Everyone knows that breast milk is liquid gold. It has a host of benefits and is the best form of nutrition for your baby. But what you don’t hear enough of is how improper pumping and storing practices can lead to breastmilk contamination, which can be extremely dangerous for your baby.
Breastmilk contamination is not something you have to worry about if you only feed your baby by direct latching. While we wish we could, we all know that direct latching isn’t always an option, especially considering our fast-paced and hectic lifestyle. Mums in Singapore are always on the go, and are usually pressed for time.
However, no matter how much of a rush you are in, you must never compromise on hygiene and proper storage of breastmilk. Breast milk contamination can have dire consequences.
Here’s what you need to know.
How storage causes breastmilk contamination
1. Moisture is a common culprit
We often worry about the germs and bacteria outside the containers that we store breastmilk in. Well, what about the containers themselves? Breastmilk contamination can occur as a result of germs and bacteria found within the storage containers!
Germs thrive where there is moisture. Most people diligently wash the breastmilk storage containers but overlook the importance of drying it. Because people assume that if it’s freshly washed, it’s clean.
If you leave the containers wet, the water that remains in the container can cause bacteria and mold to form and that leads to breastmilk contamination.
So here’s what you got to do. Step 1, use warm, soapy water to wash the containers. Step 2, use a clean towel (make sure it’s really clean), or a paper towel, to completely dry the container.
Remember, don’t leave the containers to dry in the sink because the used dishes, or someone washing their hands could also cause contamination.
The kitchen sink is used by everyone and is a breeding ground for bacteria. Don’t leave containers there.
And the last thing you should ever do is to leave the breastmilk containers soaking in water, in the sink. In a terribly unfortunate and tragic incident, the bacteria led to breastmilk contamination that eventually cost a baby’s life!
2. Bags can tear
Many working mums opt for storage bags instead of containers. It seems like an easier option considering that there’s no washing and cleaning involved. It’s also easy to label the bags.
The danger of using such bags is that they can tear rather easily and you might not always notice the tear. The tear gives room for germs to enter the bag and this leads to breastmilk contamination. So you’ve got to be really careful there!
Check that there are no sharp objects or containers around the bag that could potentially puncture or tear it.
Also on this note, if you’re using bags to store breastmilk, please ensure that you use bags that are specifically designed for breastmilk storage. These bags are free from BPA, a toxic chemical that is found in most plastic items.
Regular plastic bags are not BPA free and you should never store breastmilk in these bags.
In addition, do remember that milk expands as it freezes so to avoid leakage or tears, don’t fill the bag to the right to the top. And push out excess air before you seal the bag.
Use proper bags that are meant for storing breast milk.
An alternative is to use glass jars to store breastmilk. In case you didn’t know, they are actually highly recommended as the likeliness of breastmilk contamination is far less than when using plastic containers.
Just ensure that the glass bottles that you get are freezer-safe and that you warm or thaw the milk slowly as sudden, drastic temperature changes can cause glass to break.
3. Raw foods are bad news
Mums I know you’re always rushing and even I am guilty of pumping my milk, storing it and shoving the container into the fridge without taking a closer look.
Where there is raw food, there is bacteria and placing breastmilk near raw foods can lead to breastmilk contamination.
When raw meat comes into contact with the milk containers, it leaves bacteria on it. Likewise, if it is stored above the breastmilk, the blood can leak onto the containers and cause breastmilk contamination.
You might be wondering how contamination occurs when the raw meat only comes into contact with the container and not the breastmilk itself.
When you reach for the container, your hands come into contact with the bacteria and that transmits into the milk as you are preparing it, or transferring it into a bottle for your baby.
So as busy as you are, do take a moment to arrange the items in your fridge such that there is no raw food around, close to or directly above the breast milk containers. Trust me, it will save you from far more trouble!
If you are at work and you are sharing the fridge with your colleagues, please place your breastmilk storage containers or bags in a secondary container to make sure it’s well protected.
