Breastfeeding can be the most beautiful but also the most challenging phase for a mother. One of the main concerns breastfeeding mothers have is how they can store their milk correctly.
This guide will bring you 30 breastmilk storage rules to follow so your baby has the best milk every meal!
Breastmilk Storage Rules
1. Have impeccable hygiene when expressing and storing breastmilk.
Hygiene is essential when dealing with breastmilk. Your baby is susceptible. They don’t have a well-developed immune system to protect them from germs and bacteria. This is why you should sterilize everything that gets in contact with your breastmilk before feeding it to them.
The hygiene starts when you pump the milk by sterilizing the breast pump and washing your hands and breasts properly. Pump the milk into a sterile container, which could be a bottle or a breastmilk bag. When you are done with these steps correctly, you can store the breastmilk as you need to serve it to your little one for future meals.
You can put the freshly pumped milk in the fridge directly if you will not use it. Just make sure you use a sterile container, which could be a bottle or a milk bag.
2. Don’t reuse breastmilk bags that are not reusable.
When it comes to storing breastmilk, there are special bags that you can choose to use. These bags are not reusable. They come sterile, and once you use them, you can’t sterilize them again. This applies to the majority of breastmilk bags. But even if some of them are advertised as being reusable, you shouldn’t take the risk.
Breastmilk bags are made of flimsy plastic that can tear easily if you boil them to sterilize them. You can even damage them by using the sterilizer. Plus, considering that these bags are generally very budget-friendly, you will not have to spend a fortune on them. It is not safe to reuse breastmilk bags, and it is not worth taking the risk either!
3. Use only containers intended for storing breastmilk.
You might be tempted to use any bottle to store your breastmilk. But it is crucial only to use bottles created for this purpose. Bottles made for storing breastmilk are made of a toxin-free type of plastic. This is important for your baby’s health. Also, you will discover that most of these bottles are more resistant to high temperatures, which is great for heating the milk every time you need it.
Plus, these bottles tend to have just the size to accommodate one meal at a time. You can find small, medium, or big bottles according to how much your baby is drinking at one meal. The chances are that you will start with a small size for the first weeks of your baby’s life and upgrade it as your baby grows and eats more.
By using individual containers to store your breastmilk, you will not have to move the milk to a different container when you feed your baby. Simply replace the bottle’s lid with a nipple, bring it to the right temperature, and your baby can have their feeding.
4. Don’t allow freshly expressed breastmilk to sit at room temperature for more than 4 hours.
When it comes to storing breastmilk, this is one of the golden rules for sure. You will have to make sure that the milk bottle doesn’t sit on the counter or table for more than four hours. Some lactation experts will even suggest you use it within two hours. But most pediatricians agree that four hours is a maximum period for letting breastmilk at room temperature.
Keep in mind that this rule only applies to freshly pumped milk. If you defrost your milk before giving it to your baby, you shouldn’t let it sit at room temperature for more than two hours.
The reason why you shouldn’t leave freshly pumped milk out for more than four hours is contamination. Once the bottle remains at a warm temperature like any room temperature (around 77 degrees F or 25 degrees C), you can expect germs and bacteria to multiply. So, the clock is ticking from the moment you pump your milk.
It is also crucial not to place the milk in direct sunlight during this time. If you do that, you risk altering the breastmilk faster as increased heat will help bacteria grow.
5. Store breastmilk in the fridge between 4 and 8 days.
If you think of storing breastmilk for future feedings, placing it in the refrigerator is one of the best options. This helps you have a breastmilk supply for your baby for the next week if you store it correctly. But be careful not to let the milk sit in the fridge longer than eight days. Even eight days would be stretching it.
Most lactation experts suggest four days for refrigerated milk. If you want to store it longer than that, you need to make sure the milk stays in ideal hygienic conditions. Check the quality of your milk after four days in the fridge and decide if you can keep it up to the maximum time of eight days. If you sense any sign of spoiled breastmilk, you should throw it away and not feed it to your baby!
6. Place the breastmilk in the back of the refrigerator.
When you store your milk in the fridge, you have to put it at the end of the shelf as well. The reason for this useful rule is that the temperature tends to be cooler and constant in the back of the fridge. However, be careful to leave a small space between the milk container and the walls of the refrigerator also because these walls could get moisture and alter the temperature of the milk.
Simply place the milk bottle or bags further inside the refrigerator in such a way that they will remain in proper conditions to last longer. Even if you do that, you should still check the milk quality before serving it to your baby. But a constant cold temperature will keep the milk suitable for a longer time!
