How to Store Breast Milk

While it’s obvious that fresh breast milk is by far the best option for a baby, sometimes you just have to make do with refrigerated and frozen breast milk, too. Either of these options will work, depending on how long you need to keep it stored, though refrigerated breast milk is better than frozen breast milk, generally speaking.

It should be noted, though, that breast milk is a special case when it comes to food storage. While most foodstuffs won’t have particularly rigorous storage requirements, everything matters quite a lot when it comes to breast milk.

In the next couple of sections, we’ll tell you about the best storage solutions for breast milk, as well as the potential caveats you might need to keep in mind and, in a pinch, even have to deal with.

How to Store Breast Milk

How to Store Breast Milk Properly

It is of utmost importance for breast milk to be stored properly, and the good news is that it’s hardly an issue to do so. You can even keep it at room temperature for a few hours if need be. The thing to keep in mind, however, is that the way breast milk is expressed will matter a great deal, too.

Mothers can use both hand pumps and electric pumps (like this one) to express breast milk. Before doing so, it is important that they thoroughly wash their hands and inspect the pump tubing for traces of mold or other potentially problematic developments.

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Afterward, it is safe to store the milk in a container of any kind; glass bottles (recommendation) will do the trick. The important bit here is to label the bottle with the exact date and time of expression. As we’ll explain in a short while, mere hours can sometimes make the difference between good and spoiled breast milk.

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When that’s all good and done, you can simply leave your bottle of breastmilk at room temperature (77°F/25°C) or lower if you aim to use it in short order. Otherwise, you’ll need to decide whether you want to refrigerate or freeze the milk, instead.

Should I Refrigerate or Freeze Breast Milk for Longer Storage?

As a rule of thumb, freshly expressed breast milk is better than refrigerated breast milk, and refrigerated breast milk is better than frozen/unthawed breast milk. It’s an easy rule to keep track of.

Having said that, refrigerating breast milk is perfectly fine if you need to keep it around for a few days at a time. Even if you opt to freeze it, it’s doubtful that you’ll run into any major issues if properly stored.

You can refrigerate and/or freeze breast milk like you would with any other milk. Glass containers for the fridge and plastic containers (like these) for the freezer. Provided that the milk has been expressed properly and kept contained well, you should be golden.

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One last thing to keep in mind about frozen breast milk is that you should never microwave it to thaw. Instead, put it in the fridge, under warm running water, or simply in a bowl filled with warm water. This way, you’re not risking the creation of hot spots that could burn the child’s mouth.

Can I Refreeze Previously Thawed Breast Milk?

If you had already thawed a batch of breast milk and were hoping to reuse it down the line, we’ve got bad news: this is not recommended. Previously frozen and subsequently thawed breast milk should never be refrozen, and if you can’t use it all up, then you’ll need to just throw it away instead.

How to Store Breast Milk

How Long Can Breast Milk be Safely Stored?

At room temperature, breast milk will be safe for ingestion for 4-6 hours on the high end, and if kept under very clean conditions. If you store your breast milk in the fridge, expect it to last 3-4 days at best, which should be more than enough in most cases. Finally, if frozen, breast milk can be kept for up to six months at a time.

How Will I Know if Breast Milk Has Expired?

As should be immediately obvious, breast milk is a fair bit different from most other kinds of milk we consume on the regular. Figuring out if it’s gone bad is somewhat different, too.

Fair warning – we’d advise against using breast milk that you suspect might have gone bad. If at all possible, try to feed your baby with a batch of fresh milk instead. If that’s not an option, however, milk should pass the chunk test and the smell test.

The chunk test refers to the milk’s tendency to let its natural fats rise to the top. If you can easily mix these “chunks” of fat with the fluid with merely a swirl of the bottle, then it’s fine. If the fat won’t mix no matter what you do, the milk has expired.

As for the smell test – check if milk has a sour, rancid smell to it. If it has, then your milk has expired.

Breast Milk Storage Mistakes to Avoid!

One breast milk storage mistake we don’t often see referenced is that you don’t want to keep it in bottles that are marked with the recycle symbol #7. These are usually made from plastic that contains BPA (bisphenol A), the exposure to which might result in possible side effects on the health of infants and young children.

Glass bottles are a solid recommendation for breast milk safekeeping instead, and it’s our advice to stick with them if you’re unsure on how to best avoid BPA across the board.

On a different note, it may be wise not to store bottles of milk in or close to the doors of your fridge. Items placed here will often be exposed to rapid temperature changes, which should be avoided if at all possible with breast milk.

Keep Your Breast Milk Fresh & Safe to Consume!

For a little while, breast milk will be the only thing you can feed your baby with, and it’s crucial for you to know how to store it properly, and how to be able to tell when it has gone bad.

If you follow our tips and tricks included in this guide, you should have no issues on this front, and you can stop worrying about whether you’re doing something wrong.