Safe Storage of Breast Milk

If you are using a breast pump to express milk and don’t plan to feed the milk to your baby immediately, you should know how to store breast milk safely it in order to avoid spoiling. While breast milk can actually stay out at room temperature safely for several hours, if you aren’t planning to use it it’s best to get it into the fridge right away.

Breast Milk Storage Containers

If you are storing breast milk for use within a few days, you can simply store breast milk in the same bottles you plan to feed the baby from. Just make sure the baby bottle has a cap that seals securely. This will make warming the baby bottle easier as well, as you won’t have to transfer it to a new container.

If you plan to freeze your breast milk, you should use breast milk storage containers designed specifically for the purpose. The easiest to use are breast milk storage bags, as they take up less room in the freezer and can be disposed off after use. There are also plastic bottles available that you can use to store breast milk securely. When filling your breast milk storage containers, leave space for the expansion that will occur upon freezing. Bags will be easy to stack if you freeze them lying flat. Make sure to date every breast milk storage container you freeze.

How Long to Store Breast Milk

Unlike formula, which can only be left out at room temperature for an hour before it has to be thrown away, breast milk is ok at room temperature for 4 hours or more. If your house is hot or you have had the milk sitting out in the sun, this time is much shorter. Just like with regular milk, you can always smell it to see if it shows signs of spoiling. When in doubt, throw it out. Milk kept in the fridge may separate. Gently swirl it around to mix it back together.

Breast milk can be stored in the freezer section of your refrigerator for up to three months. A chest freezer, which has lower temperatures, will allow you to store breast milk for up to six months.

Thawing Breast Milk

The best way to thaw breast milk is in the fridge overnight. Alternatively, you can set the frozen bag in a bowl of warm water to thaw more quickly. When removing bags of milk from the freezer, be sure to use the oldest frozen milk first, as you have more time to use the newer milk. After thawing, transfer the milk to a bottle. Never use the microwave to thaw or warm breast milk. It can create hot spots and can also kill nutrients in the milk.

If You Have Excess Breast Milk

If you find that you are freezing more milk than your baby will ever need, or it will go bad before you will use it, there is an alternative to throwing it out. Milk banks across the country accept donations of breast milk to be provided to babies whose own mothers are unable to provide it, and who can not tolerate formula for a variety of reasons. There is a screening process for donors to ensure the safety of the milk supply. Although it may take a little of your time, it is well worth the chance to save the life of a baby. Contact the hospital where you had your baby or your doctor to find out where to donate breast milk.

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