7. Don’t store breastmilk on the refrigerator’s door.
Even if it might seem handy, storing your milk on the door of the fridge is a bad idea. Think about the fact that you will open your fridge several times a day. So, every time you open the refrigerator, everything that is placed on the door will be exposed to room temperature.
Exposing your breastmilk to room temperature several times a day can damage its quality. Because it will not be stored at a constant cold temperature, the milk will lose its nutrients and facilitate bacteria to multiply. You can use the fridge door for other drinks that you consume because they will still stay cold. But keep the baby bottle away from it for your little one’s safety.
8. Seal the breastmilk containers before you store them.
You should always remove the nipple of the milk bottle and put a lid on it before storing it in the fridge. You can also cover the bottle nipple with an extra lid if you don’t want to remove it every time. Whatever you choose to do, don’t store the breastmilk without a lid on the container because if you do that, you leave a way open for germs and bacteria to get in the bottle. Your refrigerator is not a sterile environment, and it shouldn’t be. By merely allowing air to get in the baby bottle, you are inviting bacteria in and, therefore, contaminating the milk.
If you are using breastmilk bags, be sure to seal them correctly and don’t allow any extra air to get into them. This is an elementary condition for the quality of your milk and the safety of your baby!
9. Store breastmilk in the freezer for a maximum of 6 to 9 months.
Storing breastmilk in the fridge is another great option to make sure you have milk supplies for future meals. You will be glad to hear that freezing your milk will keep it suitable for a minimum of six months and a maximum of nine months. To enjoy this extended time frame, you should respect the proper hygiene conditions of storing milk in the freezer.
So, you will need to use only sterile containers and make sure not to touch the milk until you actually use it for a meal. Be careful not to store the breastmilk for longer than nine months because germs and bacteria might develop. You will find that some lactation experts allow you to stretch this time frame for up to 12 months, but that is too risky. If you want to take this risk, though, check the milk regularly after nine months because it could get bad any day after this point.
10. Glass bottles are not a good idea for freezing breastmilk.
You might be tempted to use glass bottles for your breastmilk since there is so much controversy when it comes to different plastic materials. But the truth is that you can find bottles made of safe and toxin-free plastic, so you don’t have to worry about that. Using glass bottles to freeze breastmilk is a bad idea because they can break easily, and no one wants to waste such a precious supply.
The chances are that you will drop the bottles of milk, especially when they are humid and slippery. To avoid this risk, you should use some safe plastic bottles with no BPA or other harmful chemicals. This is an excellent idea if you refrigerate your milk as well.
11. Date your breastmilk when you put it in the freezer.
You can apply the next rule just to stay on the safe side. Dating your breastmilk before putting it in the freezer will help you know exactly how old it is every time you need to feed your baby. By doing so, you eliminate the risk of feeding them expired milk.
Considering that breastmilk stays good in the refrigerator for more than six months, you shouldn’t count on your memory when it comes to how old the supply is. You don’t have to do that if you simply put a tag on each bottle of milk bag, so you know exactly the date you added it to the freezer.
12. Don’t warm breastmilk in the microwave when you take it off the freezer.
Warming breastmilk in the microwave is a common mistake that many mothers fall into. It seems like such a good idea that some simply don’t give it a second thought. But you should avoid ‘using the microwave for your baby’s food at all costs. The main reason for that is that the microwave will not heat the milk evenly. It will create hot spots inside the bottle that can scald your baby. The youngest your baby is, the more dangerous microwaved breastmilk is for them. Microwaved breastmilk also has fewer nutrients than milk that is heated up traditionally.
If you store your breastmilk in the freezer, heating it in the microwave might seem like a fast and efficient way. Also, if you use the refrigerator to store your milk, the temptation of using the microwave is equally significant. But stay away from this type of heating method for good.
13. Use a bottle warmer for heating up stored breastmilk.
Storing your milk already takes away from its nutrients. The idea is to conserve as many of the properties of your breastmilk as possible. But keep in mind that no type of stored breastmilk is at the same quality as freshly expressed milk. So, the way you heat it up is equally important.
Use a bottle warmer to heat up stored breastmilk properly. These devices are ideal for maintaining most of the nutrients in your breastmilk as you bring them from a colder temperature to another. It also takes just a few minutes to bring the breastmilk to the desired temperature with such an item.
14. Don’t reheat a bottle of breastmilk.
Once you stored your breastmilk in the fridge or freezer and you heated it up for your baby, you shouldn’t reheat it. Assuming your baby is not going to finish the bottle of milk in one meal, you should try to feed it to them within the safety window of two hours.
