breast milk can be kept in a refrigerator. The duration varies from 3 days to up to 8 days. In any case, always keep the milk at the back of the fridge and never close to the door or sides. If you are going to use the breast milk later than the indicated number of days, consider freezing it in a freezer.
A thawed milk that has not been offered to a baby yet can be kept in a fridge for 24 hours. After feeding the baby, the leftover milk can be kept at room temperature for 1 hour or 1-2 hours in a fridge before offering it to a baby again.
Breast milk storage time
The breast milk has antibacterial properties and can be stored safely longer than, for example, cow milk. The table below summarized the most recommended breast milk storage duration depending on the place of storage and type of breast milk.
|Breast Milk Storage Guidelines|
|Freshly Expressed Milk|
|Warm room||80-90°F/27-32 °C||3-4 hours|
|Room temperature||61-79°F/16-26 °C||4-8 hours (ideal: 3-4 hours)|
|Insulated cooler||59°F /15 °C||24 hours|
|refrigerator (fresh milk)||32-39°F/0-4 °C||3 (72 hours)|
|refrigerator (thawed milk)||32-39°F/0-4 °Cy||24 hours|
|Freezer compartment inside refrigerator (older-style)||Various||2 weeks|
|Self-contained freezer unit of a refrigerator/freezer||<39°F/<4 °C||6 months|
|Separate deep freeze||0°F/-18 °C||12 months (ideal: 6 months)|
|Left-over Breast Milk|
|Room temperature||61-79°F/16-26 °C||1 hour|
|Refrigerator||32-39°F/0-4 °C||1-2 hours|
However, many factors may affect the storage duration. Even with modern refrigerators the temperature inside the fridge may not be stable, for example, if you open its door often or if it is very hot outside. This is why many experts recommend shorter storage duration, which, however, does not necessarily mean that your milk should be discarded if you kept it longer.
While the best is to freeze the milk immediately after expressing it, you can follow all stages of storing the breast milk, if required. For example, you can leave it at room temperature for 4 hours, then move it into the fridge for few days, and then, eventually, decide to freeze it. All these breast milk storage options make breastfeeding more convenient and manageable.