How long can I keep breast milk for and how should I store it?


Breastfeeding can be one of the most amazing and rewarding jobs, but it can also be exhausting and hard work. Did you know that the hours you spend feeding your child around the clock are equal to a full-time job? Time for a promotion and a pay rise, methinks! 

We all know how awesome breast milk is for your little baby – breastfeeding provides your baby with all the necessary nutrients for growth and development, getting them all those good essential fatty acids. It also helps to strengthen the bond between you two. But, as we also all know, breastfeeding can come with its own set of challenges – especially when it comes to storing breast milk.

The fact is, being a parent can be really hard and sometimes you need and deserve a break. However, your mini-me’s stomach doesn’t get the memo that mama needs a time out so if you are still on your breastfeeding journey you’ll want to ensure you’ve got a stash of breast milk ready to go.

Expressing and storing breastmilk can get pretty complicated, that’s true. But it’s crucial to store breast milk properly if you want to avoid any ‘spoiled milk’ drama. We know this more than ever, thanks to more research in women’s health. You want to hold onto the nutritional value and anti-infective qualities expressed milk, so your little one gets all the goods and none of the harmful bacteria. You see, freshly expressed breast milk is too good to be wasted. Don’t let your expressed breastmilk go bad on you and follow the dos and don’ts , and you’ll be a breast milk storage pro in no time!

Do’s Breastmilk Storage

Do: Store breastmilk in a clean bottle/ breast milk storage bag

When it comes to storing that expressed breast milk, always make sure to use a clean container, otherwise, you’ll be wasting all that hard work. Don’t just grab any old bottle lying around. Give it a good wash with hot soapy water and sterilise. If you’re feeling fancy, you can even give one of those UV sanitising machines a try, because who doesn’t love a good germ-busting sesh? But here’s a pro-tip, breast milk storage bags are the best way to go for storing expressed breast milk (if you would like to build a stash for later use), they can stand upright for easy filling, and can be stored flat, taking up less space. Way easier than plastic bags, that’s for sure.

Keep in mind, these storage bags are a one-time use kind of deal. Reusing them is like playing with fire, you’re risking contamination and leaks. Don’t treat them like a reusable shopping bag, these bags are made of a special material that can withstand freezing and thawing without leaking (like a cooler bag), but it’s not indestructible – it can easily be punctured or torn. So don’t treat it too differently than you would plastic bags. Always remember to follow the manufacturer’s instructions, because different brands may have different guidelines to store milk.

Breast milk storage containers are also a common place that milk can be stored. They’re more durable than just plastic containers and keep freshly expressed milk safe and clean. All in all, handling breast milk needs to be done mindfully.

Do: Label your breast milk with date and time

When it comes to storing freshly expressed breastmilk, don’t forget to label it with the date and time it was pumped. Why, you ask? Well, because you don’t want baby to be chugging expired milk, as it can become contaminated with harmful bacteria. I like to see these bags as mini time capsules, you’ll be able to look back and see when your little one was craving more fat or protein (I always get fascinated about how yellow my early milk looked!). Not to mention, labelling bags makes life so much easier when you are at your most sleep-deprived and, potentially, your most forgetful. 

Oh and don’t forget to label the time when the expressed breast milk was pumped, because freshly expressed breast milk can change throughout the day, adjusting to what your baby needs at that specific time, it’s like magic! 

Do: Store breast milk in the back of the fridge or freezer

Are you tired of playing a guessing game with your breast milk’s freshness? Let me tell you – location is key. That’s why should store breast milk in the back of the fridge or freezer. This is where the magic happens, it’s the coldest spot in the house! And we all know that the colder the better when it comes to keeping your breast milk fresh and safe for your little one. Storing expressed breastmilk here is like giving a little winter vacation spot for your milk!

Don’t Breastmilk Storage

Don’t: Leave breastmilk out at room temperature for too long

Don’t let your hard work turn into a science experiment! Remember – timing is everything. Leaving breast milk out at room temperature for too long can be a recipe for disaster, with bacteria taking over and making your little one sick. So, here’s the deal: expressed milk can hang out at room temperature for up to 4 hours, then it’s time to transfer it to the fridge or freezer. Freezing breast milk holds onto the freshness and nutritional value breast milk for up to six months, so you can have a steady backlog.

Don’t: Reheat breast milk more than once

Don’t play the reheat game with your liquid gold! Reheating breast milk more than once can cause the nutrients to degrade and that’s not something you want. Think of it like a leftover pizza, the more you reheat it, the less delicious it becomes. The same goes for frozen milk, it’s best to use it within a couple of hours of taking it out of the fridge or thawing it from the freezer. Freezing breast milk is so helpful for mums, so you don’t have to avoid it. Just make sure you do it mindfully.

So, next time you want to warm up your breast milk, make sure you’re going to use it all within a couple of hours.

Don’t: Mix freshly expressed breast milk with refrigerated or frozen breast milk

Leave the mix and match game in your wardrobe, not with your milk! Mixing fresh breast milk with refrigerated or frozen breast milk is like a game of hot and cold, and it’s just not a nice experience for your bub. When you mix them together, the temperature of the milk can change, affecting its quality. And quality is key when it comes to your little one’s nutrition.

The goal is to keep the temperature consistent and stored safely so that your baby can enjoy the best quality milk. 

How Long You Can Store Breast Milk?

When storing breast milk at room temperature, it’ll only be good to use for about four hours. Thawed breast milk is it’s best when used immediately. In the fridge, expressed milk stays good for up to four days, and frozen milk can be stored for up to 6 months.

How to Thaw Frozen Breast Milk?

It’s important not let frozen breast milk thaw at room temperature. Instead, thaw breast milk by warming it up quickly or thawing slowly in the fridge. Place the frozen expressed breast milk (whether it’s in a bag or a bottle) a bowl of warm water and gently swirl. Dash in some hot water until it the frozen milk becomes liquid, then transfer it to a clean feeding container where the milk can be stored. After that, thawed breast milk is good to go.

Can Warmed Breast Milk be Refrigerated Again?

Defrosted breast milk that’s been thawed in warm water can put it in the fridge for 24 hours. But it shouldn’t be stored in a freezer compartment again, nor should it be stored at room temperature.

We know that breast feeding is already a tiring job, and storing breast milk can be just one more thing to think about when you’re already juggling hormones, a healing body, sleep deprivation and the constant adrenaline rush that is caring for a tiny human. But by ensuring that your little one is getting the best quality milk, you can rest assured that baby will be healthy and happy. From cleaning and labelling to storing and reheating, it’s important to take the necessary precautions to keep your freshly expressed breast milk safe and top-notch quality. There’s no shortcutting when it comes to storing breastmilk. That amazing expressed breast milk is a precious gift, and it’s so important to take good care of it – and yourself! 

And as always, if breastfeeding is proving a tricky journey for you, reach out to a lactation consultant to support expressing breastmilk. A lactation consultant can provide practical tips and support, and give you that little helping hand – because women’s health definitely needs it. A lot of women struggling with expressing breastmilk, so you’re not alone and there are resources available, from hand expressing to expressing equipment.

For any extra information on storage guidelines and how to safely store expressed breast milk, you can access infant feeding guidelines from the Australian government here.

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