Breast Milk Storage

Breast Milk Storage And Thawing Guidelines

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Every mother knows that breast milk is the best source of nutrition for her baby but you may not always be around your baby at feeding time. For example, you may have to return to work while you are still breastfeeding or you may be out running errands. There may also be instances where you may simply be too tired and hence ask your partner to take care of feeding while you catch a nap.

In such situations, expressed breastmilk can come to your rescue. Expressing breastmilk and storing it is simple and convenient. Here are a few breast milk storage & thawing guidelines to follow.

Choose The Right Storage Containers

Pay special attention to the containers used to store breastmilk, glass is the best choice if the expressed breastmilk is going to be refrigerated or stored at room temperature. If you plan on freezing it, chose a storage bag designed especially for breastmilk or a hard plastic container made from BPA-free material.

Avoid using the zip-lock bags used for other frozen foods. Glass containers may crack and thus are avoidable in the freezer. Label the containers with the date and time to keep track of it. To make future feeds convenient, try using small containers of up to 60 ml. This way you can thaw only as much as required for a single feed.

Keep The Breast Milk Cool

The shelf life of expressed breast milk depends on how it is stored.

  • Stored at room temperature: 4-6 hours
  • Refrigerated breast milk: up to 3 days
  • Frozen breast milk: up to 6 months

Once frozen breast milk has been thawed, it may be kept at room temperature for up to 2 hours or 24 hours in the refrigerator.  As far as breast milk storage in the refrigerator goes, avoid the shelves on the door and store in the milk at the back of the refrigerator where the temperature is the lowest.

If you have an auto-defrost freezer, keep the breast milk containers away from the walls of the freezer. When traveling, expressed breast milk can be stored in a cooler bag with ice packs.

Thaw Breast Milk Gradually

Thawing breast milk correctly before use is as important as breast milk storage. There are two ways you can thaw breast milk. The first is to transfer it from the freezer to the refrigerator. In the refrigerator section, the breast milk should thaw completely in around 12 hours.

Alternatively, place the container with frozen breast milk in another container filled with room temperature or lukewarm water. Do not use hot water or thaw breast milk in the microwave or on the stove. This can lower the nutrient levels and take away some of the protective elements. Once completely thawed, the breast milk should be fed to your baby within 2 hours. Never leave a container of frozen breast milk out on the countertop at room temperature to thaw.

Dealing With Leftovers

Using small containers to store expressed breast milk limits the amount of milk left over after feeds. If the milk was stored at room temperature earlier, the leftover may again be stored at room temperature or refrigerated for the next feed. Do not keep this milk for longer than a few hours. If the milk was frozen earlier, it is best to discard leftover breast milk. Thawed breast milk should never be re-frozen. Also, do not add milk that has been refrigerated or stored at room temperature to a container of frozen breast milk.

A Final Word

Being able to express breast milk and store it for later use is a great boon to working mothers. That said, it is important to remember that the composition of breast milk is constantly changing. Feeding a 5-month-old baby breast milk expressed back when he was just a month old may not be the healthiest solution. Hence, do not hoard breast milk. If you label the containers, you can ensure that the oldest milk is used first.

In case you are lucky enough to express more milk than your baby needs, consider donating the extra milk to help mothers who cannot produce enough milk for their own little ones.



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