4, Don’t forget to clean your hands!
Again, I know how busy mums can get and so often we forget to do the simplest, yet most important of things.
One thing you absolutely cannot forget to do is to wash your hands with warm water and soap. Don’t forget that your hands have a great amount of bacteria and you don’t want to pass that to your baby!
Do I even need to remind you just how much bacteria there is on your computer keyboard, or your handphone for that matter?
Your phone has more bacteria than you think.
5. Milk cubes, yay or nay?
Mums like to get innovative and creative. So they came up with this brilliant idea of freezing breastmilk in ice cube trays. This is a great idea for it allows you to thaw a cube or two, according to what your baby needs. Milk isn’t wasted, yay!
But nay to bacteria floating around the freezer! Your freezer is where raw meat is and that means bacteria is omnipresent. Also, as mentioned earlier, don’t forget the blood leaking.
If you still want to go ahead and make milk cubes, do ensure that you get the trays that are specifically designed for storing breastmilk. These trays have a locking lid to prevent breastmilk contamination.
6. Direct heating is a definite no
Mums usually know this, but the caregivers don’t necessarily do so it’s important to educate them. Even if your baby is hungry and screaming at the top of her lungs, you should NEVER microwave the milk for two reasons:
- it creates hotspots that could potentially burn your baby
- it kills immunological cells in the milk (this is explained in more detail later)
Transferring breastmilk to a saucepan can also cause breastmilk contamination as these appliances may contain bacteria.
Always thaw the frozen milk. Run it under warm water and heat it gradually.
7. Freezing only happens once
I know how precious breastmilk is and it’s heartbreaking to throw away the leftovers. However, the first time you freeze the milk, you are already breaking down important things like antibodies and vitamins. Imagine doing it a second time?
The loss of these important elemetns also allow bacteria to grow in the milk.
You should only freeze milk once. You may refrigerate leftover milk only if it was never frozen.
The milk should only enter the freezer once.
Apart from breastmilk contamination, there are also some storage practices that aren’t ideal for breastmilk. Even if the milk doesn’t get contaminated, it is not in the optimum state it should be for your baby to consume.
Storage practices that aren’t recommended
1. Prolonged freezing of milk
The amazing thing about breastmilk is that its composition is constantly changing to adapt to the needs of your growing baby. Your baby’s needs change according to the stage she is at.
Meaning to say, the breastmilk that you pump for a 3-month-old baby and a 5-month-old baby, isn’t the same. The nutrients match the needs of your baby at the time of pumping.
Feeding your baby milk that was pumped months, or even weeks ago, means that you might not be meeting your child’s needs.
Another downside to freezing milk is that it drastically reduces the immunological cells in it. Immunological cells are part of the body’s immune system and they transfer from your body’s immune system to your baby through breast milk.
Immunological cells also breakdown with high temperatures so you should never heat the milk too quickly.
Immunological cells are very important as they build your baby’s immune system and its ability to fight germs. Freezing and boiling breast milk endangers your baby by depriving the amount of cells that develop their immune system.
2. Prolonged storage
Vitamin C is extremely important for babies – it forms red blood cells tissues, bones and of course boosts your baby’s immune system.
Even refrigerating your milk for 24 hours reduces the amount of Vitamin C in your milk significantly – by about one third. This is a great loss!
Infants require 40mg of vitamin C every day for the first 6 months. After that, it goes up to 50mg.
Moreover, antioxidants, that protect the body from disease by fighting the germs present in the baby’s immune system, is reduced when frozen. In order to preserve these, you should not refrigerate milk for more than 48 hours.
There you go moms, all that you need to know about how improper pumping and storage can lead to breastmilk contamination. I know how busy you are but please don’t let all that hard work of pumping go to waste, or worse, endanger your baby because you overlooked some important things.
Republished with permission from: theAsianParent Singapore
READ: How do you know when it’s time to stop breastfeeding?