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Breastfeeding? Be sure you know how to handle and store your milk safely

April 30, 2015

If you’re breastfeeding your baby, you may decide to express some milk to be used at a later time. Using a breast pump allows you to collect milk to be used when you’re not with your baby and also gives your partner or another caregiver the opportunity to help you with baby’s often demanding feeding schedule. Many nursing mothers enjoy the flexibility of pumping and storing breast milk, and it becomes a necessity for those who desire to continue breastfeeding as they head back into the workplace.

If you’re going to pump and store breast milk, it’s important that you are well equipped to handle your baby’s milk safely to ensure quality nutrition for your little one. Here are some things you should know when pumping and storing breast milk. (Keep in mind these are general guidelines that apply to healthy infants being cared for at home. If your child has special medical needs or is hospitalized, be sure you check with your child’s doctor for specific instructions.)

Before getting started with a breast pump: 

  • Be sure that breastfeeding is well established before giving your baby a bottle.
  • Talk with your pediatrician about the right time to introduce bottle feedings.
  • If you haven’t already, seek the help of a lactation consultant. Your lactation consultant can address any breastfeeding issues you may have as well as help you select and get started with a breast pump.
  • Call the Breastfeeding Education Center at Winnie Palmer Hospital 321.THE.BABY (321.843.2229)

How should I handle my milk?

  • Always wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water before pumping or handling breast milk.
  • Pump in a clean, dry environment that allows for proper handling of your milk.
  • How should I store my milk?
  • Breast milk can be stored in glass or plastic bottles or cups with tight-fitting lids (often a breast pump comes equipped with storage bottles).
  • Be sure these containers have been washed well in hot, soapy water and allowed to air-dry before use. They can also be washed and dried in the dishwasher.
  • You may also choose to store breast milk in freezer bags that are specially designed for storing human milk. Don’t use bottle liners or other generic types of plastic bags- they are more likely to leak, may not protect the nutrients in your milk and may not prevent contamination as well as the bags specially designed for breast milk.    

How long can my milk be stored?

  • Once you’ve pumped your milk, place it in an appropriate bottle, cup or bag and close tightly.
  • Fresh human milk may be kept at room temperature (66-78°F) for 4 to 6 hours.
  • While it is ideal to store breast milk in the refrigerator (< 39°F) for a period of 72 hours or less, it is acceptable to store it in the refrigerator for up to 8 days.
  • When you aren’t planning to use milk within 24 hours, it may be frozen. Be aware, though, that there are different storage recommendations depending on the type of freezer you are using.
  • If your freezer is a compartment within a refrigerator (only one door for both and around 5°F), milk can remain frozen for only 2 weeks.
  • If your freezer is a compartment within a refrigerator but they have two separate doors (0°F), milk may remain frozen for 3 to 6 months.
  • Be sure to store milk away from the sides and toward the back of the freezer where the temperature remains relatively constant.
  • If you choose to store your milk in a deep freezer (-4°F), it can be stored for 6 to 12 months.
  • Remember that breast milk may be stored in a common refrigerator in the workplace or daycare center. It is not a bodily fluid that requires special handling or separate storage.

What’s the best way to thaw frozen breast milk?

  • To thaw frozen milk, place it in the refrigerator overnight or under warm, running water.
  • Don’t warm milk directly on the stove or in a microwave.
  • Keep in mind that it is normal for refrigerated or frozen human milk to separate into layers. Simply swirl gently before feeding to baby.
  • Previously frozen milk that has been thawed can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours.
  • If possible avoid refreezing thawed milk, as it may lose some of the antimicrobial properties or contribute to a breakdown of the milk components.

If you have any questions about breastfeeding, contact a lactation consultant at the Breastfeeding Education Center at Winnie Palmer Hospital 321.THE.BABY (321.843.2229) or review these helpful resources:

La Leche League International

New Mother’s Guide to Breastfeeding by Joan Younger Meek, MD, MS, RD, FAAP, IBCLC, Editor in Chief

Winnie Palmer Hospital's Breastfeeding Online Community Group, a place to discuss breastfeeding with other Moms