Keeping Breast Milk Fresh: Tips for Freezing, Thawing, and Storing

Bags of frozen breast milk in a container

Keeping Breast Milk Fresh: Tips for Freezing, Thawing, and Storing

Breast milk is truly amazing. Not only does it provide your baby with the nutrients and antibodies their little body needs, but it also has antibodies that can help the milk stay fresh and maintain many of its nutritional qualities when stored properly.

This is great news for parents who want to always have a bottle on hand to feed baby. Now, let’s take a closer look at how to store breast milk properly so you can ensure your breast milk stays fresh and safe for your little one.

Tips for Storing Breast Milk 

As we said, breast milk has antibodies that can keep bacteria and viruses at bay. This is why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, along with many other experts, say that freshly expressed or pumped breast milk can be stored at room temperature for up to four hours.

When storing breast milk in the fridge or freezer, it can last even longer. 

Here are some general tips to keep in mind when storing your breast milk:

  • Make sure to write the date on your milk before storing it. This makes it easier to follow the first in, first out rule (using the oldest milk first).
  • You can store breast milk in storage bags or clean, food-grade containers, including feeding bottles, that are designed for storing breast milk. However, you should avoid plastic bottles or bags with the number 3 or 7 recycling symbol.
  • Leave an inch of space in your containers to account for the milk to expand when it freezes.
  • Always wash your hands before expressing or handling breast milk.

How to Store Breast Milk in The Fridge

Breast milk can be stored in the fridge for up to four days or in an insulated cooler for up to 24 hours. Since freshly expressed or pumped breast milk can be left out at room temperature for up to four hours, you can refrigerate it anywhere in that time frame. That being said, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends chilling it as soon as possible to help it keep its nutritional value.

It’s also important to store the breast milk in the back of the refrigerator where the temperature is the most consistent. Don’t store it in the door of the fridge or any drawers that are constantly being opened.

How to Warm Up Breast Milk

How to warm up breast milk that has been refrigerated is fairly easy. Simply place the bag or bottle in a bowl of warm water for a few minutes or hold it under warm running water. Verywell Family emphasizes that you should avoid heating breast milk in the microwave or on the stove because it can heat the breast milk unevenly, leading to hot spots that could potentially burn your baby. And overheating breast milk can destroy the valuable nutrients it contains.

Warming up refrigerated breast milk with warm water is the best way to get it to room temperature. By warming it slowly, you can better get the temperature to where you want it to be without compromising the milk’s nutritional value.

How Long Does Breast Milk Last After Warming?

After warming breast milk, it’s important to give it to your child right away. Warmed milk should be used within two hours and not refrigerated or frozen again.

That’s because warmed breast milk spoils faster than chilled breast milk. Remember, breast milk doesn’t have to be warmed for your baby to enjoy it! You can serve room-temperature breast milk to your baby.

Freezing Breast Milk

Storing your milk in the freezer can keep it safe for upwards of three to six months. You can keep breast milk in a standard freezer for up to six months, making sure it’s stored in the back of the freezer and not on the door or sides where the temperature can fluctuate. You can store breast milk in a deep freezer for up to 12 months since the milk is kept at an even lower temperature.

Again, it’s best to freeze breast milk right away if you know you want to store it for longer periods of time. You don’t need to let your breast milk cool before freezing it.

Can You Freeze Breast Milk After it’s Been in the Fridge?

Woman writing dates on bags of frozen breast milk

Yes! As long as it’s within the four-day time frame, you can definitely freeze milk after it’s been in the fridge. 

However, you should never refreeze thawed breast milk. La Leche League explains that refreezing breast milk may introduce further breakdown of nutrients and increase the risk of bacterial growth. Though there’s still limited research on this, it’s the accepted practice by most experts to never refreeze thawed milk.

How to Thaw Frozen Breast Milk

When it comes time to thaw your frozen breast milk, there are a few ways you can go about it:

  • Thaw your frozen breast milk in the fridge overnight, then you can warm it up if you want to.
  • Place the bag or bottle in a container of warm or lukewarm water to let it slowly thaw.
  • Run the frozen milk under warm running water.

Again, you should never use a microwave, stove top, or boiling water to thaw frozen breast milk. This can destroy nutrients and potentially burn your baby’s mouth.

Whenever you warm up refrigerated or frozen milk you may notice that it has separated. It is completely normal for the milk to separate the liquid from the fat. Simply shaking or swirling the milk should combine the cream with the milk before feeding.

Starting Your Breastfeeding Journey?

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