Breast milk is chock-full of nutrients and antibodies that babies need to survive and thrive, but storing that milk improperly can degrade those important properties. Here's what you need to know to keep your liquid gold, well, golden.
It's hard to believe that milk can stay out of the refrigerator and not go bad, but when it comes to breast milk, it's true. That's because mother's milk is an antibiotic of sorts, capable of killing many bacteria and viruses. If you’re storing for longer than a few hours, put the breast milk in a refrigerator or freezer instead. But never keep it in the fridge or freezer door. "It's better to keep it in the back, so it's less exposed to the changing temperature of the door opening and closing," says Kelly A. Hightower, R.N., a certified lactation counselor. Those without access to a fridge – whether it’s because of work, travel, or another reason – can store milk in an insulated cooler with ice packs.
If you’re planning to store breast milk in the fridge or freezer, stock up on screw caps, hard plastic cups with tight caps, or nursing bags (pre-sterilized bags meant for breast milk).You can buy these items at stores like Buy Buy Baby and Babies R Us. Make sure the bottles or bags are closed tightly and securely to prevent leakage or spoilage."Most breast milk storage containers allow up to five ounces, but it's a good idea to have some that contain less. Sometimes your baby will need only two ounces, so there's no need to defrost a larger amount," say Dr. Hightower.
It's easiest if you store your breast milk in amounts that you use at each feeding to avoid wasting it. For example, if your baby consumes 6 ounces in a feeding, put 6 ounces of breast milk in the storage container.
Write the date on the bottles or bags so that you can be sure not to use any expired milk. The general rule is that breast milk can be stored:
At room temperature (less than 77 degrees F) for 4 to 8 hours
At the back of a refrigerator for 3 to 8 days
At the back of a freezer for up to 3 months
If you have defrosted milk in your refrigerator, Hightower recommends using it within 24 to 48 hours. And if you've got a deep freezer, your breast milk can likely last up to a year. "It's not that your milk will go bad and make your baby ill if it's in the freezer longer. But its nutritional qualities will be diminished," Hightower says.