Breastmilk storage – how to do it safely?

Storing your expressed breastmilk can make those times you need to be away from your baby easier. Here’s how to do it safely.

Work or life can mean you need to be away from your baby from time to time. Having a supply of pumped and properly stored breastmilk on hand can help minimise disruptions to your baby if you need to miss a feed.

The proper handling and safe storage of breastmilk is the key to maintaining its nutritional and anti-infective properties.

Storing your breastmilk

You’ll need either glass or BPA free plastic bottles or milk storage bags before you begin pumping. If you know how much milk your baby usually consumes at each feed you can avoid wasting any of your liquid gold by storing the milk in similar sized portions.

Carefully wash your hands with soap and water or hand sanitiser before pumping and storing your breastmilk. Write the date, volume of milk and your child’s name (if the milk will be travelling to a childcare provider) on every container.

Chilling your breastmilk

Freshly expressed breastmilk is safe at room temperature (25°C) for up to 6 hours, but in a warmer room (26-32°C) should be used or refrigerated within 3-4 hours. If you don’t plan to use your expressed milk within 4 hours it’s a good idea to get into the habit of chilling it straight away in a fridge, freezer or cooler.

Breastmilk can stay in the fridge (below 3.8°C) for up to 3 days – after this it starts to lose its antibodies. It can be kept in the freezer (below -18°C) for up to 3 months and the deep freeze (below -20°C) for 6 to 12 months. Make sure you leave enough room in the container for the milk to expand as it freezes. And remember to always keep your pumped milk at the back of the fridge or freezer, where it is coldest.

Thawing it out

Your breastmilk can be safely thawed in the fridge (it usually takes about 12 hours), in a bowl of warm water, or beneath running warm water. Never leave your breastmilk to defrost at room temperature, and remember to always thaw and use the oldest milk first. Never use a microwave for defrosting frozen breastmilk as it can damage the milk and cause hotspots that could burn your baby.

Previously frozen breast milk thawed in the refrigerator can be stored in the fridge for 24 hours, however if thawed outside the refrigerator in warm water it can be stored in the fridge for 4 hours. Once the infant has begun feeding the breast milk should only be used for the completion of the feed and then discarded.

Always check the milk’s temperature by putting a few drops on your wrist before offering it to your baby. You are best to warm the bottle in a cup of boiling hot water for 1-2 minutes until it is lukewarm – feels like nothing when dripped on your wrist. Milk should be warmed for every feed for at least the first 3 months as your baby cannot warm themselves easily.

Mixing milks

It is safe to mix pumped milk of the same temperature – warm with warm, and cold with cold. If the milk has been expressed on different days, label it with the oldest date.

Often the milk will separate, with the cream rising to the top. Gently mix the layers back together by swirling the bottle – but avoid shaking as this can damage the milk’s proteins and other beneficial properties.

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