Breast milk is an essential source of nutrients for breast-fed new babies, but, like all milk, it’s also vulnerable to spoiling. How you store it makes a big dfference.
How long does it take for breast milk to expire?
In most room temperature environments, breast milk will only stay fresh for about 3 to 4 hours after being expressed. Alternatively, pumping and then refrigerating breast milk for future feedings can save a lot of time and stress for the busy breastfeeding mom. You might already be doing this for Baby on a regular basis. But what precautions should you be taking to ensure that Baby’s milk remains safe and uncontaminated by bacteria between each meal?
- Squeaky clean
All soon-to-be-filled baby bottles should be washed by hand or run through a dishwasher before any pumping session. You’ll also want to give your hands a good, long wash with soap and hot water to get rid of any bacteria that could get into your milk during the pumping and bottling process. Taking these steps will give your milk a longer shelf life. If you notice an odd, almost soapy smell in expressed milk you know has been stored correctly, it could be what is generally agreed to be a sign of an excess of lipase in breast milk. This is rare, and may not actually be a problem, since many babies don’t seem to notice it or care, but if Baby does, you can prevent the smell by transferring the milk to a glass bottle and heating it to about 180 degrees Fahrenheit (82 Celsius) before cooling it to store.
- Get into cold storage, STAT!
Breast milk may be stored at room temperature for a short time, but it does more easily spoil at room temperature, so sticking it in the fridge or freezer as soon as possible helps to keep it fresher for longer. And once milk takes on any rank flavor, no amount of cold air will make it go away.
- Know your milk’s limits
Breast milk can be stored at room temperature for around 6 hours safely, but that’s only true if the room temperature isn’t too warm – milk containers should be kept as cool as possible, and stored in a room that’s no warmer than 77 degrees Fahrenheit or 25 degrees Celsius. Breast milk can be refrigerated for up to 5 days, but for longer-term storage, parents can also choose to freeze milk for use later. This option is safe and often more convenient, but it should only be done within safety guidelines designated by the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC). For instance, if your fridge has one door to both the refrigerator and freezer compartments, be sure to thaw any frozen milk within 2 weeks. But if your freezer has its own separate door, you can safely store frozen breast milk for up to 3 to 6 months, and if you have a chest-freezer or deep-freezer, breast milk can be safely frozen for 6 months to a year.
- Unrefrigerated: 6 to 8 hours
- Refrigerated: 5 days
- Frozen: 3 to 6 months
The La Leche League, which is well-respected for its breastfeeding expertise, offers its own set of guidelines, including timelines for a range of different types of storage.
- “How long does expressed breast milk keep?” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Clinic, April 7 2015. Retrieved June 28 2017. http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/infant-and-toddler-health/in-depth/breast-milk-storage/art-20046350?pg=2.
- “Proper Handling and Storage of Human Milk.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, June 9 2016. Retrieved June 28 2017. https://www.cdc.gov/breastfeeding/recommendations/handling_breastmilk.htm.
- “Tips for Freezing and Refrigerating Breast Milk.” Healthy Children. American Academy of Pediatrics, September 9 2016. Retrieved June 28 2017. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/breastfeeding/Pages/Storing-and-Preparing-Expressed-Breast-Milk.aspx.
- “What are the LLLI guidelines for storing my pumped milk?” La Leche League International. La Leche League International, July 8 2014. Retrieved June 28 2017. http://www.llli.org/faq/milkstorage.html.