Reheating breastmilk will only eliminate more of its nutrients and invite more bacteria in. So, try to heat up as much as your little one will eat in one meal so you will not have to waste precious breastmilk.
15. Always thaw the breastmilk after taking it off the freezer.
If you are storing your breastmilk in the freezer, thawing it is a must. You can do that by storing it 12 hours in the fridge. You can also place the milk in a container with warmed (not boiled) water.
Either way, you should make sure to not bring your breastmilk from freezing temperature to hot temperature in a short period. This could kill the nutrients and develop germs and bacteria in the milk bottle.
16. Use the oldest milk first.
This rule is tightly connected with dating your breastmilk before freezing it. You should always use the first milk you added to your freezer first, so you avoid having expired milk. This will keep your breastmilk supply organized, and you can be sure that you always have good milk available for your baby.
If you are not dating your breastmilk before putting it in the freezer, this rule might be challenging to apply. So, check the tags on your breastmilk bottles or bags before you use it, so you get the oldest milk out of the freezer first.
17. Check the quality of the stored breastmilk before feeding it to your baby.
No matter how well you stored the breastmilk, you should always make sure it is in perfect condition for your baby to consume. Even the best-frozen breastmilk goes bad after a while and if it is not stored in correct conditions.
You should check the smell and consistency of the milk before giving it to your little one. Also, make sure the fat layer in your breastmilk is blending in with the rest of it when you swirl the bottle. Check here to see the main signs of milk going bad, so you know what to pay attention to.
18. When combining different batches of milk, bring them to the same temperature.
You might need to combine milk stored on different days and even in different ways. This could happen, especially if your milk supply from one batch is not enough for one meal. Or maybe you noticed a milk supply would expire soon, and you want to use it before it is too late. However, many mothers wonder how they can combine these different batches of milk in a safe way for their babies.
If you have frozen milk, you will have to defrost it first to combine it with refrigerated milk. Similarly, if you have cold milk and need to combine it with warm milk, you should bring them at the same temperature.
19. Don’t refreeze breast milk.
Assuming you defrosted more milk than your baby can eat, you will wonder how you can still store the extra milk. The first thought that might come to your mind would be refreezing it. But this is actually a bad idea. Once you thawed the milk and brought it to a normal temperature for your baby to enjoy it, bacteria will start growing in the milk. So, if you would refreeze it again after this process, you would refreeze the bacteria with it.
Stay away from refreezing breastmilk because the quality of it definitely goes down with time. If you give your baby breastmilk that was frozen more than once, you risk to provide them with digestive problems and even dangerous infections.
20. Store breastmilk in small containers.
A great rule when storing breastmilk is to store it in “one meal” containers. This allows you to defrost just as much milk as your baby eats, so you will not waste it.
You can freeze bottles of milk that are big enough for one portion and apply the same rules for breastmilk bags. This shouldn’t be difficult as milk containers usually come in the appropriate sizes to accommodate a full meal at once. Use the same rule for refrigerated breastmilk as well, so you keep it safe longer and stay more organized with your supply.
21. Use a cooler when you travel with breastmilk.
Storing breastmilk safely while you are at home is one thing, but saving it when you travel is an entirely new challenge to overcome. You will need a high-quality cooler to transport your breastmilk for long distances. This becomes even more important if you need to take a long flight.
These coolers use ice packs or frozen gel to maintain the temperature of your milk correctly and don’t allow it to get too warm. Follow the instructions of these coolers and use them accordingly to make the most out of such a product.
22. Breastmilk can stay in the cooler for a maximum of 24 hours.
If you do use a cooler to keep your milk cold, you should know that this type of product will be efficient for a maximum time of 24 hours. Even this time frame might be stretching it at times. But it depends much on the conditions you travel in. If the temperature is not hot summer one, you can get away with keeping your milk safe in a cooler for one full day. If you are traveling in high-temperature conditions, it might stay good for only 12 hours.
Whatever the situation is, make sure to check the quality of the milk before serving it to your little one.
23. Don’t use any expired breastmilk.
You might think that this is an obvious rule, but it should still be mentioned. Any milk that went past the expiration date, which is 4 hours at room temperature for freshly expressed milk, 4 to 8 days in the fridge, and 6 to 9 months in the freezer, should not be used.
This is also where the spoiled milk signs could come handy as well. If you always check the quality of your milk before giving it to your baby, you know that you can’t give them bad milk.
24. It is a good idea to refrigerate your breastmilk as soon as you pump it.
We talked about how breastmilk stays good for up to four hours at room temperature once it is freshly expressed. But if you express too much milk for your baby to eat in the next four hours (which is highly possible), you might want to put your supply in the fridge.
