Proper breast milk storage matters because, after a pumping session, no mom wants to see their hard-earned breast milk go to waste. Like many food products, breast milk can develop bacteria and become unsafe to consume if it is not kept in the proper environment. Mama, we know you have enough on your plate, so Pumps for Mom is breaking down how to keep your breast milk safe for your baby. Read below to find answers to the most frequently asked questions about breast milk storage. 

Basic breast milk storage tips

Before we dive into the specifics of breast milk storage, let’s review the basics. After breast milk is expressed, it must be stored in a sterile and airtight container, such as a breast milk storage bag. Additionally, labeling the expressed breast milk with the date it was pumped is essential to breast milk safety. Whether stored in the fridge or freezer, breast milk only remains safe for consumption within a certain period of time. And as the days of breastfeeding run together, a clear label makes it easier to know when breast milk was expressed and if it is safe for a little one to consume. 

How should I store breast milk in the refrigerator?

When stored in a fridge at 40° F, expressed breast milk is safe to use for up to four days, and placing expressed breast milk in the refrigerator in order of oldest to newest simplifies the feeding process. Organizing breast milk in this way helps you make the most of your liquid gold, and you can clearly see if any breast milk has been in the fridge for longer than four days. If you store breast milk in the fridge for four days and then realize you won’t use it in time, you cannot then store it in the freezer, as it’s possible bacteria has already begun to grow. Better safe than sorry!

How should I store breast milk in the freezer?

Parents who are saving breast milk for the long-haul can use a freezer to store breast milk for up to 12 months. It is best to use frozen breast milk within about six months, but it is acceptable to thaw and use breast milk that has been frozen within 12 months. If you think you might not use the breast milk within four days of pumping, your breast milk will be safest if you can freeze it as soon as possible after a breast pumping session. And double-check to make sure your freezer stays at 0° F or below!

Can I use breast milk that has been at room temperature?

Freshly expressed breast milk can sit out at room temperature, meaning 77° F or cooler, for up to four hours and still be safe to use. For families living in warmer climates where room temperature can climb above 77°, freshly pumped breast milk should be refrigerated or frozen within a few hours. If breast milk sits out for longer than four hours, it’s best to dispose of it, just to be safe. There’s always more where that breast milk came from!

How do I thaw breast milk safely?

As convenient as it is to freeze breast milk and use it for up to a year, parents must safely thaw frozen breast milk before it is fed to a baby. Frozen breast milk should be stored like refrigerated breast milk, in order of oldest to newest, and there are several safe ways to thaw it. Frozen breast milk can be thawed in a refrigerator overnight, in a container of warm or lukewarm water, or by running it under lukewarm water for a few minutes. Most importantly, it is not safe to thaw or heat breast milk in the microwave because this process can destroy the important nutrients in breast milk and form hot spots that can burn a baby’s mouth. After breast milk thaws in the fridge, you should use it within 24 hours, and once frozen breast milk has come to room temperature or been warmed, it should be used within two hours.

Can I reuse breast milk storage bags?

Unfortunately, most breast milk storage bags are not reusable. These products come pre-sterilized, so when they are used once, they cannot be completely sterile again. Reusing a single-use breast pump storage bag increases the risk of breast milk developing bacteria, which then becomes unsafe for babies. Recently, some breast milk storage bags have been made with materials like silicone that make it possible to reuse. However, these products must be clearly labeled as reusable, and parents should carefully follow the instructions to use them safely.

How do I store breast milk safely while traveling?

An insulated cooler bag and ice packs are a mom’s best friend for traveling safely with breast milk. After expressing and sealing breast milk, moms can then store it in a cooler with ice packs for up to 24 hours, where it then should be refrigerated or frozen as soon as possible. TSA will even let moms travel with more than 3.4 fluid ounces of breast milk in a carry-on bag, so they can keep their breast milk safe on flights. If you are going to be away from your little one for a while, you can use temperature-controlled shipping options to get your breast milk home. Alternatively, if you have enough breast milk in storage, you can pump and discard your breast milk to keep up your supply until you get back to your little one.

Breastfeeding and pumping is a challenge, and moms shouldn’t watch their hard work go to waste because of storage mistakes that make breast milk unsafe. When parents learn the tips and tricks to breast milk storage, it can be easy to find a routine. Give yourself time to find what works for you, and you’ll be a breast milk storage pro before you know it!

Pumps for Mom is proud to support new and expectant moms as they begin their breastfeeding journey. Our Maternity Products Specialists can help every mom find the best breast pump through insurance that fits her lifestyle and her needs. Qualify through our form and get your insurance breast pump from Pumps for Mom today!