Storing and Handling Your Breast Milk

The following are the basic procedures for storing and handling your milk.

  • Wash your hands before touching your breasts, any of the breast pump parts, or your expressed milk.
  • Transfer your expressed milk into a clean glass or rigid plastic, food-safe container or heavy-duty breast milk bag for storage.
  • Label the container with the date and time the milk is collected so you can be sure to use the oldest milk first. You may also want to mark the amount of milk you collect.
  • Freshly expressed milk contains antibacterial factors that enable it to be kept at room temperature for up to 4 hours. But to be on the safe side, place your milk in a cooler or refrigerator as soon as possible.
  • If you intend to store your breast milk for longer periods of time, freezing your breast milk is preferred. Freeze your milk within 24 hours after it has been expressed. Refrigerated breast milk should be used within 24 hours if possible.
  • Freeze your milk in small (2- to 4-fluid-ounce) portions so that they will thaw fairly quickly.

Guidelines for storing breast milk for healthy, full-term infants

In Refrigerator/ In freezer
Freshly expressed milk:Use within 24 hours if possible, Discard after 72 hours.Or store up to 1 month in freezer compartment of refrigerator; 3-6 months in deep freezer (0 degrees Fahrehnheit or less); store in the back of the freezer. Label and use oldest first. Best if used within 3 months.
Use previously frozen breast milk within 24 hours,Do not refreeze

Guidelines for thawing frozen breast milk

Thaw container of frozen breast milk gradually, in the refrigerator, under increasingly warm running water, or in a bowl of warm water,DO NOT defrost breast milk by using boiling or very hot water.
After the thawing is complete, gently swirl the container to mix the milk before feeding it to the baby, because the milk can separate while standing.DO NOT defrost breast milk in a microwave oven. Uneven heating may cause "hot spots" that could burn your baby. Also, microwaving may alter proteins and destroy some protective components of the milk.

*Adapted from Meek JY (ed): New Mother's Guide to Breastfeeding, Elk Grove, Ill: American Academy of Pediatrics, 2002.

  • Wash all the pump parts that come into contact with your breast milk in hot, soapy water after each use, rinse well in hot water. Follow the manufacturer's suggestions about putting pump parts in the dishwasher. Milk storage containers should be washed in the same manner if they are to be reused.
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