Faith Bontrager, RN, BSN

Faith Bontrager, RN, BSNFaith's passion in nursing is to help people find the options they need to discover their personal path to optimum health. Ask her friends and they will tell you that their appreciation of nutritious food has grown through Faith. About Faith Bontrager, RN, BSN


A Healthy Pregnancy

Keeping and Storing Breastmilk

Most doctors and mothers would agree that breastmilk is the best diet for a newborn. But what if you aren't going to be with your baby 24 hours a day? Many women choose to express (pump) milk for their babies.

After the breastmilk is expressed, how long does it last? Most formulas need to be freshly prepared for a feeding and then discarded if the baby does not finish the bottle at that feeding (read label directions for specific brands). Breastmilk, on the other hand, stays fresh a long time. But how long?

Previous recommendations have suggested that breastmilk can be stored for anywhere from 3 to 8 days in the refrigerator. These recommendations were often based on when the milk might support bacterial growth or be less palatable, but did not address the nutrient content of the milk. We do want babies to enjoy the taste of their milk and certainly do not want them to get sick. However, the excellent nutrition and the immune-protection qualities in breastmilk are reasons why many women choose breastfeeding. If you will routinely use expressed milk, it is important to know how long stored breastmilk retains these qualities.

A study published in the January issue of Pediatrics provides insight (2010; 156(1):26-28). Researchers stored donated human milk in the refrigerator and tested it at 1 day, 2 days, 3 days, and 4 days. They found that the ph of the milk decreased significantly over the 4 days but the protein content did not vary significantly nor did immune supporting factors.

Storing breastmilk

If you are expressing milk for your baby, follow these guidelines.

If baby will drink the milk in less than 4 hours, it is OK to leave it at room temperature.

If baby will not drink the milk soon, refrigerate the milk as soon as it practical. Check your refrigerator temperature. Breastmilk (and other food) should be stored below 40 degrees F.

Breastmilk can be frozen for up to 6 months (ideal) or 12 months (acceptable). Before weaning a baby, consider storing some extra breastmilk in the freezer. If a young child is ill, breastmilk is an excellent food that doesn't upset the stomach. The immune factors may speed the child's healing process.

When you are storing breastmilk, use small glass containers or plastic containers that are specifically designed for milk storage. Other plastic containers may not be durable enough or may destroy some of the nutrients in the milk.

For more storage guidelines, visit La Leache League's guidelines for storing pumped milk.

Feeding stored breastmilk

If you only occasionally feed stored milk, you can use your "oldest" milk and rotate the supply to keep it fresh.

If you feed your baby expressed milk on a regular basis, use the freshest milk first (you can use an occasional "older" stored container if needed). Your milk changes as your baby grows. It has more water during warmer temperatures and more fat in colder temperatures. You produce immune factors based on what illnesses are going around. Keep your baby up to date with the most recently-expressed milk.

Warm breastmilk gently (such as in warm water). Don't microwave it, as this may damage nutrients.

There were rumors floating around that breastmilk, being a "bodily fluid," should not be stored in a refrigerator with other food. Both the CDC and OSHA have stated that it is acceptable to store breastmilk in a common refrigerator and that it does not require any special handling.

It can be reassuring to know that even if you won't be with your baby 24 hours a day, you can continue to give your baby a fresh, nutritious meal with breastmilk.

Nourish yourself and your child!