What Is Freeze-Dried Breast Milk?

Parents can now freeze-dry breast milk with the help of several companies. Here’s everything you need to know about the process.

A photo composite to describe what is freeze dried breastmilk?

Illustration by Michela Buttignol for Parents

Nursing parents know handling expressed milk can have its challenges. From storing it properly to traveling with it when necessary, making sure the milk stays fresh is top of mind. Difficulties like these are likely why another way to handle human milk is trending: freeze-drying. 

It's gaining traction on social media and companies—including Milkify, Booby-Licious, Booby Food, and Leche—have launched to provide this service for parents, both domestically and abroad. Experts are in on the conversation, too.

“Patients have been asking about it and I do agree that it's been trending,” says Neela Sethi, M.D., a Los Angeles-based pediatrician, lactation consultant, and MAM Baby expert.

But health care providers are currently reluctant to recommend freeze-drying milk, which turns milk into powder, because it hasn’t been largely studied. Here’s everything parents considering this need to know.

What Is Freeze-Dried Breast Milk?

Freeze-drying turns human milk into a powdered form.

Freeze-Dried Breast Milk Explained

Freeze-drying itself is not new. It’s believed to date back to the 13th century when the Incas used freeze-drying to preserve potatoes. And it’s been widely used in the last century to maintain the shelf life of food. But what about the newer concept of freeze-drying human milk?

Let’s break down the science: to freeze-dry human milk, companies first deep freeze the milk at minus 40 degrees C. It then goes through a deep vacuum to remove the air. The milk undergoes sublimation, a process turning a substance from solid directly to gas without the liquid phase. 

“It preserves the structure of molecules in the milk, which impacts the taste and nutritional quality of the milk,” Milkify explains on its website. “The result after freeze-drying is a fine breast milk powder, which has all of the components of the breast milk without the water.”

Companies typically charge a few hundred dollars (depending on the ounces) to freeze-dry one’s milk, and they send over what’s needed for shipping, including an insulated cooler.

Freeze-Dried Breast Milk Benefits

There are perks to this method of handling human milk. For one, the shelf life of freeze-dried milk is said to be up to three years—which addresses a top concern parents say they have, says Dr. Sethi. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends storing pumped milk in the fridge for up to four days, and in the freezer for about six months for best quality, although it says up to 12 months is acceptable. Once you thaw frozen human milk, you can’t refreeze it because that increases the risk of bacterial growth. Freeze-dried milk, on the other hand, is stored at room temperature.

“Freeze-dried food generally can be sustained even up to years, I've seen,” says Dr. Sethi. “So, there's the possibility of giving you that longer shelf life with freeze-dried milk.” 

Increased shelf life is a plus for all parents. But for ones who are often on the go or who live in areas where natural disasters tend to occur, having freeze-dried milk handy can be helpful, points out Shira Sharifi, a doula, lactation educator, and founder of A Birth Connection, a birth and postpartum service, based in Jacksonville, Florida. For example, Sharifi explains, “If there's a hurricane where there's no electricity, when you have that freeze-dried breast milk, it's super easy for the parent to just make.”

Freeze-dried milk can offer parents an ease of mind when traveling, since the powdered substance remains in pouches they can throw into their bag or luggage and there’s no concern about thawing. Dr. Sethi, a mom herself, gets that. She says she once lost 100 ounces of breast milk traveling to New York. “It was one of the most traumatic things that ever happened to me, so I completely understand that when you're looking at that breast milk and it's thawed and you know you have to give it, it's emotional because you know how much time and effort has gone into it,” she says. “So, I do understand the idea of traveling, and how hard that is for parents.”

Plus, freeze-dried milk also takes up less storage space. 

Freeze-Dried Breast Milk Risks

The big concern medical professionals have is that freeze-dried milk has not been widely studied. “As a general pediatrician, I try to stick with AAP guidelines, CDC guidelines, FDA guidelines, and they have not released a formal statement on the safety and the efficacy of freeze-dried breast milk,” explains Dr. Sethi. 

Canada’s Alberta Health Services released a statement saying it does not recommend its use because of the lack of research, adding freeze-drying does not remove bacteria and viruses present in human milk and says contamination during handling is a concern. 

Whether human milk or formula, babies drink milk exclusively until they are about 6 months old. “That is 100% of their nutrition and we want to make sure that, obviously, they're getting their complete nutrition from their meals,” says Dr. Sethi. “We don't 100% know that that's true of freeze-dried breast milk.”

Without sufficient studies, Dr. Sethi emphasizes, it’s unclear if freeze-dried milk has the right protein, fat, carb ratio that infants need. Stephanie Schiff, a registered dietitian nutritionist at Huntington Hospital on Long Island, New York, agrees adding, “There really is a lack of evidence in terms of the nutritional safety of freeze-dried human milk."

Another concern for Dr. Sethi is that freeze-dried milk does not undergo a pasteurization process which kills harmful bacteria. Milkify discusses this on its website: “Pasteurization is avoided on purpose, in order to preserve the vital probiotics that are present in your milk, and which would be destroyed with pasteurization. Just as bacteria can grow in freshly expressed milk if it is left at the right temperature for extended lengths of time, the same can happen with rehydrated breast milk powder.”

But, until enough studies prove the safety of freeze-dried human milk, experts emphasize remaining wary of the practice. 

Neela Sethi, M.D.

We have to have researched things extensively and we have to have proven articles and proven data before we can really say what the safety standards are and what is safe for your baby.

— Neela Sethi, M.D.

What To Do if You Want To Freeze-Dry Breast Milk

The reality is freeze-drying human milk may be an appealing option for many parents. Dr. Sethi recommends parents who are adamant about freeze-drying their milk should only use legitimate companies with stellar reviews offering this service.

It also doesn’t hurt to instead look into deep freezing at home if shelf life is one’s biggest concern. “With a deep freezer, some studies suggest that you can go up to six months,” says Dr. Sethi. “And for the most part, babies are breastfeeding for the first 12 to 24 months, so that six months really does buy you time to really plan ahead.” 

If you’re going this route, experts strongly advise against attempting to freeze-dry milk on your own. “You're really treading into some dangerous territory,” says Schiffer. “You're risking contamination.”

And bottom line, says Dr. Sethi, “We have to have researched things extensively and we have to have proven articles and proven data before we can really say what the safety standards are and what is safe for your baby.”

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