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Breastfeeding: Storing and Handling Breast Milk

Keep It Fresh for Baby
-- By Becky Hand, Licensed and Registered Dietician

What is your plan? to work outside the home full-time, part-time, or to be a stay-at-home mom? Whatever your plan, there will be times when you will be glad that you have a reserve of stored breast milk for occasional needs, emergencies, or daily feedings and care. Knowing the proper and safe steps to store breast milk is vital to the safety and health of your infant.

  • Wash your hands before expressing breast milk.
  • Make sure all equipment used to store breast milk is properly cleaned.
  • If you use a breast pump, review and follow the operation and cleaning instructions.
  • Breast milk can be stored in glass bottles, hard plastic bottles or freezer bags. If using plastic freezer bags, use the bags that are designed specifically for storing breast milk. For breast milk stored in the refrigerator, use plastic bottles. The protective properties of breast milk are better retained in plastic. Breast milk can be frozen in either plastic or glass containers. However, glass is less likely to crack under freezer conditions. To allow for expansion, do not completely fill bottles when freezing.
Freshly pumped breast milk can be kept:
  • 10 hours at room temperature below 72 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • 4-8 hours at room temperature below 79 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • 5-8 days in the refrigerator at 39 degrees Fahrenheit or below.
  • 2 weeks in a freezer compartment inside the refrigerator.
  • 3-4 months in a refrigerator-freezer with a separate door.
  • 6-12 months in a deep freezer at temperatures below 0 degrees Fahrenheit.
Remember to date the expressed breast milk. Then use a rotating system of first-in, first-out. Also remember:
  • Breast milk should be stored in small amounts. For infants 1-3 months old, store in 2 to 4 ounce portions. For older infants, 4 to 6 ounce portions can be used. This will help avoid wasting unused breast milk after feedings.
  • Never pour body-temperature milk on the top of frozen milk. This could partially thaw the frozen milk and allow bacteria to grow. Instead, chill the breast milk and then add it to a container of already-frozen milk.
  • Frozen breast milk can be thawed in the refrigerator, under warm running water from the faucet, or in a bowl of warm water.
  • To warm breast milk, run lukewarm tap water over the bottle of milk or place it in a bowl of warm water. This will take the chill off the milk. Before feeding the breast milk, gently shake the container to ensure an even temperature and to mix the layers. It is common for breast milk to separate during storage. Use the breast milk within 24 hours and never refreeze it.
  • Do not thaw or heat breast milk in a pan on the stove or in the microwave. Do not boil the breast milk. High heating temperatures (over 100 degrees Fahrenheit) can destroy nutrients and protective properties of the milk.
  • Because bacteria from the baby's mouth can get into the milk, NEVER store and reuse a bottle of breast milk once your baby has been fed from that bottle. The bacteria can multiply and then make your baby sick.
Use the weight of the baby to estimate the amount of breast milk to leave for each feeding. The following example calculates a 12 pound baby's needs.
  • Round the baby's weight to the nearest half pound (12 pounds).
  • Multiply this weight in pounds by 3 (12 x 3 = 36).
  • Divide by 8 to get the number of ounces of breast milk to leave for each bottle-feeding (36/8 = 4.5).
  • Therefore leave 4-5 ounces of breast milk for each feeding.

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Member Comments About this Article
"I'd always heard you SHOULDN'T microwave breast milk, and that shaking it breaks down the proteins (opt to 'swirl' it instead). There's no huge bother, so I'm going to stick with what I know." -- SUSANNARAMA
"'Be careful not to confuse the advise. This is a general ballpark calculation for how much breastmilk to leave initially. Once your baby is on a bottle routine while you are away, you can follow their lead for how much they need since every baby is different.'" -- TONKA_14
"The calculation formula is just to give you a general idea? If your child is drinking frequently that does not mean the should finish that amount in one sitting. It would be amazing to see a 12 lbs baby drink 45oz per day if my child drank 4.5 oz every 2hrs for half a day and another 4.5oz every 3hrs for the rest of the 12hrs. That equals 1 gallon in less than 3 days! Let me know if I am wrong?
Thank you." -- CHEMICAL1111
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About The Author
Becky Hand
Becky is a registered and licensed dietitian with almost 20 years of experience. She teaches prenatal classes and counsels individuals, helping women eat right and stay fit before, during and after their pregnancies.
Becky Hand


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