Best way to store breastmilk

Susan Fernandez November 11 2021

Breastfeeding is the healthiest choice for your baby, but what happens when you have to go back to work?

One of a mother's biggest concerns is how she can continue to breastfeed her child while at work. The good news is that there are many options available that make it easier for a breastfeeding mom to continue breastfeeding.

Is it important to feed a baby only with fresh breastmilk?

The World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding infants for at least the first six months of age. Most lactation professionals agree that there is no reason to supplement with infant formula unless the baby's health, growth, or nutritional status is compromised. This means that it is important for mothers to continue to breastfeed their babies after they go back to work full-time.

Is breastfeeding hard when you are away?

What can be done so that your baby receives only fresh breastmilk? If you plan on breastfeeding, try talking to your employer before leaving for maternity leave about setting up a pump room in your office where you can express milk during regular working hours. If this isn't possible, ask if you can visit each day (or several times per week) to pump in a private room.

Some workplaces may also be open to the idea of flexible working hours so that you can visit when your baby is napping or adjust your schedule if necessary.

Pump your milk

The best way to store breast milk is to pump when your child nurses and then use the milk in a bottle when you return home so that it can be warmed. This makes breastfeeding easier for both you and your baby since the milk will be at the temperature most familiar to your little one.

If you work full-time or will otherwise not have time to pump during the day, frozen breast milk is an option. Avoid storing unneeded bottles of frozen breastmilk in your freezer because this will take up valuable space and can ruin previously frozen bottles if thawed and refrozen again.

Choose a good breastmilk pumper:

  • Double/single electric pumps are good for those who pump multiple times a day.
  • Manual pumps have a low initial price, but can also be dangerous if not handled correctly.
  • A hospital-grade pump is the best option if you will be pumping very often and for a long period of time due to its power and durability. However, it is much more expensive.

How to pump breast milk?

If you have a working electric breast pump, it is best to use this over a manual pump. Once your milk starts flowing easily, set the speed of the machine as high as possible without reducing its effectiveness.

Use a double pumping system if you are bottle-feeding with expressed breast milk. Some pumps allow you to do both at once or even from two different bottles. This is recommended so that your let-down reflex will be stimulated and your whole supply stimulated.

Clean any pump parts properly before storing them in order to prevent bacterial growth during the time they are not being used.

Ways to store your breast milk

Storage cups: These are carried by all formula companies, but can also be bought at any grocery store. They work best for storing smaller quantities of milk. If you cannot pump enough to fill a cup each day, you can freeze leftover parts in these cups and then pop them out when ready to use.

Pump & Save bags: These are specifically used with pumps that have the ability to double pump or that has an attachment that fits into place on top of bottles. Some brands come with funnels attached so that all pieces are correctly placed prior to being put in the freezer.

This is great for saving time in addition to saving space.

Freezer bags: The most common type of bag used for storage is a plastic sandwich or quart-sized bag, which can be purchased at grocery stores in bulk. However, these are not the best choice to use if you plan on storing large amounts of breast milk for an extended period of time due to their leaky nature when frozen or thawed.

It is important when freezing your breastmilk to use a light wrapping material such as freezer paper or fabric bags because plastic wrap can cause moisture buildup and therefore mold growth.

Glass bottles: These are great for when you will be using the milk within a few months because they do not allow harmful chemicals to seep in around the cap like many other plastic products. They also come with caps that can be placed directly on top if desired rather than into an attachment that might get lost over time.

Specialized containers: To store larger quantities of breastmilk for longer periods of time, specialized containers should be used. There are freezer boxes available, which can hold up to 12 gallons of breastmilk. The downside to these is that they are very large, so they are not practical for mothers who need to store their milk in the fridge alongside other drinks or food due to lack of space.

Note: Label your milk appropriately if you are freezing or refrigerating it. You should mark out both the date of storage as well as how many ounces you have in each container. For ease of use later, place all frozen breastmilk together so that you can find them easily when needed. If separated into different bags, they may melt into one big mess before you need to retrieve them again!

So what method is the best?

While there is no wrong answer to this question, each type of container has its own benefits and drawbacks.

You may even want to use a combination of these depending on the reasons you are storing your breast milk in the first place. For example, if you have a large supply that will not be used for years, it might be best to stockpile in large freezer boxes so that space is not an issue.

