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Breast Milk Refrigeration: How to Store and Thaw Breast Milk

How to Properly and Safely Store Breast Milk

Properly storing breast milk can be difficult when at work, on-the-go, or without proper storage options. This post outlines best practices in breast milk storage, including storage temperature, labeling, and refrigeration.

How to Know When Breast Milk Expires

Breast milk is food, and therefore it spoils over time. Take care to properly identify bagged/ bottled breast milk to ensure it is safe and ready for use. Temperature is the key factor for determining how long the breast milk is good before it spoils. The general rule is the warmer the temperature the bag/bottle it is stored in, the faster the breast milk will spoil. The CDC guidelines for storing breast milk are outlined below and should serve as a general guideline.

Breast Milk Storage Guidelines

TYPE OF BREAST MILK Countertop 77°F (25°C) or colder
(room temperature)
40°F (4°C)
0°F (-18°C) or colder
Freshly Expressed or Pumped Up to 4 Hours Up to 4 days Within 6 months is best
Up to 12 months is acceptable
Thawed, Previously Frozen 1-2 Hours Up to 1 Day
(24 hours)
NEVER refreeze human milk after it has been thawed
Leftover from a Feeding
(baby did not finish the bottle)
Use within 2 hours after the baby is finished feeding

Label Stored Breast Milk

We cannot emphasize enough how important it is to label freshly pumped milk right away. With hectic schedules and everyday interruptions, containers of breast milk can easily spoil without notice. It is important to be preemptive, especially when sharing space with another who is nursing, as milk may be misplaced, mislabeled, and mistaken for another’s when not labeled. Label bagged or bottled milk right away after the bag has been sealed.

Recommended Storage Container Types

The most common containers for breast milk storage are bags and bottles. There are advantages to both.
Storage bags are disposable and space saving, making it convenient for storage and use. Bags are the best choice when milk will be placed in the freezer for future use. Choose the BPA free options so that there are no concerns for the chemical leaching out when the bag is warmed for use.

Bottles come in either glass or plastic. Bottles are great because they are reusable. Plus, some can be fitted to a feeder making it the better on-the-go option. They are best for immediate use or for refrigeration. Check to ensure the bottle is okay for freezing. Generally, glass is not okay for freezing.

Deciding between Fridge or Freezer

If you plan to use it within 4 days, store it in the refrigerator. If you are unsure or know that you will use it after 4 days, store it in the freezer. Milk is good for 4 days in the refrigerator and up to 6 months in the freezer. Remember, labeling the time and day is key to keeping track of milk quality.

Additional Tips

For cold storage, place it in the back of the refrigerator or freezer, where temperature is most constant. Do not refrigerate used milk. Make sure to throw out any leftover milk from a bag or bottle that has been used for feeding. Between the baby’s saliva and exposure to airborne contaminants, used milk may no longer be safe for consumption.

Proper Preparation for Serving

Serve Milk At the Right Temperature. Milk is best served at body temperature, approximately 98.6°F/ 37°C. Swirl contents to blend separated nutrients.

How To Warm Milk the Right Way

Place a bottle or bag under warm running water or in a bowl of water. Water temperature should be <58°C / 136°F. Avoid any hotter temperatures because milk deteriorates and starts to lose its nutritional and immunological value when temperature reaches 104°F/ 40°C. Never warm milk in the microwave or stove top because it causes scald spots, changing the composition of the milk.

How to Thaw Frozen Milk

Thaw milk in the refrigerator overnight and warm milk according to the instructions above. If pressed for time, thaw under running water starting from cold and gradually to lukewarm.

Related Links:

Breast Milk Refrigeration
Summit Freezer Collection
Built-In Undercounter Refrigeration
ADA Compliant Appliances
Kitchenettes & Freezer-Microwave Combination Units

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