Your breastmilk will start to gather and multiply bacteria from the first 30 minutes you leave it out. So after four hours pass, you will not be able to freeze it or refrigerate it without also storing the bacteria it gathered. To conserve your breastmilk at its best quality after expressing it, you are safer to place it in the fridge directly. Leave out only as much as your baby will eat at the next meal and store the rest as you see correctly.
25. Don’t fill up the milk container when you freeze it.
Any container you use to freeze your milk should only be 3/4 parts full. The breastmilk will expand in the freezer and reach the entire capacity of the container. If you fill the breastmilk bags, for instance, more than 2/4 of their capacity, you will risk having them tear open. This can lead to wasting essential breastmilk supplies.
Simply add less milk in each container you use, being it a bottle or a milk bag. Leave one-quarter open for the expansion to take place, so you are not taking unnecessary risks!
26. Freeze any amount of breastmilk that you will not use in the next 24 hours.
Yes, breastmilk can stay good for several days in the fridge. But freezing it remains the best option. After 24 hours, bacteria will reach your breastmilk even if it is correctly stored in the refrigerator. You can still feed it to your baby as they can process small amounts of bacteria. But, ideally, you should try to minimize the risk of germs as much as possible.
To do that, you should freeze the breastmilk that will not be used the next day. You might get away without doing that as the refrigerator still conserves the breastmilk to a decent quality. But if you can freeze it and defrost it for every meal your baby needs, you are one step ahead on the safe side.
27. Sterilize all the containers before storing the breastmilk.
It is essential to sterilize all the containers you will use for storing breastmilk. Washing them like you would wash regular dishes will not suffice.
- You can sterilize baby bottles by using a sterilizer or by boiling them in water. The sterilizer method is the safest because it will kill almost all types of germs and bacteria.
- You can find different sterilizers for your baby bottles on the market. If you don’t have a sterilizer, you can simply boil the baby bottles (along with their lids and nipples) into a big container with water.
- If you choose not to sterilize baby bottles, you take the risk of having bacteria grow even more inside of them and contaminating the milk.
- The germs will be combined with the breastmilk, and therefore, you will not be able to conserve its quality for your baby’s future meals.
The good news is that you don’t have to sterilize breastmilk bags. These bags come already sterile. Plus, breastmilk bags can’t be reused, so you will throw them away once you are done with them.
28. Don’t use regular bottles instead of baby bottles.
The temptation to use regular bottles to store your breastmilk might be high. But you should not consider such an option for more reasons. First, regular plastic bottles are not BPA-free. They contain chemicals that will affect the quality of your milk. If you are considering using glass bottles, these could break easily. You don’t want to waste your milk.
The type of plastic used for baby bottles is safe and doesn’t contain harmful chemicals. Thanks to this aspect, it is safe for your baby and meant to resist all storage conditions. On the other hand, you will not be able to heat up regular bottles in the same way you would heat up baby bottles because they will not have the same resistance level.
29. Don’t transfer the breastmilk from one container to another.
Moving breastmilk from one bottle to another bottle opens a great risk for new germs and bacteria. You should be able to take the milk bottle as you stored it and heat it without even opening it. Once the bottle is open, new bacteria will start getting into it.
The only transfer of breastmilk you might have to do is when you store it in breastmilk bags. In this case, you will have to empty the bag into a baby bottle so your little one can drink from it. You will have to pay attention, so you don’t spill the milk as these breastmilk bags could be very flimsy and slippery.
Make sure the bottle is stable when you empty the milk bag, and you might even want to use a funnel to ease your job.
30. If you use breastmilk bags, try to pump directly into the bag.
Some mothers prefer to pump into a bottle and then transfer the milk into breastmilk bags. While this might seem like a comfortable and efficient strategy, it is far from being safe. The more you transfer the breastmilk from one container to another, the bigger the chances to contaminate it are.
If you want to reduce the risks of bacteria to a minimum, simply pump your breastmilk directly into the bag. Some breastmilk bags come with an adapter that allows them to connect to the pump. Equally, some pumps come with such an adapter too.
All you have to do is connect the bag to the pump and start expressing milk. When the bag is 3/4 full, you can put it in the fridge or freezer as you prefer to store it.
Follow these 30 breastmilk storage rules, and you will always give your baby the best type of breastmilk. It is essential to pay extra attention to these rules if your child is a premature baby.
Preemies are a lot more sensitive than full-term babies, and their bodies struggle to deal with bacteria more. So, you should always make sure you give them breastmilk that is at the best quality!