Comprehensive Guide to Breast Milk Handling and Storage

Jan 17, 2024 | Breastfeeding

Manual breast pump on background of hand showing breast milk handling

Breast Milk Handling: Best Practices for Hygiene and Safety

Handling and storing breast milk properly is crucial to ensure its safety and nutritional quality for your baby. This guide offers comprehensive advice based on recommendations from reputable sources.

Clean Hands and Equipment

  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water before expressing or handling breast milk.
  • Use clean containers, such as bottles or breast milk storage bags, for expressing, storing, and feeding.

The foundation of safe breast milk management starts with cleanliness. Washing your hands thoroughly with soap and water before expressing or handling breast milk is essential. The containers you use, whether bottles or specialized storage bags, should be clean and designed for breast milk. This step ensures the milk’s purity and your baby’s health. 

Expressing and Storing

  • Express milk into clean containers made of glass or BPA-free plastic.
  • Use breast milk storage bags designed for this purpose. Ensure they are pre-sterilized and BPA-free.
  • Label containers with the date of expression. 

When expressing milk, always use clean containers made of glass or BPA-free plastic. These materials are safe for your baby’s consumption. For storing milk, especially when freezing it for later use, opt for pre-sterilized, BPA-free breast milk storage bags. Always label containers with the date of expression for better management.

Storage Temperature Guidelines

  • Store breast milk in the back of the refrigerator or freezer, where temperatures are most consistent.
  • Freshly expressed breast milk can be stored at room temperature for up to 4 hours (ideal temperature: 77°F or 25°C).
  • In the refrigerator (32–39°F or 0–4°C), breast milk can be stored for up to 4 days.
  • In a standard freezer (-4°F or -20°C), breast milk can be stored for up to 6 months.
  • In a deep freeze (-0.4°F or -18°C), breast milk can be stored for up to 12 months.

Proper storage temperatures are crucial for maintaining the quality of breast milk. The back of the refrigerator or freezer is the best spot due to consistent temperatures. Freshly expressed milk can stay at room temperature for up to 4 hours. In the refrigerator, it’s safe for up to 4 days, and in a standard freezer, it can be stored for up to 6 months. For longer storage, a deep freeze keeps it safe for up to 12 months.

Avoid Refreezing Thawed Milk

Once thawed, breast milk should not be refrozen. Use thawed milk within 24 hours to ensure its quality and safety. Refreezing can alter the milk’s composition and reduce its nutritional value.

Thawing and Warming Practices

  • Thaw frozen breast milk in the refrigerator overnight or under warm running water. Do not use a microwave.
  • Gently swirl the container to mix any separated milk layers.
  • Warm breast milk by placing the container in warm water. Avoid using a microwave, as it can create hot spots and break down the milk’s nutritional content.

The best methods for thawing breast milk include doing so in the refrigerator overnight or under warm running water. Avoid microwaving as it can unevenly heat the milk and damage its nutritional content. When warming, gently swirl the container to mix separated layers and use warm water instead of a microwave.

Checking for Spoilage

Always inspect the milk for any unusual odor or color changes before feeding it to your baby, ensuring it’s safe and hasn’t spoiled.

For further reading, you can refer to guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), and La Leche League International, which offer detailed information on this topic.

By adhering to these guidelines, you can make sure that the milk you provide is not only nutritious but also safe for your little one.

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.