Everything you need to know about breast milk storage

The WHO recommends breastfeeding exclusively for at least the first six months. Whether you decide to opt for breast milk or formula milk to feed your baby is completely the mother’s prerogative. However, if you do decide on breastfeeding, it’s possible that you may not always be available to nurse, especially in the later stages when mommy needs to get back to work or has other responsibilities. So, if you want to know how to store breast milk, there are certain things you need to know about expressing and breast milk storage.

Here’s what you need to keep in mind before you express milk:

  1. Wash your hands thoroughly using soap and water before you start.

  2. You can express milk using a pump or manually, whatever is feasible. Ensure you clean the pump, its tubes and parts thoroughly. Make sure there are no moulds or dirt in any part of the pump. They need to be cleaned before every use.

  3. Another important point is to ensure you are sitting in the right posture, upright with plant back support. An incorrect posture can cause back aches as you need a considerable amount of time to pump milk.

Storage of breast milk

You will be surprised at how long you can store breast milk if you take the required steps and are hygienic. Freshly expressed milk can be stored at room temperature for four hours. The temperature you store it at, the temperature of the room when milk was expressed, quantity of milk, all play a part and affect breast milk storage time. We’ve categorized storage in the following points:

  • Refrigerator:

    When you store freshly expressed breast milk in a refrigerator at a temperature of 3 degrees Celsius or below, it will be good for four days. Always store it at the back of the refrigerator.

  • Freezer:

    When stored in a freezer at a temperature of -17 degrees Celsius or cooler, it can stay good for nine months! Make sure you don’t fill breast milk all the way to the top of the storage container as it expands when you freeze it. Once you thaw breast milk, it needs to be refrigerated and must be consumed within 24 hours.

  • Deep freezer:

    When stored in a deep freezer at a temperature of -20 degrees Celsius, breast milk can be stored for a solid 12 months. Same rule applies here – don’t fill the breast milk to the brim and once thawed, refrigerate and consume within 24 hours.

Thawing and warming breast milk

When you thaw breast milk, remember to always thaw the oldest milk first since the quality of breast milk reduces with time. You can thaw breast milk by either keeping the container in the refrigerator overnight, or by placing the container with breast milk in another container filled with warm water, or placing under lukewarm water. Once thawed, and brought to room temperature breast milk needs to be consumed within two hours. An important point is to never refreeze breast milk after you’ve thawed it.

Breast milk doesn’t need to be warmed, it can be fed at room temperature. Always check the temperature of breast milk before feeding your baby, it should be warm, not hot. Also, if the baby hasn’t finished the entire contents of the bottle, the leftover milk can be fed within two hours, any later than that and the milk should be discarded. Never microwave breast milk or heat it directly over a stove as you can destroy essential nutrients. Microwaving can also create hotspots which can burn the baby’s mouth.

Where to store breast milk?

Use breast milk storage bags or BPA-free containers with a tight, sealed lid to store expressed milk. It’s recommended that you label the bottle with the date that you express milk so that you can keep a tab. Whether refrigerating or freezing, always store the container at the back of the fridge, never in the door of the refrigerator to avoid temperature fluctuations. If you’re travelling, you can use insulated cooler bags to store breast milk with plenty of ice packs for up to 24 hours. Once you reach your destination, make sure to consume right away or store in a refrigerator or freezer.

Some extra tips

The colour of breast milk depends on the mother’s diet. And, thawed breast milk may have a slightly different odour and colour compared to freshly expressed breast milk. It’s not a cause for concern though as it’s safe to be fed, but if your baby refuses thawed milk then try shortening breast milk storage period. Keep in mind that research suggests that the longer you store breast milk — whether in the refrigerator or in the freezer — the greater the loss of vitamin C in the milk. It's also important to note that your breast milk changes to meet your baby's needs. Breast milk expressed when a baby is a newborn won't as completely meet the same baby's needs when he or she is a few months older. You can continue breastfeeding until 12 months even after you introduce solid foods to your baby, and maybe even more if you or baby feel like it.

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