Mothers are encouraged to start expressing milk only when their supply has been established. This happens around six weeks after starting. Ideally, a mother must refrain from feeding her baby stored milk when available to nurse directly.
However, there is no doubt that having stored milk is a boon, especially to mothers who need to leave their babies while they go to work. Luckily, there is a wide array of tools and support facilitating breastmilk storage in these modern times. There are, however, a few things one should remember when storing breastmilk.
What can you read in this article?
- Breastmilk storage guide
- Proper storage of breastmilk
- Breastmilk storage tips
Photo by Wendy Wei from Pexels
By following recommended storage and preparation techniques, the safety and quality of expressed breast milk can be maintained for the baby’s health.
There are standard guidelines for storing human milk at different temperatures. Several factors determine how much time human milk can be safely stored.
The volume of milk, the temperature at which it is expressed, temperature variations in the refrigerator and freezer, and the cleanliness of the environment are all factors to consider.
Breastmilk storage time
Here’s a chart by the Center for Disease and Control and Prevention.
|Type of Breast Milk
77°F (25°C) or colder
0°F (-18°C) or colder
||Up to 4 Hours
||Up to 4 Days
||It’s better if you can do it within six months. But a period of up to 12 months is acceptable.
|Thawed, Previously Frozen
||Up to 1 Day
|Human milk should never be refrozen after it has been thawed.
|Leftover from a Feeding
||Use within 2 hours after the baby is finished feeding
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Breastmilk storage guide
Before expressing or handling breast milk, make the following preparations:
- Hands should be properly cleaned with soap and water after each use. If soap and water aren’t available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
- Breast milk can be expressed manually or with an electric or manual pump.
- Make sure the pump kit and tubing are clean if you’re using one. Replace any moldy tubing.
- If you’re using a shared pump, disinfect the dials, power switch, and tabletop using a disinfectant wipe.
You’ll need to store your breast milk properly after you’ve expressed it.
- Use breast milk storage bags or clean, food-grade containers to keep expressed breast milk fresh. Make sure the containers are made of glass or plastic, and the lids are tightly fastened.
- Bottles with the recycle mark #7 on them should be avoided since they contain BPA.
- Never store breast milk in disposable bottle liners or plastic bags that aren’t designed to keep breast milk.
- Follow the correct breastmilk storage time and temperature as indicated above.
Thawing your breastmilk
The oldest breastmilk should always be thawed first. It’s important to remember that first in, first out. Breast milk quality can deteriorate over time.
Breast milk can be thawed in a variety of ways:
- Refrigerate for at least one night.
- Place in a warm or lukewarm water container.
- Breast milk should never be thawed or heated in the microwave. Microwaving breast milk can degrade nutrients and cause hot patches, which can burn a baby’s lips.
- Use breast milk within 24 hours of thawing it in the refrigerator. Begin counting the 24 hours from the moment you take the breast milk out of the freezer until it is totally thawed.
- Use breast milk within 2 hours of bringing it to room temperature or warming it.
- Breast milk should never be refrozen after it has thawed.
Proper storage of breastmilk
These breastmilk storage guidelines were established by Arugaan, a community-based breastfeeding organization. Set specifically for the Philippines, they were published in the Trainer’s Reference Manual, “Gabay kay Nanay sa Tamang Pagpapasuso.”
How do you properly store your breastmilk? Here’s how according to the Mayo Clinic.
What kind of container should I use to keep extracted breast milk fresh?
Before expressing or handling breast milk, wash your hands with soap and water. After that, keep the expressed milk in a clean, capped food-grade glass or hard plastic container that does not contain the chemical bisphenol A. (BPA). You can also use specially designed milk collection and storage bags for this reason.
Breast milk should not be stored in disposable bottle liners or plastic bags that are meant for daily use.
Is it feasible to combine freshly released breast milk with previously-stored milk?
Milk that has been refrigerated or frozen can be combined with freshly expressed breast milk. Cool freshly extracted breast milk in the refrigerator or in a cooler with ice packs before adding it to already chilled or frozen milk. The addition of warm breast milk to frozen breast milk will cause the frozen milk to partially defrost.
What is the best method for storing expressed breast milk?
Using waterproof labels and ink, write the date you expressed the breast milk on each container. Place the containers at the rear section of the refrigerator or freezer, where the temperature is the coldest. If you don’t have access to a fridge or freezer, store the milk in an insulated cooler with ice packs until you do.
Fill individual containers with enough milk for one feeding for your baby. Start with 2 to 4 ounces and add more if necessary. Also, keep smaller portions on hand — 1 to 2 ounces — in case of emergencies or delays in normal feedings. Because breast milk swells when it freezes, don’t overfill containers.
Breastmilk storage tips
Photo by RODNAE Productions
Breastmilk storage tip 1. Know what spoiled milk tastes and smells like.
Leave a few ounces of your expressed milk out in the open for 24-48 hours. Get all the baby’s yaya and other caregivers (like grandparents, uncles, and aunts) to taste and smell. This teaches them to detect what spoiled breastmilk is like and not confuse it with the smell of the lipase in breast milk.
Breastmilk storage tip 2. Store milk where it is coldest for longer shelf life.
Those without a refrigerator can store milk good for a day’s use by putting sealed milk containers in bowls/clay pots filled with water. Milk may also be stored in the deepest part of the refrigerator or freezer.
Ideally, with breastmilk storage, the milk stash should also be in a separate compartment or container so it won’t be contaminated by everything else in the refrigerator.
Breastmilk storage tip 3. Teach yaya and other family members about proper handling and feeding of the stored milk.
Milk containers always have to be properly labeled with time and date of expression for your yaya to be able to use the “first in, first out” method.
Teach yaya about proper thawing and how much to give per feeding. Print the guidelines found on the “Next page” for easy reference, if necessary.
Breastmilk storage tip 4. Follow storage guidelines
In her blog, www.chroniclesofanursingmom.com, Jenny Ong discusses the rationale behind different storage guidelines based on the Philippine setting.
The maximum range of viability prescribed for milk stored in the refrigerator is 3-5 days. Milk frozen in the freezer can last between 3-6 months, while those stored in a separate deep freezer can last up to a year.
However, a baby’s needs changes monthly, so mothers are alerted not to feed their babies stored milk that is 2-3 months old, unless necessary. The lipids in milk also start breaking down even when kept frozen, resulting in reduced quality.
Breastmilk storage tip 5. Know what causes milk to spoil.
Things like where the milk is stored, how often the refrigerator is opened and even the season can all affect how fast milk can spoil.
Your lifestyle and habits should allow you to personalize your own storage guidelines. If one can, being conservative with limits will reduce the likelihood of milk being wasted or the baby being given spoiled milk.
Breastmilk storage tip 6. Freeze, but do not refreeze.
Frozen milk is a lifesaver for working moms and milk donation recipients. Expressed breast milk can wait a day or two, provided it is properly cooled before being frozen.
Thawed milk should be used within the day, however, and should not be refrozen anymore as thawing (essentially, warming) already triggers bacteria growth.
Breastmilk storage tip 7. Only combine milk of the same temperature.
In cases where necessary, milk expressed at different times within the day may be combined in one container only after all the milk has been cooled to the same temperature.
Unlike formula which goes bad within an hour after preparation, breastmilk remains potent and healthy hours after it was expressed, and even after it is contaminated by a baby’s saliva.
This should help mothers relax a little about their stored breastmilk and trust that nature’s gift is made of hardier stuff.
Additional information by Margaux Dolores
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