How Long Does My Breast Milk Stay Fresh?

Breast milk storage guidelines can be incredibly complicated to decipher.  With each pump company and breastfeeding website having its own storage and handling recommendations, how's a mother to know which one to follow?  Plus, throw in whether the baby is full-term, pre-term, healthy, or in the NICU, and we have quite a confusing situation.

After delving into our lactation consultant guidelines for human milk storage, I think I have the definitive list for you….at least for this year!

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How long does my breast milk stay fresh?

Here are the recommendations, for a healthy infant, according to the Core Curriculum for Lactation Consultant Practice, 2012:

Room Temperature 72 º:   6 -10 hrs.

Refrigerator:  5-7 days

Insulated cooler with ice pack: < 24 hrs.

Completely thawed in the refrigerator: < 24 hrs.

Freezer compartment in 1-door refrigerator: 2 weeks

Freezer door in 2-door refrigerator (not in door): 3-6 months

Deep freezer: 6-12 months

Here are the recommendations for a hospitalized infant, according to the Core Curriculum for Lactation Consultant Practice, 2012:

Room Temperature 72 º: < 4 hrs.

Refrigerator:  up to 7 days

Insulated cooler with ice pack: < 24 hrs.

Completely thawed in the refrigerator: < 24 hrs.

Previously frozen, brought to room temperature: <4 hrs.

Freezer compartment in 1-door refrigerator: not recommended

Freezer door in 2-door refrigerator (not in door): < 3 months

Deep freezer: < 6 months

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How should I store my breast milk?

  • Glass or plastic baby bottles
  • Clean food storage containers with tight-fitting lids
  • Disposable feeding bottle liners and mother’s milk bags

How do I warm my stored breast milk?

  • Never use the microwave to warm up breast milk.  Not only does the milk heat unevenly in the microwave (which could cause unintentional burning), but it decreases the anti-infective quality of the milk and reduces its overall health properties (ABM Protocol #8)
  • Defrost frozen breast milk in either the refrigerator overnight, by running under warm water, or setting it in a container of warm water. (ABM Protocol #8)
  • There have been no studies done to provide recommendations for how long milk can be kept at room temperature after a baby has partially fed from the cup or bottle.  The Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine recommends using the milk within 1-2 hrs after baby finished feeding.  (ABM Protocol #8)  Many lactation consultants and pediatricians recommend using the rest of the milk at the next feeding sessions and then throwing any leftovers away.

Do I need to sterilize my bottles and nipples?

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  • Bottles, nipples, and pump pieces need to be sterilized before you first use them.
  • Once a bottle, nipple, or pump piece has been used, sterilizing is unnecessary.  Instead wash everything in hot, soapy water and then rinse, or throw them in the dishwasher.

Less complicated, right?  

I hope that I was able to clarify a few of those difficult-to-figure-out questions you had. 

Now go.... breastfeed, pump, and give that delicious goodness to your child!  And, definitely check back in a few years to see if anything has changed!