Proper Breast Milk Handling and Storage
Breast milk is one of the healthiest foods a person will ever consume. As a matter of fact, it is so vitamin and nutrient-enriched that medical research now shows that this “liquid gold” is just as beneficial for adults as it is for infants, and research has concluded that an adult can actually thrive, not merely survive, on a diet consisting of only breast milk. Remember, this is the good stuff, the pure stuff, and it is unadulterated with artificial additive and preservatives, so to truly reap all of the fantastic health benefits that breast milk naturally provides, it needs to be handled and stored properly. Here’s how you can do this!
Preparing to Store Fresh Breast Milk
- Prior to expressing, be sure to wash your hands to prevent transferring bacteria to your breast milk. You should actually do this before nursing, too, and be sure that your breasts are free of lotions, perfumes, and powders.
- Store collected milk in either screw-cap bottles, hard plastic cups with tight-fitting lids, or breast milk storage bags, which are sterile, BPA free, freezer-safe, and designed specifically for proper milk storage. It isn’t recommended that breast milk is stored in traditional freezer bags or other plastic bags.
- Be sure to label your containers with the date of expression, and use the oldest breast milk first.
- You shouldn’t mix “old” and “new” breast milk together in one container.
- I know…I know…breast milk is a precious commodity, and you don’t want to waste a drop, but be sure to discard any unused and left-over milk. No hoarding! 😉
- Breast milk bags are disposable, and should be thrown away after each use.
- Wash your breast pump after each use.
How to Thaw Frozen Breast Milk
- The best (and safest) way to thaw frozen breast milk is by transferring it from the freezer to the refrigerator, but if you need it in a hurry, you can thaw your milk more quickly by swirling the storage container in a bowl of warm water. Breast milk will often separate, and you may notice that the “cream” has risen to the top. This is perfectly normal, and the milk is safe for drinking. Swirling the container (either in a bowl of warm water as it thaws or after thawing) will usually help to mix the separated layers of milk.
- Don’t thaw frozen breast milk in a microwave oven.
- Once thawed, breast milk should never be re-frozen. (I know…there’s that waste not, want not thing again…)
Storage Methods and Duration of Fresh Breast Milk
If you’re planning to use your breast milk fairly soon after expression, it can be left out at room temperature, up to 77 degrees F or 25 degrees C, for 6-8 hours. To preserve its freshness, you can cover the collection container with a cool, dry towel.
Insulated Cooler Bag: A cooler comes in very handy while traveling, or if you’re planning a vacation. The bag’s internal temperature should remain between 5 and 39 degrees F or -15 and 4 degrees C. Keep ice packs in contact with your breast milk at all times, and be sure to limit how often you open the cooler bag. If using this method of storage, milk will stay fresh for 24 hours.
Refrigerator: With a temperature of 39 degrees F or 4 degrees C, breast milk can be safely stored in this way for up to 5 days. Try to place your milk in the back of the fridge where its cooler if possible.
Freezer Compartment of a Refrigerator: As long as the temperature remains at 5 degrees F or -15 degrees C, breast milk can be stored safely here for 2 weeks.
Freezer Compartment of a Refrigerator with Separate Doors: If you choose to freeze your breast milk, a freezer with an internal temperature of 0 degrees F or -18 degrees C will preserve the milk’s freshness for 3-6 months.
Chest or Upright Deep Freezer: If you choose to freeze your milk in this way, at a temperature of -4 degrees F or -20 degrees C, it will remain fresh and perfectly safe for drinking for 6-12 months.
To further ensure the quality of your breast milk, store your containers at the back of the freezer if you can; the temperature is much more consistent, and this preserves all of those fantastic lipids in your milk!