Got Breast Milk?

For a little dude or dudette looking for healthy dose of sustenance, there’s nothing like a swig or two of Mom’s Home Brew. No doubt about it – breast milk is liquid gold for wee ones. But even if you’re an avid breast feeder vying for the title of Best Mom on the Planet there will be those times when you simply can’t be there to nurse your little one — because duty calls from another direction, you’re not feeling so hot, or you need to get out and spend some quality time with your honey (the big one) or best buddy.

So then you turn to that good old breast pump and get yourself hooked up.* A few minutes later you’ve got the goods delivered and bottled and ready for Junior the minute he starts howling.

But how long can you keep it before it goes bad? Can you just let it sit out there on the counter? Can you freeze it? Or, do you just pop it in the fridge and hope for the best? Follow these guidelines and all will be well:

  • On the counter, breast milk is safe for four to six hours at temperatures under 77 degrees F.
  • In the fridge, it will keep for four days if stored toward the back, where it’s coldest.
  • In the freezer compartment of a refrigerator (5 degrees F), milk can be frozen for two weeks. If there’s a freezer compartment with separate doors (0 degrees F), it can be stored for three to six months. And in a deep freezer (-4 degrees F), it will be good for six to 12 months.

Get a good supply of breast milk pumped and stored even if you plan to be at home most of the time. Knowing that it’s waiting there in the freezer if you need it will ease your mind.

  • The best time to pump is early in the morning, after you have fed the baby — your milk is most plentiful then.
  • Double pumping ( pumping both breasts at the same time) yields more milk.
  • Keeping your baby close by will help keep things keep flowing — it’s biology! The sight and smell of her will do the trick.
  • Don’t forget to drink tons of water while breast feeding or pumping. You need to stay hydrated, too!

Store it right after you’ve pumped to make sure it stays safe.

  • Store it in amounts equal to what your baby usually drinks.
  • Store in glass or plastic bottles that have sealable tops. You can also store breast milk in a sterile sealable bag.
  • Write the date on the outside of the bottle or bag so you know when to toss it.

Once you are ready to use it, just grab it out of the refrigerator and warm the bottle slowly in a container of warm water or under a running warm tap.

To thaw:

  • Place bottle in refrigerator the day before you need it.
  • Or, put the bottle in a container of warm water until it thaws and heats to room temp.
  • Never thaw by using the microwave. Hot spots can develop and burn baby’s mouth. Also, microwaving can damage important nutrients in the milk.
  • Thawed breast milk is good for 24 hours in the fridge.
  • Thawed milk lasts one hour at room temp, then must be tossed.
  • Once thawed, it cannot be refrozen.

Other facts to keep in mind:

  • Breast milk can take on a slightly bluish or yellowish tint, which is normal.
  • Frozen breast milk can have a slightly soapy smell once it’s thawed. This is due to the change in the fats and is normal.
  • Breast milk can separate. The fats rise to the top and need to be redistributed by swirling the bottle gently.

* A word to the wise: make sure you know how to operate that thing before attaching it to your body and turning it on. First time I tried it, I hadn’t bothered to read the fine print (or any of the print, actually) and the suction was WAY too strong. Suffice it to say my mammary glands had quite an experience before I was able to stop screaming and get the d#mn thing off. Turns out those nipples can stretch quite a bit. Ouch.

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Ellen W. Schrier, LCSW, is a family therapist and the mother of three adolescent/young adult kids.


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