On the other hand, if you only have a few ounces available at any one time but plan on using them within a shorter period of time, freezing them separately in bags or using pump&save storage bags would be more practical due to their size and convenience.

In both cases, making sure that all containers are clearly labeled with the date of storage and quantity is the most important part in order to avoid wasting any.

Keep in mind that no matter what kind of container you choose for breast milk storage, it is not meant to be used forever. If you have a large amount of milk being stored over a long period of time, reevaluate the need every few weeks or so to see if there will still be a reason needed at that point in time.

Keep in mind that some women may only pump once every few days while others do it several times each day during certain periods of their child's development. This will depend on your own personal needs.

How long can you store breast milk?

The maximum storage time is 6 months in the fridge, and up to 12 months if it is frozen.

How long can you store milk at room temperature?

Breast milk can be stored at room temperature for up to 7 days. Store it out of direct sunlight, but not in the fridge.

How long can you store expressed breast milk?

If your expressed breastmilk has turned brown or green, throw it away! If its color is normal, you can freeze it until ready to use. You should never allow opened frozen breastmilk bottles to sit at room temperature for longer than 24 hours because bacteria will begin growing fast inside the liquid. Once defrosted, use within 24 hours and always wash hands with hot soapy water before preparation.

Do not microwave your breastmilk! Microwaving destroys nutrients that are vital to your baby's. Instead, warm it gently on the stove or in a pan of warm water.

How to store breast milk from the freezer to the fridge?

If you have large amounts of frozen breastmilk, defrost some and then put it back into the freezer before thawing out another batch again. A helpful tip is to write down how many ounces are in each container so that you know exactly how much space it will take up when removed from the freezer.

If you have a small amount, just place a bottle directly in the refrigerator as soon as it has been thawed. Always wash your hands with soap and hot running water immediately after accessorizing bottles for preparation! Never leave cold milk sitting at room temperature for longer than two hours. Label all milk with the date and number of ounces to keep track of how long your milk has been in the freezer.

What if you forgot about frozen milk?

You can still use milk that has been frozen and then leave it in the fridge for up to 24 hours. If this is not an option, you should place the thawed milk into a refrigerator for no more than 8 hours. Then prepare a bottle and feed your baby to reduce any chance of the bacteria contained within growing at such high temperatures.

What about breast milk that has been left in the car?

Do not feed your child if you discover it after driving for more than an hour! Milk can begin to heat up quickly inside a parked car, and the chances of bacterial growth within this time frame are high. If you keep your baby in a car seat while driving, make sure there is airflow while both car doors are open. This will help prevent any changes in temperature before returning home or moving to another location.

How do you thaw my frozen milk?

Thaw milk by placing it under warm running water or submerging the bottle in a pan of warm water without turning on the stove! Microwaving should always be avoided due to its tendency to cause hot spots inside bottles that can burn your baby.

Can you refreeze thawed breastmilk?

No! Never re-freeze previously frozen breastmilk under any circumstances. This can cause harmful changes within the liquid due to the high temperatures involved in the process, altering lipids and proteins that are vital to your child's growth and development. Clean all bottles thoroughly with hot water and soap especially if you have been defrosting batches of milk over a period of time.

When should you throw away my milk?

Throw away any milk that has passed its expiration date, or if it is more than 6 months old in the freezer compartment. Also, discard any milk that has been left at room temperature for longer than 7 hours! If it is ever in doubt, always play it safe and dispose of what you are unsure about.

What can you do while my baby is being bottle-fed?

Breastfeeding provides the perfect opportunity to bond with your infant while he receives a warm meal, so try not to worry about any bottles given during contrary feeding sessions! If this applies, feel free to use this time for yourself or go back to sleep.

Nursing gently from one breast while offering a bottle from another can also reduce nipple confusion when transitioning between breastfeeding and bottle feeding later on in life. Feeding should always be approached as an enjoyable bonding moment instead of a chore!

Bottom line

There are many ways to store breastmilk, but it is always best to be prepared for anything. By keeping milk covered in the refrigerator at all times, listening to the expiration date on each package opened, and refraining from keeping any breastmilk that has not been stored properly for an extended period of time, you can ensure that you are providing your baby with the healthiest diet right from day one.

Make sure you do not leave any bottles at room temperature for more than 7 hours, and always wash your hands before preparing a bottle!