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How to Store and Freeze Breastmilk Safely
Are you new to pumping and wondering how to properly handle and store breastmilk? This is something most new moms are nervous about when first starting to breastfeed and that’s ok! It sounds easy enough, but there are certain precautions that you should take to make sure your breastmilk is stored safely and minimize the risk of contamination to protect your baby, and we are here to help you with the facts! Disclaimer: All information in this blog post is based on the current recommendations by the CDC.
How to Prep Breast Pump For First Use
The number one recommendation is that you should always handle breastmilk and pumping supplies with clean hands, just as you would with food. This means washing well with soap and water or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol! The guidelines should be more strictly enforced in premature babies and those under the age of three months, because they are more vulnerable!
Breast pump parts should always be sanitized prior to first use, this can be done with a sterilizing machine or you can do it by yourself. You can sterilize by boiling your pump parts in a pot of water for at least five minutes, but be careful not to over boil them and melt the pieces. Be sure to always read your pump instructions for pieces that are not able to be boiled! (I have personally done this by mistake!) Some brands such as Medela sell microwave sterilizer pouches, or Dr. Brown’s microwaveable tray that is more reusable than a plastic bag option. These options are great, but my favorite is boiling in a large pot on the stove, free, simple and easy!
Before using your breast pump each time, it should be inspected to make sure it’s completely clean. Keeping your pump parts clean after the first use is less difficult of a task. You will need to wash by hand inside a separate wash basin dedicated to baby items. It’s extremely important not to lay pump parts and bottles inside of the kitchen sink because it’s not a sanitary space! You can look into using the dishwasher if recommended by your breast pump manufacturer, and some dishwashers may have a heated drying or sanitizing setting, which can be helpful. The CDC does recommend daily sanitizing for extra protection against germs, but as your baby grows you may personally decide this step can be skipped.
Breastmilk Storage Guidelines
After pumping, you will need a clean place to store your milk. The CDC recommends sterile milk storage bags or clean food grade containers that are made of glass or plastic and have tight fitting lids. Try to avoid containers with the recycle symbol number seven as it may contain BPA. It’s recommended to only use containers that are specifically intended for storing breastmilk. Some of my personal favorites are glass mason jars and specialized breast milk chiller bottles from Ceres Chill. No matter what method you use to store breastmilk, remember to clearly label it with the date that it was pumped. Pro tip: Refrigerated breastmilk separates into 2 different layers, this is normal! You can swirl or shake breastmilk to reincorporate the fat that has separated, and no, shaking breastmilk does not damage it!
How Long Is Breastmilk Good For?
Freshly expressed breastmilk can be stored at room, temperature 77° or colder for up to four hours. In the refrigerator for up to four days, and in the freezer six months is optimal and 12 months is acceptable in a deep freezer.
Avoid storing breastmilk in the door of the refrigerator or freezer as this is where the temperature fluctuates the most!
According to the CDC, “various factors affect how long human milk can be stored safely. Such factors include milk, volume, room temperature, when milk is expressed, temperature, fluctuations in the refrigerator and freezer, and cleanliness of the environment.”
Tips For Freezing Breastmilk
Additional storage tips directly from the CDC include freezing milk as soon as you know that you won’t use it within the first four days, to help protect the quality of the milk. It’s recommended to freeze breastmilk in small amounts to avoid defrosting too much milk at one time. It’s suggested to freeze in 2 to 4 ounce portions until you learn more about your baby’s needs.
A great product on the market is the Ceres Chill Milkstache. It has small ice cube trays with half ounce cubes, so you can freeze in perfect portions and put into a bottle to warm up as needed. When freezing milk in larger quantities, try leaving about an inch of space at the top of your container for freezing since milk expands as it freezes. When freezing milk in bags, there is a common misconception that air bubbles will cause gas in the baby, but that is not true! When the milk thaws, the bubbles do not remain!
Defrosting And Heating Frozen Breastmilk
If this is your first time defrosting frozen milk, you want to cycle through the oldest date of your frozen breastmilk first. Overtime, the quality will decrease in frozen milk, so make sure to use it before the expiration! It’s super important to remember you can never refreeze thawed breastmilk. Once it has been thawed completely, the milk must be used within 24 hours. Complete thaw is considered when the last ice crystal melts! When providing breastmilk to someone who is watching your baby, clearly label the container with the approximate time that the milk will expire by. If it’s stored in an insulated cooler with ice packs, it can stay about 24 hours at that temperature.
Never thaw or heat milk in the microwave as this can cause dangerous pockets of heat and burn the baby and destroy nutrients in the milk. A slow thaw is best, you can put it in the refrigerator overnight or set in a container of warm or lukewarm water. Always test the milk temperature before feeding it to the baby by putting a few drops on your wrist. Some babies like to drink their milk warm and some don’t mind it cold. Each baby has a different preference and it does not matter one way or the other for the sake of nutrition in the breastmilk or quality. Once breastmilk has been warmed or brought to room temperature, it should be used within two hours. My favorite method of warming bottles is actually using my Ceres Chill breastmilk chiller as a warmer. You can add warm water and secure the bottle from the lid as an excellent bottle warmer!
There is so much information to remember about properly handling and storing breastmilk, we want to make this easy for you! Save the below checklist of the most important details and use it as a reminder for everything you need to know when getting started with pumping breastmilk!
Need a hands-free pumping bra for your breast pump? Make sure to check out my favorite collection of modern bras and camis that fit all breast pumps!