Breast Milk Storage Guide
March 23, 2016
If you are going to be away from your baby for periods of time it is important to store some breast milk for him/her to drink while you are away. For working mothers it is advisable that you begin pumping and storing your milk at least 1 – 2 weeks before going back to work. While at work be sure to pump approximately 3 times a day during an 8 hour work schedule in order to keep your milk supply up.
Breast milk can be stored in various types of containers ranging from glass to plastic. There are varying opinions on the most ideal type of material to use for storing breast milk and most mothers are advised to go with what is recommended by their child’s pediatrician or nutritionist. On one hand glass containers are often very long lasting but are also very fragile. Concerns have been raised surrounding the possibility of chipped glass fragment being left in the milk and possibly being drank by the baby. They are also quite expensive. On the other hand, plastic containers/bags are a lot cheaper but are often non-reusable (especially in the case of the bags) which makes the overall cost quite high. For the reusable plastic containers/bags, the sterilization process if involving high heat could break down the chemical components of the plastic which could possibly lead to some of these chemical components seeping into the milk.
Regardless of which storage method you opt to use it is always important to ensure that the container/bag is clean, sterile and damage free, that is there are no tears or cracks on the container/bag. Be sure to also wash your hands thoroughly and work off a clean and hygienic surface. You should freeze your milk immediately after expressing leaving a gap at the top for expansion which will prevent the bag from bursting. Always ensure the container/bag is tightly sealed.
While storing breast milk be sure to label the time and date of storage and arrange them with the oldest container/bag closest. This will ensure that the milk does not end up staying for long before it is utilized. Most people advise using the 24hour timing system as it makes it easier to identify which milk is older but this is up to you.
In addition, if you will be taking your baby to day care, remember to write your baby’s full name on the container/bag to prevent it from being mixed up with that of another baby.
Breast milk can often be stored for a long period of time, however the recommended storage time varies depending on the preservation method used. We have provided a guide on the recommended duration for breast milk storage. It is important to note that the duration stated may vary depending on your baby’s situation, for example babies who were born prematurely or who are sickly may not necessarily follow this schedule and hence mothers are often advised to consult their baby’s doctor for the most appropriate guidelines.
You may want to opt for refrigeration if you will be using your milk within the next few days as opposed to freezing. This is because high temperatures could destroy some of the components of your milk which help fight infection (none the less, breast milk is still often healthier than formula). The down side to this is that if you do not use the milk within 5 days you might have to discard it.
It is possible to add freshly expressed breast milk to frozen milk as long as both were expressed on the same day and the fresh milk is less than the frozen milk. Be sure to chill the milk first by storing it in the refrigerator for a while. The date and time of storage should remain as that of the original milk.
Expressed milk often varies in colour, consistency and scent depending on your diet. When you take your milk out of the freezer you might also notice that the cream has risen to the top. This is normal and all you have to do is swirl the thawed out milk to mix it up. Do not shake the milk as it is said that this might destroy the structure of the protein in the milk.
To thaw out your milk you can place it in the refrigerator the night before its expected use. This can ideally stay in the refrigerator for 12 – 24 hours. You can then warm it by placing the container/bag in a bowl or warm clean water. Never thaw and/or warm your baby’s milk by putting it in the microwave as this could create hot pockets which may burn your baby. Warming the milk directly in a sufuria (pan) may also change the composition of the milk depriving it of all its nutritious benefits. It also important to never refreeze already thawed out milk. You may opt to store your milk in 2 – 5 oz portions as this is often easier to thaw out and prevents wastage.
Once your baby is done feeding you can store the milk for 1 – 2 hours in the refrigerator after which you are advised to discard it if not used.
For more specific advice on breast milk storage be sure to consult your baby’s pediatrician or nutritionist to get advice specific to your baby’s needs.