How to Store Breast Milk: A Helpful Guide

Published by 
Jess Miller
Last updated: 
February 24, 2024
Expressing breastmilk at work

Breastfeeding helps keep your baby healthy and strong. If you can't always be there for feedings, pumping your milk is a great option. So, learn how to store breast milk. A helpful guide will ensure you know how to keep your milk safe and ready for feedings.

Storing your milk lets your baby get the benefits of breast milk even when you're unable to breastfeed. Pumping milk is also a great way to involve your partner in feeding time. And if your baby isn't sucking well, stored breast milk can be used for techniques like cup-feeding or a breastfeeding supplementer.

Pumping Breast Milk for Later Use

breast milk storage bags the best way to store pumped milk
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Before learning how to store breast milk, you'll need to get your pumping technique down.

Regularly expressing your milk helps maintain your supply and stimulates the production of breast milk. On the other hand, if you have oversupply, pumping can ease the discomfort of engorged breasts.

If you're new to breast pumping, it's a good idea to practice at home. Try pumping in the morning when your supply is likely to be at its peak. And remember, practice makes perfect, so don't worry if you can only pump a few drops at first.

Legally, employers are required to provide nursing mothers with appropriate accommodations at work. According to the Break Time for Nursing Mothers law, you are entitled to a private space to pump -- and not just a bathroom.

Assuming you express milk once or twice a day, you'll need somewhere to store all that milk. Many employers will provide you with a fridge. However, if yours doesn't, there are other safe storage options.

How long does breast milk last at room temperature?

If you don't have access to a fridge at work, you can safely store breast milk at room temperature for up to six hours.

For mothers who work standard eight-hour shifts, consider pumping over your lunch break or halfway through your workday. That way, you will have adequate time to get your milk home.

Although it is perfectly safe to store breast milk at room temperature for up to six hours, four hours is optimal. If possible, try to use or refrigerate your milk within four hours, especially if you must keep your milk in a warm room.

If you know you'll need to exceed the six-hour limit, bring along an insulated cooler with ice packs. By immediately placing your expressed milk in a cooler, you can safely store it for up to 24 hours.

How long does breast milk last in the fridge?

Breast milk will last up to five days in a refrigerator.

However, be sure to place the milk in the back of your fridge, where it will stay cooler. It may seem convenient to store your milk in the door, but it's not advisable. When you open your fridge, you'll expose the milk to warm air, which can lead to quicker spoiling.

Whenever possible, aim to use or freeze your refrigerated milk within three days for optimal nutrition.

How long does breast milk last in the freezer?

For longer-term storage, you can freeze your milk.

Breast milk can be kept in your refrigerator's freezer compartment for up to two weeks. If you have a deep freezer that runs at 0 degrees Fahrenheit or below, you can safely keep your milk in it for up to six months, although up to three months is optimal.

Keep in mind that freezing your milk can affect its quality. Studies suggest storing your milk for an extended period can lead to a reduction in vitamin C. Furthermore, some of breast milk's antibodies are lost when frozen. However, even frozen breast milk offers superior nutrition than formula.

How to Store Breast Milk

Philips AVENT Breast Milk Storage Cups
Image source: amazon

Whether you're planning to store your milk a couple of hours or a couple of months, knowing how to store breast milk safely means using appropriate storage containers and clear labels.

Philips AVENT Breast Milk Storage Cups, 6 Ounce

As a general rule, try to store your milk in sterilized glass or plastic containers.

If you are using plastic containers, make sure they are free of BPA, or bisphenol A. BPA is an industrial chemical used in the production of some storage containers. However, it can seep into food or beverages, and exposure to BPA may affect babies' brains and prostates.

Soft-sided breast milk storage bags are a very convenient option. However, these bags are more likely to tear or leak. So, you might want to consider placing filled breast milk bags in a hard-sided plastic container for extra protection.

How to store breast milk at room temperature

Sometimes, it makes sense to store breast milk at room temperature. For example, if you are expressing milk to cup feed your baby, you will likely not need to keep the milk more than a few hours. And while some babies will drink cold milk, most babies prefer it at body temperature.

On the other hand, if you are pumping at work and don't have access to a fridge, you may need to store your milk at room temperature for more than a couple of hours. In this case, you can ensure your milk is safe for consumption by washing your hands before pumping or handling the milk and by keeping your pump clean.

How to store breast milk in the fridge

If you are storing your milk in the refrigerator, be sure to label your container with the date when it was expressed. And don't forget to add your baby's name to the label if you're sending it to a daycare center.

You can combine freshly pumped milk with milk you expressed earlier the same day. However, be sure to let the milk cool first. You can use ice packs to cool the fresh milk quickly.

It's a good idea to refrigerate your milk immediately after pumping. Doing so will discourage the formation of bacteria.

Don't worry if your refrigerated milk separates. This is normal. A gentle swirl should be sufficient to recombine your milk.

To warm refrigerated milk, place the sealed container in a bowl of warm water. Never microwave breast milk, as this can lead to uneven heating and may destroy antibodies.

How to store breast milk in the freezer

Milkies Freeze: Organize & Store Your Breast Milk

For longer-term storage, store your milk in the freezer. Don't forget to label it with the date!

It's perfectly fine to transfer milk from the fridge to the freezer, but you should never refreeze thawed milk. Likewise, don't add freshly pumped milk to frozen milk, as this can cause the frozen milk to thaw.

A helpful tip for freezing milk is to freeze small amounts. Consider how much your baby typically drinks in a single feeding -- that's the portion size you should freeze. If you have an ice cube tray with a lid, you can use it to freeze individual portions.

To thaw frozen breast milk, place it in the fridge the night before you plan to use it. In a pinch, you can thaw frozen milk by holding the sealed container under warm running water. Always thaw the oldest milk first.

How to Store Breast Milk: Now You Know

Learning how to store breast milk is, in theory, simple. What can be a bit trickier, however, is getting into a routine.

As a new parent, life is probably pretty hectic. So, don't beat yourself up if you miss a pumping session or forget some milk in the back of your fridge. Just do your best, and know your efforts are helping keep your baby strong and healthy.

Always let your instincts guide you. While it's perfectly normal for refrigerated or frozen milk to separate or take on a bluish or yellowish color, if the milk smells off, throw it out. You can always pump again later or supplement with formula.

Do you have any tips for keeping your breast milk stock organized? We'd love to hear them, so please let us know below!

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