How long does breast milk last in the fridge

Susan Fernandez November 11 2021

Breastfeeding is an important part of motherhood. The act of breastfeeding provides the newborn baby with necessary nutrients for healthy growth and development while also helping to strengthen the bond between mother and child.

However, it is often difficult at first to get the baby properly latched on in order to provide these benefits. Mothers are advised by most health professionals that they should exclusively breastfeed their child until six months old, at which they may introduce solid foods alongside breastfeeding.

The primary reason why mothers exclusively breastfeed for six months is that human breast milk contains all of the essential nutrients required by a baby during its most rapid period of growth between birth and age 6 months. Additionally, due to this rapid growth occurring within this frame, there are many nutritional components in breast milk that cannot be duplicated by artificial means and may not be present in commercial baby formula.

The nutritional makeup of human breast milk is such that it has a limited amount of "shelf life" after which point it will no longer contain all of its beneficial nutrients, rendering it unusable until such time as it can be replaced with fresh breast milk. In this article, we'll examine how long the average woman's breast milk lasts in the fridge once expressed and stored for later use.

How long?

The shelf life of human milk depends on several factors: most notably whether or not the woman is breastfeeding her child directly at that particular time (i.e., she currently possesses a full supply) or whether not she intends to express her milk for a future feed. For those mothers who are breastfeeding directly from the breast, they can expect their milk to have a shelf life of about 72 hours before the earliest point at which it will no longer be safe for consumption by the infant.

In order not to waste any precious breast milk, mothers who do not intend to express and store their supply should instead pump what they need for feeding at that time and discard any excess after 72 hours.

For those women who choose to express their breast milk and store it in the freezer compartment of a refrigerator or otherwise freeze fresh supplies on a daily basis, they can expect an average two-week period of valuable time during which their expressed milk remains good for use by the infant. If there is any question on an individual basis, most health professionals advise that mothers can test the safety of their breast milk just before feeding it to the child by giving the liquid a quick stir and checking for any abnormal curdling or spoilage.

How to unfreeze it?

Although some manufacturers do make special mention on their packaging labels regarding longer shelf life periods, these guidelines are only applicable under ideal (i.e., non-home) storage conditions. Most health professionals agree that if expressed breast milk is properly handled in all respects (stored in sanitizing containers within a refrigerator at 39 degrees Fahrenheit), remains unopened until needed for use, and is then thoroughly heated to no less than 165 degrees Fahrenheit (before consumption), then human mother's milk remains safe for a maximum of about one week.

Although not recommended, some milk banks will store breast milk for longer periods of time provided that the mother has been screened in accordance with their requirements and remains current on all needed medical tests (e.g., HIV). If stored under carefully controlled conditions (freezer at 0 degrees Fahrenheit or colder), human milk can be safely kept frozen for up to one year without loss of nutritional value. Freezing is the only way in which fresh, unprocessed breast milk can be saved for future use.

Once thawed, human breast milk should never again be re-frozen unless there is absolutely no other alternative available. Thawing breast milk by placing it into a refrigerator overnight will suffice; however, if necessary to save time it can be carefully heated in a pot of hot water or under the very low setting of a microwave oven. Once thawed, it should not be refrozen as this will compromise its nutritional value and render it unsafe for consumption by an infant or young child.

Is it safe to freeze?

The single most common question that all nursing mothers have when it comes to freezing and storing their pumped breast milk is whether or not the process of thawing and warming will compromise its safety for consumption by their child. There are many studies supporting this question, however, there are also just like many other sources that claim that breast milk remains perfectly safe after being stored in a freezer or refrigerator for up to one year if it is done correctly.

According to breastfeeding expert Dr. Jack Newman, "Do not refreeze expressed breastmilk." He goes on further to say "...if you need to store your milk for longer than 24 hours, place the freshly expressed milk into ice cube trays. Once frozen solid, pop out the cubes and store them in a labeled freezer bag. Each cube is roughly equivalent to 1 ounce of fresh breastmilk. You can then take out as many cubes as you need to thaw for each feeding."

Expressing and storing mom's breast milk is often recommended in cases where the mother will be away from her infant for an extended period of time or in situations where the child becomes seriously ill and must be hospitalized. It also provides infants with all manner of immune system benefits that they would not otherwise receive if their source of nourishment was solely commercial formula products. Once expressed, there are several methods by which this precious liquid gold can be safely preserved to provide essential nutrition when needed most.

How long should breastfeeding last?

The average length of time that a mom will continue to breastfeed her child is between four and six months. However, there are several factors that can determine when true weaning should begin including the age of the infant, overall health status, nutritional demands, emotional readiness of both mother and child, as well as personal goals and objectives. Although it is indeed possible to delay weaning for much longer (up to one year or more), most health professionals agree that this method offers little benefit beyond an enhanced bonding experience.

What if you don`t have much milk?

Some mothers produce an abundance of milk, while others do not. It's important to know that the ability to breastfeed is determined by many factors unique to each and every mom therefore not all women will be able to produce a sufficient amount of milk for their children. Fortunately, there are several alternatives available including:

Storing expressed milk in bottles: if mom has enough milk, the simplest way to provide her baby with nourishment when she cannot nurse is by using a bottle filled with her pumped breast milk; however, it is important that the nipple hole (or "flow-hole") on such bottles is not too large as this can pose a considerable choking hazard for infants.

Sharing donated breastmilk: known as either wet-nursing or cross-nursing, this process involves a mother feeding directly from another nursing mother's breast thus allowing her child to benefit from the donated milk if she is unable to provide enough for them.

A typical baby will be expected to consume between 20 and 30 ounces of double-strength formula a day in order to meet their nutritional requirements. Unfortunately, though, there are several unpleasant side effects that can occur as a result of using commercial formula products including:

Can you mix milk?

Many parents choose to mix in a small amount of formula in order to reduce the amount of lactose their child receives in a single serving thereby causing less gastrointestinal discomfort. There is no set ratio for mixing milk, however, it is important that this is done gradually and cautiously using either breast milk or water at room temperature (in order to prevent clumping) and thoroughly mixed before giving it to your baby.

Milk storing safety

The formula is not a sterile substance and should never be used unless freshly mixed. Always store expressed breast milk in the refrigerator for no more than 24 hours prior to giving it to a baby or you can also place it into ice cube trays and store it in the freezer for later use. Each cube is equivalent to 1 ounce of fresh breastmilk, so when the baby is hungry, simply pop out a few cubes and warm them up in a pan of hot water or by pouring some directly into the bottle before adding formula.

Bottom line

Regardless of the circumstances, it is important that the baby gets their fair share of nourishment from mom. If she has enough milk to offer her child then there's no reason not to breastfeed for as long as both parties are truly comfortable with this method. If however, she does not have a sufficient amount of milk and all other alternatives have been exhausted, she can go about preserving her precious liquid gold by expressing it into bottles or ice cube trays and storing it in the freezer before thawing out when needed most so that baby never goes without.