How Long Can You Freeze Breast Milk: A Guide

Published by 
Jess Miller
Last updated: 
November 21, 2021
Close-up portrait of sweet newborn baby breastfeeding. Young mother holding her baby on her arms feeding. Happy motherhood concept, indoors shot

Breastfeeding your baby is a noble task. You may have many questions ranging from "how do you know he is getting enough?" to "how long can you freeze breast milk?"

Don't worry about having questions. Every woman who breastfeeds has questions. Breastfeeding requires learning about the process and discovering the answers to your questions so that you can ensure your baby gets healthy and adequate nutrition.

How Long Can You Freeze Breast Milk?

One of the essential parts of breastfeeding for many mothers is learning about proper storage. Many women have to return to work, so they must pump throughout the day to ensure they keep up their milk supply and provide enough milk for their babies.

When you pump, you must store the milk properly to ensure it does not grow bacteria or otherwise become unhealthy for your baby. The best long-term storage option is to freeze it, but you may ask the question, "how long can you freeze breast milk?"

The Mayo Clinic explains that you can store breast milk in the freezer for up to 12 months. However, experts recommend that you use it within six months for the best quality.

Storing it for too long has some downsides. It loses vitamin C the longer you store it. Also, your breast milk changes as your baby ages to meet his or her needs, so breast milk you pumped even a month ago may not suit the nutritional needs of your baby today.

The CDC explains that you also need to practice proper storage before freezing breast milk. This means not leaving fresh milk out at room temperature for more than four hours and only keeping it in the fridge for up to four days. If you know that you will not use it within those time limits, put it in the freezer right away.

Tips for Freezing and Using Breast Milk

It is vital that you make sure you follow all safety tips when storing your breast milk. This will ensure it stays healthy for your baby. With that in mind, there are many things that you should and shouldn't do when it comes to expressing, storing, freezing, thawing, and using your breast milk.

Expressing

Haakaa Manual Breast Pump

Make sure you always wash your hands before you begin expressing milk. You also need to check your pumping equipment every time to make sure it is clean and free of mold.

Storing

You already know the answer to the question, "how long can you freeze breast milk?" but there is more to storing your milk than knowing the time limits.

You need to make sure you use the right container. It should always be clean and preferably clear so you can visually check for quality and other issues.

Breastmilk Storage Containers

You can use a storage container with a lid, but make sure it is BPA-free. It should not have the recycling symbol with the number 7 on it, which indicates BPA may be present. There are also storage bags you can use, but be sure only to use those specified for breast milk storage.

You also want to label every bag or container with the date you expressed the milk. This will help you track how long it has been in the freezer.

In addition, remember that milk will expand when it freezes, so leave about an inch of space for this. Also, put the milk in the coldest part of the freezer, and never store it in the door where temperature changes can lead to thawing and refreezing, which encourages bacteria growth.

Freeze the milk as soon as possible after pumping to preserve nutrients. To avoid waste, freeze in 2- or 4-ounce portions only. You can add milk to a container of frozen milk if you express it within the same day, but always cool down freshly expressed milk first to avoid thawing the frozen milk.

Using and thawing

When using frozen breast milk, always use the oldest first. You should thaw it in the fridge, under running warm water, or in a bowl of warm water. Never thaw it in the microwave or on the stovetop.

Before giving the milk to your baby, swirl it gently to mix the fat, but avoid shaking it. Throw out any milk you thaw but do not use within 24 hours. Never refreeze breast milk.

If you need to transport your breast milk, you can do so in a cooler with ice packs. You can keep it in a cooler for up to 24 hours.

A Special Note About Breast Milk for Preemies

Freezing and using breast milk is a little different for premature babies. As you likely know, they can benefit the most from breast milk, but they often have trouble latching on, which means you will need to pump and store your milk.

The National Association of Neonatal Nurses explains that ideally, a preemie should get fresh milk whenever possible because freezing reduces the bioactive components and increases the chances for contamination and bacterial growth.

Hand to Hold says if you must freeze your breast milk for a premature baby, you should be especially careful with sanitation. Always wash your hands thoroughly and ensure your pump is meticulously clean. Preemies are very susceptible to infections and illness, so these steps can keep your baby healthy.

Feeding Your Baby Safely

Mother Feeding Baby with Milk in the bottle
Image source: freepik

Well, now you know the answer to the question, "how long can you freeze breast milk?" You also learned quite a bit about safe storage.

Being informed about breastfeeding and the proper handling of your milk is critical to keeping your baby healthy. Properly stored milk offers a nutritious, full meal for your baby.

Knowing you can pump and store your breast milk may make it easier for you to go back to work or even be away from your baby for short periods, which is something every new mother needs now and then. It gives you more freedom while allowing you to continue to provide nourishment for your baby.

Do you breastfeed your baby and store milk in the freezer? Share your tips and advice for other new moms asking, "How long can you freeze breast milk?" in the comments section.

Featured image source: freepik

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