Tips for storing breast milk
If you express breast milk, you can store it and give it to your baby later. This might be something you want to do if you are going to be away from your baby for a period of time or you are experiencing difficulties with breastfeeding.
Here are our top 10 tips for safely storing expressed breast milk:
Make sure the container is sterile
Your baby’s immune system is very immature and it’s important to do what you can to avoid germs. Make sure you put expressed breast milk into a sterile container to store it. Sterilising is important before your baby turns 12 months to protect them from infection.
Just hand washing something so it is visibly clean is not enough so make sure all feeding equipment, including the funnel of your breast pump and the container which will catch the milk is sterilised before use. You can buy special breast milk storage bags, which come pre-sterilised.
Label your container
Make sure you label the container with the date so you know when the milk was expressed. This will help make sure you use it while it is still at its best and it can be thrown away if it is no longer safe to use. Don’t rely on your memory as you are likely to be exhausted looking after your baby and it is easy to mix up different containers.
Know the timescales
If you are keeping expressed breast milk at room temperature, it must be used within four hours. It will last longer in the fridge – if the temperature of your fridge is 4C or lower, then it will last up to eight days but if your fridge is warmer than that, make sure you use it within three days.
Frozen breast milk will last for two weeks in the ice compartment of a fridge or up to six months in a freezer which is set at -18C or lower.
Check the temperature on your fridge
Many modern fridges allow you to set the temperature so you can make sure it is cold enough to safely store breast milk. If your fridge does not display its temperature, consider investing in a fridge thermometer so you can check how cold it is.
Use ice packs when on the go
If you are taking expressed breast milk out with you, put it in a cool bag and add ice packs to keep it cold. Milk carried in this way will last for up to 24 hours before it needs to be used or thrown away.
Store breast milk in small amounts
Once you defrost frozen breast milk, you need to use it within 24 hours so store it in small quantities so you don’t end up defrosting more than you need. If you store large quantities, you risk some of your precious breast milk going to waste. Once your baby starts feeding from a bottle or cup of expressed breast milk, it needs to be used within an hour. Anything which is left after that time should be disposed of for safety as germs can start to multiply quickly.
Seal storage containers
Never store breast milk in open containers even if they are sterile as germs and foreign objects could make their way in. If you are using storage bags, make sure they are properly sealed. Containers should have a lid which is tightly secured.
Shake milk before giving to your baby
When you are going to use expressed breast milk, shake it before giving it to your baby as the fats might have separated while it was being stored.
Slow is best when it comes to defrosting
When you are defrosting frozen breast milk, put it in the fridge so it can defrost slowly. If you do need to use the milk in a hurry, you can hold the container under warm running water or put it into a jug of hot water but shake it thoroughly afterwards.
Speak to staff if you need to store milk in hospital
If you are expressing milk while you are in hospital or because your baby needs extra care, speak to the staff about storing it safely. They will usually be able to arrange for your milk to be stored in a fridge at the hospital.