Some moms will start pumping right from the beginning, others are returning to work and need to pump and store their milk until they can be home again. Many breastfeeding moms will have occasions that they are away from their baby for a period of time and need to manually express. So, what do you do with this “liquid gold” to ensure it doesn’t go to waste? Here are a few very helpful tips and breast milk storage guidelines that you can use to ensure you will always feed your baby the very best.

Breast Milk Storage Guidelines

Start by Dating Your Breast Milk Before You Store It

  • All milk should be dated before storing.
  • Storing milk in 2-4-ounce amounts may reduce waste.
  • Preferably, breast milk should be refrigerated right after it is expressed and stored in glass or hard-sided BPA-free plastic containers, which have been washed in hot, soapy, water, rinsed and let air dry. Breast milk freezer milk bags may be used as well.

Breast Milk Storage Guidelines for Storing Milk

  • Room temperature (66-78°F, 19-26°C) for 4 hours (ideal), up to 6 hours (acceptable)
  • Refrigerated (<39°F, <4°C) for 72 hours (ideal), up to 6 days (acceptable)
  • Frozen (-0.4 to -4°F, -18 to -20°C) for 6 months (ideal) up to 12 months (acceptable)

Breast Milk Storage Guidelines for Warming Milk

  • Do not use a microwave oven to heat breast milk.
  • Frozen Milk: Thaw in the refrigerator overnight or under cool running water. Gradually increase the temperature of the water to heat the milk to feeding temperature.
  • Refrigerated Milk: Warm the milk under warm running water for several minutes. Or immerse the container in a pan of water that has been heated on the stove. Do not heat the milk directly on the stove.

Breast Milk Storage Guidelines for Thawed Milk

  • Previously frozen thawed milk can be kept in the refrigerator and used within 24 hours.
  • Remember: be sure to use the milk within 24 hours after you thaw it in the refrigerator. Also, if you have brought the milk up to room temperature, or you have already warmed it up after it was in the freezer or refrigerator, you should give it to your baby within two hours. Do not refreeze it after it’s been thawed.
  • You can thaw the milk by placing it in your refrigerator overnight, you can place it in a container that is filled with lukewarm or warm water, or you can hold it under running water that is lukewarm.
  • Take a look at the dates on your bottles of stored breast milk, and select the oldest ones first when you are ready to thaw some for your baby. That’s because the quality of your milk will end up going down the longer that it sits.
  • You should not thaw your breast milk in the microwave, as doing so can decrease the quality of the milk, and it might also heat the milk unevenly, causing it to become too hot.

Look for Separation

Breast milk may separate into a milk layer and a cream layer when it is stored. This is normal. Swirl it gently to redistribute the cream before giving it to baby.

Adding Fresh Breast Milk to Milk You Already Stored

What if you already have some breast milk stored, but you have pumped some fresh milk? Can you store them together in the same container? What do the breast milk storage guidelines have to say about this commonly asked question?

According to Mayo Clinic, you can certainly add your fresh breast milk to any frozen or refrigerated breast milk that you already stored away. Before you do so, make sure that the fresh milk is completely cooled in the refrigerator. Alternatively, you can use a cooler that is packed with ice packs in order to cool the milk down. Then, once it is totally cool, add it to the other milk that is already frozen or chilled. That way, you will not be adding any warm milk to frozen milk—you don’t want to do that because it will lead to the frozen milk thawing a bit.

Follow Breast Milk Storage Guidelines for the Health of Your Baby

Feeding your baby breast milk is a smart move, but it’s also wise to be aware of breast milk storage guidelines so you can always be sure that you are giving your little one the highest quality milk without any bacterial contamination.

Following the guidelines above is a great first step, but if you have any other questions, be sure to consult with your doctor for advice as well.