Breast Milk Storage and Handling: Best Practices for Nurturing Health

Oct 30, 2023 | Breastfeeding

Transfering milk into breast milk storage

Breast milk is a remarkable source of nutrition that offers a myriad of benefits for newborns and infants. Its composition is uniquely tailored to meet the specific needs of a growing baby, providing essential nutrients, antibodies, and enzymes that support optimal development. To ensure that these valuable components remain intact, proper storage and handling of breast milk are crucial. This article delves into the best practices for breast milk storage and handling, drawing from reputable sources to provide evidence-based guidance.

Why Proper Breast Milk Storage Matters

Breast milk contains a complex blend of proteins, fats, carbohydrates, and immune-boosting compounds. However, its composition can change over time, and factors such as temperature, light, and exposure to air can lead to the deterioration of its nutritional and immunological qualities. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), adhering to recommended storage guidelines helps maintain the integrity of breast milk and ensures that infants receive the maximum benefits from each feeding.

Storage Guidelines

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), along with organizations like the World Health Organization (WHO) and the AAP, offer comprehensive guidelines for storing and handling breast milk. Here are some key points to consider:

  1. Containers: Use clean, BPA-free containers specifically designed for storing breast milk, such as glass or hard plastic bottles. These containers are less likely to interact with the milk and alter its properties.
  2. Labeling: Clearly label each container with the date of expression to ensure that the oldest milk is used first.
  3. Hygiene: Thoroughly wash hands and use sanitized pump parts before expressing milk. Sterilize containers and pump parts regularly, especially when pumping outside the home.
  4. Temperature: Freshly expressed breast milk can be stored at room temperature (up to 77°F or 25°C) for up to four hours. It can be stored in the refrigerator (at 32-39°F or 0-4°C) for up to four days. For long-term storage, freezing is recommended.
  5. Freezing: Breast milk can be stored in the freezer compartment of a refrigerator (0°F or -18°C) for up to six months, while a standalone deep freezer (-4°F or -20°C) can extend storage to twelve months.
  6. Thawing: Thaw frozen breast milk by placing it in the refrigerator, running it under cool water, or using a bottle warmer. Avoid using microwaves, as they can cause uneven heating and destroy valuable nutrients.
  7. Discarding: If breast milk smells sour, has an off color, or shows signs of separation, it may have spoiled. In such cases, it’s advisable to discard the milk.

Tips for Optimizing Storage

  • Storage Amounts: Store breast milk in small quantities, typically 2 to 4 ounces, to minimize wastage. This also makes it easier to thaw and feed the right amount.
  • Combining Milk: When combining breast milk from different pumping sessions, ensure that they are of similar temperatures. Cool one batch before adding it to the other to prevent temperature changes that could affect milk quality.
  • Fresh vs. Frozen: Whenever possible, opt for fresh breast milk over frozen. Freezing can lead to a loss of certain vitamins and bioactive components, though it still remains a valuable option when fresh milk is not immediately consumed.

Breast milk is a gift of nature, providing unparalleled nutrition and immune support to newborns and infants. Proper storage and handling of this precious substance are essential to preserve its benefits. By adhering to evidence-based guidelines from reputable sources like the CDC, WHO, and AAP, parents can ensure that their infants receive the full spectrum of nutrients and antibodies that breast milk offers. As we strive to provide the best start in life for our children, nurturing health through attentive breast milk storage and handling practices remains a cornerstone of early parenting.

Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice. For personalized guidance, consult an IBCLC.

Sarah Early - MSN, APRN-FNP-C, IBCLC

Sarah Early, MSN, APRN, FNP-C, IBCLC, is a clinically trained Integrative and Functional Health Family Nurse Practitioner who specializes in women's health and is the owner of Peony Women's Integrative Health and Lactation Room. She graduated with a Master's in Nursing and Family Nurse Practitioner with high distinction and is a member of the Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing. Sarah has been a practicing International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) since 2011 and opened Lactation Room in 2014. Lactation Room specializes in supporting parent/baby dyads who are struggling with infant oral dysfunction, feeding difficulties, and tongue-and-lip ties. They earned the prestigious IBCLE Care Award from the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners® (IBLCE®) and International Lactation Consultant Association® (ILCA®) have recognized Lactation Room for excellence in lactation care. She is a member of ILCA, USLCA, MBC, AANP, IATP, and MBC.