Pack It Up: Storing Breastmilk

When baby is first born, as a breastfeeding mother, those first few weeks you think nothing of storing breastmilk, unless you are like me. I felt a need to store as much as possible as soon as possible. I didn’t want to go back to work and not have enough. Let’s start by saying, you will have enough. Don’t start pumping until at least four weeks in, don’t give baby that bottle of pumped milk until at least six weeks in, and relax; it will help your supply.

Once you do start pumping, whether it be once a day in the beginning, to three times a day after you go back to work, to the two times I currently pump a day for my 18-month-old, you have to store it.

But there are guidelines to follow for this.

If you pump, remember this:

  1. Freshly-Expressed Milk  can still be used/frozen:
    1. Warm Room: 3-4 hours of sitting out
    2. Room Temperature: 4-8 hours of sitting out
    3. Insulated Cooler/Ice Packs (which is what I use at work): 24 hours
  2. Refrigerated Milk
    1. Refrigerator (fresh pumped milk): 3-8 days
    2. Refrigearator (THAWED out milk from freezer): 24 hours
  3. Frozen Milk
    1. Self-Contained Freezer of Refrigerator: 6 months
    2. Deep Freezer (which is what I use): 12 months.

Storage guidelines

Temperature Storage Time
Freshly expressed milk
Warm room 80-90°F / 27-32°C 3-4 hours
Room temperature 61-79°F / 16-26°C 4-8 hours
(ideal: 3-4 hours)
Insulated cooler / ice packs 59°F / 15°C 24 hours
Refrigerated Milk (Store at back, away from door)
Refrigerator (fresh milk) 32-39°F / 0-4°C 3-8 days
(ideal: 72 hrs)
Refrigerator (thawed milk) 32-39°F / 0-4°C 24 hours
Frozen Milk (Do not refreeze! Store at back, away from door/sides)
Freezer compartment inside refrigerator (older-style) Varies 2 weeks
Self-contained freezer unit of a refrigerator/freezer <39°F / <4°C 6 months
Separate deep freeze 0°F / -18°C 12 months
(ideal: 6 months)
These guidelines are for milk expressed for a full-term healthy baby.  If baby is seriously ill and/or hospitalized, discuss storage guidelines with baby’s doctor.
To avoid waste and for easier thawing & warming, store milk in 1-4 ounce portions. Date milk before storing. Milk from different pumping sessions/days may be combined in one container – use the date of the first milk expressed. Avoid adding warm milk to a container of previously refrigerated or frozen milk – cool the new milk before combining. Breastmilk is not spoiled unless it smells really bad or tastes sour.To thaw milk

  • Thaw slowly in the refrigerator (this takes about 12 hours – try putting it in the fridge the night before you need it). Avoid letting milk sit out at room temperature to thaw.
  • For quicker thawing, hold container under running water – start cool and gradually increase temperature.

Previously frozen milk may be kept in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours after it has finished thawing. Do not refreeze.

To warm milk

  • Heat water in a cup or other small container, then place frozen milk in the water to warm; or
  • Use a bottle warmer.
  • NEVER microwave human milk or heat it directly on the stove.

The cream will rise to the top of the milk during storage. Gently swirl milk (do not shake) to mix before checking temperature and offering to baby.

Learn More About
Donating Your
Extra Breast Milk
to a Non-Profit
HMBANA Milk Bank
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If baby does not finish milk at one feeding, it is probably safe to refrigerate and offer within 1-2 hours before it is discarded.

What if, like me, you need to mix milk sometimes. For example, I pump, but it’s only a few ounces. Not enough to put in a baggy just yet. So I put it in the refrigerator and combine it with milk I pump later that day or the next morning.

When I store it, I place the milk in breastmilk storage bags. My favorites are the Lansinoh!

WARNING: Only mix milk at or near the same temperatures!

Freshly-expressed milk can be added to room temperature milk within 4-8 hours. Otherwise, refrigerate milk then combine (which is what I end up doing). Add refrigerated or partially frozen milk to already frozen milk.

OOPS! Baby didn’t drink all of what I heated. What now?

Thawed milk needs to be used within 24 hours. Keep refrigerated until next feeding.

Heated or warmed milk needs to be used within 2-3 hours. Smell it. Does it smell bad? Do you think it is bad? Then it is probably bad.

Not sure if it is bad or not? Check this article by KellyMom out or this article by the Australian Breastfeeding Association!

HOWEVER, don’t throw that milk out!!!!

Breast Milk Bath

Freeze it and use it in the bathtub for a milky bath and other great things! (More coming in later post.)

Still not sure? Check out the CDC Recommendations for more information. Or, visit the La Leche League website or nearest group to you!

Travelling and transporting milk? See this article by Paula Yount. 




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