How Long Does Breast Milk Last? What You Need to Know

Published by 
Jess Miller
Last updated: 
November 21, 2021
Mother breast feeding her baby

Are you thinking about breastfeeding your baby? There will be a ton of information thrown your way as you prep for your bundle of joy’s arrival. If you are looking into breastfeeding, you'll definitely want to ask, “How long does breast milk last?”

If you choose to breastfeed, it will be an essential aspect of your baby’s life.

So, you're going to want to know all of the tips and tricks to make it not only easier on you, but on your baby as well. One of the biggest things to keep in mind about breast milk is making sure you know how to store it properly and how long it will last.

Before You Start Pumping

Medela Breastfeeding Gift Set, Breast Milk Storage System; Bottles, Nipples, Travel Caps, Breastmilk Storage Bags and More, Made Without BPA
Image source: amazon

It’s prep time! When it comes to baby products, getting everything ready to go is an excellent place to start.

Following these simple steps before you begin pumping will make things more comfortable in the long run.

Sanitize everything

One of the first things you are going to want to do is sanitize all of your supplies. Make sure you include all of the bottles and pump equipment.

The cleaner the products, the better for your baby’s safety.

Wash up

Don’t forget about washing your hands with soap and water. If water is not available, hand sanitizer is the next best option you have to get your hands cleaned.

You don’t want to handle breast milk with dirty hands.

Don’t forget labels

When you are trying to figure out which bottle or pouch to pull first, don’t forget about labels. The easiest way to know which to use is if you label everything with a date.

It’s important to remember the rule — first in, first out — when it comes to using stored breast milk.

Different Storage Container Options

Storing breast milk in the appropriate containers is crucial. You are going to want to make sure you are putting the milk in containers that they make specifically for storing breast milk.

Bottles

Medela Breastfeeding Gift Set, Breast Milk Storage System

Bottles are a great way to store your breast milk in the refrigerator. You can use either plastic or glass bottles.

You might be able to use some bottles in the freezer, but you will have to check on your specific brand of the bottle to make sure that they are freezer-safe. Some bottles have parts that could crack or become destroyed if frozen.

Storage bags

mDesign Storage Organizer Bin

Storage bags can be the best way to store breast milk not only in the refrigerator but in the freezer as well.

Many bags are explicitly designed for freezing. They also make great storage containers that you can use to keep everything nice and tidy.

How Long Does Breast Milk Last?

Make sure you know precisely how long breast milk will last in all aspects. There are different ways to store breast milk, and each comes with its own rules and timeframe.

Countertop or table

How long does breast milk last on the counter? Breast milk can sit out at room temperature (77 degrees Farhenheit or cooler) for up to four hours. Anything after that, and you will have to throw out the milk.

If you leave the milk out too long, it will spoil and become unsafe for your baby to drink.

We don’t want to give our baby something that will upset their stomach. We all know that a baby with an upset tummy makes for a stressful day.

Fridge storage

How long does breast milk last in the refrigerator? You can store milk in the fridge for up to four days, with the temperature set at 44 degrees or colder.

Make sure to place your pumped milk in the fridge ASAP. The sooner it gets in there, the better.

Also, always make sure you use BPA-free containers for storage.

You can mix previously chilled milk that you have in the fridge. Just make sure it’s from the same day, and you are chilling the new milk before mixing them.

Another good tip: Keep your milk stored in the coldest part of your refrigerator. It will keep the temperature more consistent if you are keeping it in the back of the fridge versus the front.

Freezer storage

How long does breast milk last in the freezer? Breast milk is safe in the freezer for up to six months. However, you can store breast milk for a longer time frame (up to 12 months) if you are using a deep freezer.

You are going to want to put your breast milk into the freezer as soon as you are finished pumping. Freeze your breast milk in smaller increments to allow for easier thawing.

A good rule to follow: Freeze one portion of what your baby drinks in one sitting in each container.

When it comes to freezing breast milk, make sure you are using the correct container. There are individual freezer-safe bags that are perfect for freezing breast milk.

Remember to always leave room for the milk to expand as it freezes in the container.

You will also want to make sure you are putting your frozen milk in the coldest part of your freezer. Never put your milk in the door of your freezer.

How Long Does Breast Milk Last After It Is Frozen and Thawed?

Once breast milk has been thawed out, there are different answers to, "How long does breast milk last outside of the freezer?"

Counters or tables

You can allow breast milk to sit out at room temperature for up to two hours. If it is not used up within that timeframe, however, you will have to throw it out.

In the refrigerator

You can store previously frozen breast milk in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours. Once the 24 hours are up, you will have to throw out the remaining breast milk.

Tips and Tricks for a Healthy, Happy Baby

We have a couple of helpful tips to remember when it comes to your breast milk. It’s always good to know the answers to even the smallest questions you might have regarding your baby's health.

Can you re-freeze?

You never want to put previously frozen breast milk back into the freezer. You might think you are doing something right by refreezing the breast milk. But, in reality, it's never a good idea to refreeze breast milk.

Before you feed baby

Before you give the bottle to your baby, make sure you give it a good swirl to mix everything together.

Also, babies can leave bacteria on a nipple after drinking from a bottle. You should swap out the nipple or replace the bottle after feedings.

Daycare or babysitter

Before you start taking your breast milk to your daycare provider or babysitter, make sure they have the proper place to store it. You will want to make sure they are following the same standards you use at home.

You don’t want to find out weeks or months down the road that they haven’t been storing it properly.

We all know how precious every drop of breast milk can be, and you don’t want to see it go to waste because they had to throw it out. If they don't usually store breast milk, make them a chart of the correct temperatures and times as a reference when handling your breast milk.

Why does it smell funny?

If you notice your refrigerated or frozen breast milk smells a little funny, don’t worry. There's an enzyme called lipase that helps break down fats and releases fatty acids. It helps prevent the build-up of bacteria in the milk.

So, if the milk smells a little off, don't worry. It's your body doing what it was designed to do.

What to Do When Out and About

If you are going to be away from home for a while and need to pump or transport previously pumped breast milk, consider getting a breast milk cooler.

Breast milk coolers are designed to hold bottles and come with an ice pack that fits perfectly around your bottles. It can be a lifesaver for a mom on the go.

If you have to pump and store your breast milk while you are at work, make sure they have the proper place to store it. You are going to want to have it somewhere that no one can tamper with it and ensure that the temperature is correct.

Time to Load up the Freezer!

How long does breast milk last? The answer all depends on how you store it.

But if you are following these easy-to-follow guidelines, you will be able to get the most out fo your milk supply and keep your baby happy.

Now, it’s your turn! Did you already know how long breast milk will last if stored properly? Do you have any storage tips for other moms? Let us know in the comments below!

Featured image source: freepik

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