Breastfeeding your baby has so many health benefits that it’s no surprise that whenever possible, you would choose that feeding option. However, sometimes you will probably have to be away from your baby, and that means pumping. You need to have food available for your baby, of course, but the question you may be asking yourself is, how long the breast milk is good for once it is pumped?
1. Freshly expressed breast milk
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has recommendations for the length of time that breast milk can be stored. Breast milk can be left in a sealed glass or BPA-free plastic container at room temperature for no more than four hours. If the milk is in a bottle and leftover from feeding, then it should be used within two hours. Fresh breast milk can be stored in the refrigerator for up to four days. If you choose to freeze your breast milk, it can be held for six to twelve months, although it is recommended that you use it at the six-month mark.
2. Frozen breast milk
Frozen breast milk should be used within twelve months. It is ideal to use frozen breast milk within six months, but it will last up to 12. Once breast milk has been thawed, it should be held in the refrigerator for no more than 24 hours. Thawed breast milk should never be refrozen.
3. Storing breast milk in the refrigerator
To ensure that the breast milk remains safe for your baby, there are steps you must take. When you are pumping, and you know that you will be storing the milk, it is important to get it into the refrigerator as quickly as possible. Store the milk in airtight bottles or bags and not in a prepared bottle. Breast milk should be stored close to the back of the refrigerator and away from the door to prevent temperature fluctuations when the door is opened and closed. You should also label the container with the date and time that it was pumped, so it is easy to keep track of how long it will be good.
4. Combining containers
Small amounts of freshly expressed breast milk can be added to another container. Make sure that the milk you are adding is room temperature or cooler before you combine them. Keep in mind that this container of milk should be used or discarded by the date that it would originally have been. For example, adding fresh milk to a container of two-day-old milk doesn’t mean that it resets the use-by date.
5. Breast milk on the go
Properly stored breast milk can be stored in an insulated cooler for convenience. If you are going to be on the go, but you can carry an insulated cooler, you can pump your breast milk in advance and store it for later use. Stored in an airtight container and kept at the appropriate temperature, breast milk can be kept for up to one day in an insulated cooler.
6. Bringing breast milk back to a useable temperature
Breast milk should be returned to room temperature or slightly warmer before being given to your baby—Thaw frozen breast milk in the refrigerator for around 12 hours before warming it to use. Refrigerated milk can be warmed by submerging the bottle partway into a bowl of warm water or using a bottle warmer. Breast milk should never be microwaved or heated on the stove. It will destroy the nutritional value of the milk, and if you aren’t careful, you can scorch or curdle the milk.
7. Frozen breast milk
Breast milk that has been frozen might look or taste differently than breast milk that has never been frozen. The color may be slightly different. The smell and taste can also be affected. This does not mean that the milk is not safe to give to your baby. They may not take the milk for this reason, though. Nutritionally, frozen breast milk is similar to fresh breast milk, although vitamin C is lost over time.
8. Nutritional value
While most of the nutritional value is not lost over time, your baby’s needs do change. Breast milk that you pumped when your baby was a newborn may not be able to meet all of the nutritional needs of your older infant. If possible, don’t rely on an older stock of breast milk that you have frozen for all of your baby’s meals months later. If you have to rely on the stock, talk to your pediatrician about potentially supplementing their diet with vitamins.
9. Cleanliness is key
These guidelines depend on making sure that all of the tools that you are using are thoroughly cleaned with soap and water before use. Holding breast milk for any amount of time increases the risk that the milk could become contaminated with bacteria. You should think of breast milk the same way you think about your food in terms of food safety. You wouldn’t want to hold your food at room temperature all day or overnight and expect it to be still safe to eat the next day, and you shouldn’t think of your breast milk that way either. Getting breast milk properly stored as quickly as possible will ensure it remains fresh and good for your baby to drink.
Being able to store breast milk to use later can make your life as a parent much easier. Whether you will have to spend some time away from your baby, you have a busy day ahead of you. You don’t want to worry about finding a place to breastfeed in public, or you just want to try and get a little milk stored for use in a touch spot following these guidelines can help you to store your breast milk safely to ensure that your baby has a safe, healthy bottle of breast milk to drink.