Milk Storage Requirements

Many mothers find it convenient or even necessary to collect their breastmilk and store it to be used at a later time.  Such is the case for mothers who are returning to work or school or for mothers who may need to be separated from their infants.  The guidelines offered below may answer the many questions mothers have about safely storing their breastmilk.

Collecting Breastmilk

  • Wash hands well with soap and water.
  • Wash all the collecting bottles and breastpump parts that touch your breasts or the milk.  Use hot, soapy water or a dishwasher.  Rinse carefully.  Air dry on a clean towel.
HUMAN MILK STORAGE – QUICK REFERENCE CARD
Temperature Storage Time
Freshly expressed milk
Warm room 80-90°F / 27-32°C 3-4 hours
Room temperature 61-79°F / 16-26°C 4-8 hours
(ideal: 3-4 hours)
Insulated cooler / ice packs 59°F / 15°C 24 hours
Refrigerated Milk (Store at back, away from door)
Refrigerator (fresh milk) 32-39°F / 0-4°C 3-8 days
(ideal: 72 hrs)
Refrigerator (thawed milk) 32-39°F / 0-4°C 24 hours
Frozen Milk (Do not refreeze! Store at back, away from door/sides)
Freezer compartment inside refrigerator (older-style) Varies 2 weeks
Self-contained freezer unit of a refrigerator/freezer <39°F / <4°C 6 months
Separate deep freeze 0°F / -18°C 12 months
(ideal: 6 months)
These guidelines are for milk expressed for a full-term healthy baby. If baby is seriously ill and/or hospitalized, discuss storage guidelines with baby’s doctor.
To avoid waste and for easier thawing & warming, store milk in 1-4 ounce portions. Date milk before storing. Milk from different pumping sessions/days may be combined in one container – use the date of the first milk expressed. Avoid adding warm milk to a container of previously refrigerated or frozen milk – cool the new milk before combining. Breastmilk is not spoiled unless it smells really bad or tastes sour.To thaw milk

  • Thaw slowly in the refrigerator (this takes about 12 hours – try putting it in the fridge the night before you need it). Avoid letting milk sit out at room temperature to thaw.
  • For quicker thawing, hold container under running water – start cool and gradually increase temperature.

Previously frozen milk may be kept in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours after it has finished thawing. Do not refreeze.

To warm milk

  • Heat water in a cup or other small container, then place frozen milk in the water to warm; or
  • Use a bottle warmer.
  • NEVER microwave human milk or heat it directly on the stove.

The cream will rise to the top of the milk during storage. Gently swirl milk (do not shake) to mix before checking temperature and offering to baby.

 

Breastmilk Odor and Taste Changes

  • Causes of breastmilk odor and taste changes
    Changes in breastmilk odor and taste can be caused by medications, mother’s diet, smoking and exposure of milk to light or cold temperatures during storage. In most cases, infants do not seem to mind odor/taste changes in breastmilk.
  • Odor due to lipase
    Some mothers produce milk that, when frozen, develops an off-odor and taste due to a normal breastmilk enzyme called lipase. When thawed, this milk is often described as smelling unpleasant, rancid or soapy. It is safe to use and many infants will accept it. However, some infants may refuse to drink it, either with their first taste or later as they develop taste preferences and volitional (non-reflexive feeding) feeding behaviors.
  • Test prior to freezing
    Before freezing large amounts of breastmilk, mothers can test their milk for odor and taste changes due to lipase. Collect and freeze 1-2 bags or small containers of breastmilk for at least 5 days. Then evaluate the odor and see if your infant will drink it.
  • To eliminate lipase-induced milk changes during freezing
    If milk changes smell and taste during test freezing, mothers can scald their fresh milk before they freeze it. Scalding milk after it has been frozen will not correct the odor/taste problem.
  • To scald fresh milk:
    – Heat it in a pot until tiny bubbles form around the edges of the pan (approximately 180° F).
    – Remove the milk from the stove and quickly chill it before freezing.

    Scalding milk reduces some of the beneficial components in breastmilk, so whenever possible, give your infant fresh breastmilk.

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