As a mom pumping breast milk, you’ve probably wondered how long can breast milk stay in the fridge. It takes a lot of time and energy to pump the milk, and you certainly don’t want any of it to go to waste! You’re wondering how long will breast milk stay fresh in the fridge? Maybe you aren’t sure how to store it. And if you’re pumping at work, you want to know what is the safest way to get your breast milk home and into the refrigerator.
So, just how long can breast milk stay in the fridge? Figuring this out is actually quite easy as long as you keep a few simple storage rules in mind. Once you’ve mastered those, pumping and keeping your breast milk in the fridge will probably be one of the easiest parts of your baby’s first year.
All You Need to Know About Breast Milk Storage
Below are the answers to some of your most pressing questions.
How long can breast milk stay out after I've pumped?
Ideally, you’d be able to pump then immediately get the milk into the fridge. Of course, that may not always happen. Fortunately, you can safely leave freshly pumped breast milk out of the fridge for four to six hours. Of course, to be safe, you should try to get it into a refrigerator (or an insulated container with ice) within four hours, but don’t panic if you don’t. As long as it is not an unusually hot room or hot day, six hours out of the fridge is perfectly safe for breast milk.
How long can breast milk stay in the fridge?
How long can breast milk stay in the fridge? The answer to this question might surprise you. You can safely keep breast milk in the fridge for up to five days. However, it’s best to use it or freeze it within three days of pumping. Make sure to store the breast milk in the back of the fridge, preferably on the bottom-most shelf. That helps keep it consistently cold, making it less likely to spoil. Try to avoid storing breast milk in the fridge door. It won’t maintain a consistent temperature and makes it more prone to spoiling.
How long can breast milk stay in the freezer?
If you’re storing breast milk in a freezer that’s attached to a refrigerator, you can keep it in there for up to nine months. If you have a stand-alone deep freezer, you can safely store your breast milk for up to 12 months. Just like storing breast milk in the fridge, make sure to keep the milk in the back of the freezer and on the lowest shelf possible. No matter what kind of freezer you use, it’s best to use frozen breast milk within six months of pumping.
How do I thaw breast milk?
The best way to defrost frozen breast milk is slowly. Ideally, you should place the frozen breast milk in the fridge to defrost. How long can breast milk stay in the fridge before it is defrosted? It will take at least 24 hours before it is defrosted, so plan ahead. If that’s not possible, you can defrost the milk by placing it in a container of lukewarm water. Some ice crystals may remain in the milk, but that’s OK. Heating the bottle will eliminate them.
How long can breast milk stay in the fridge after defrosting it? No more than 24 hours. If you can’t use it within that time frame, you should dump it. Make sure you swirl the milk around in the bottle before feeding. Breast milk will separate and mixing it ensures your baby will receive all the essential nutrients in the milk.
Can I reheat breast milk?
Yes! Just like any bottle, you can reheat breast milk. And, just like thawing breast milk, the best way to reheat breast milk is slowly. You can use a bottle warmer. Or you can use lukewarm water to reheat the milk. Simply hold the bottle under running water or place it in a bowl of water. Avoid using the microwave or hot water on the stove. Heating a bottle too fast may cause it to overheat, destroying the nutrients and making it too hot to use.
Breast Milk Storage Options
There are two options when choosing how to store your breast milk. You can store it in special plastic bags. Or you can store it in plastic cups that you can use as a bottle with the right attachment.
Whatever storage method you choose, the answer to how long can breast milk stay in the fridge won't be affected by your storage choice. Just make sure you label the container with the date you pumped the milk. This will help you keep it organized in the fridge or freezer. And it will help ensure you use the older ones first. If you are sending the pumped milk to a daycare center, make sure to put a name on it, too.
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Breast milk storage bags are exactly what they sound like. They are little plastic bags that hold milk. While it may seem tempting (not to mention cheaper) to use regular plastic bags, the CDC advises against this. The biggest concern is that the materials in the plastic bag will leech into the milk. Only use plastic bags that say they are specifically for breast milk storage.
If you choose the bag route, make sure to leave a little bit of room at the top of the bag -- especially if you will be freezing the milk, because the milk will expand when it freezes. Look for a bag that has a wide mouth at the top in case you need to pour the milk from your collection container into the bag. Also look for a bag that has a wide, sturdy bottom. Bags like this can stand up on their own, making it easier for you to transfer the milk into the bag. It also reduces the chance of the bag crumpling while you do the transfer.
Lastly, choose a bag that has a place for you to write information directly on it. While you could use something like masking tape in a pinch, it’s one less thing to think about. Just remember to write the information on the bag before you fill it up!
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The other option for breast milk storage is cups or bottles. These plastic containers are designed specifically for however long you store breast milk in the fridge or freezer. The advantage to using cups over bags is that the cups can be reused instead of tossed after just one use. And, they tend to be sturdier than plastic bags, making the chance of leaking less likely.
Many storage cups can be used directly with your breast pump. You can attach the pump directly to the cup, express your milk into it, pop on a top, then throw the milk right in the fridge or freezer. When you need to use the milk, many of these cups have a conversion top that allows you to attach the nipple directly to the cup, so you don’t have to transfer the milk to another bottle.
Storing the Breast Milk Past the Recommended Time
Hopefully, you will use the pumped breast milk quickly. Knowing how long can breast milk stay in the fridge is only half the battle. The milk you pump when your baby is a newborn may not meet the nutritional needs of an eight-month-old. And, the longer that the breast milk is in the fridge or freezer, the more vitamin C it may lose. That said, sometimes, they do get lost in the back of the freezer. It’s okay to use older breast milk, as long as it isn’t past the recommended storage time. If you consistently find that you’ve got more milk than your baby can eat, consider donating it.
Why Refrigerated or Frozen Breast Milk Can Look Weird
Breast milk contains lipase, an enzyme the helps your baby digest the fat in the milk. When you mix fresh breast milk up, you can’t see the lipase when you first pump it. But, when you leave it out for a while, it starts to separate and what you’re seeing is the fat separating from the rest of the milk. And, if you worried about how long can breast milk stay in the fridge before it separates, just know that it will always separate soon after pumping. All you have to do is mix it all together again before feeding.
If you notice that your breast milk smells like soap, that’s just the smell of the lipase. While it may be disconcerting to smell soapy breast milk, rest assure that there’s nothing wrong with you or your milk supply and it’s perfectly safe for your baby to eat.
How to Tell If the Breast Milk Is Spoiled
Speaking of separating, one way to determine if your breast milk is spoiled is if it doesn’t mix together easily. All you should really need to do to mix the fat in is swirl the bottle around a few times. If the fat doesn’t easily integrate with the rest of the milk, it’s probably safer to throw it out.
Spoiled milk might also smell rancid or sour -- just like when milk in the fridge goes bad. You can always taste it to see if it’s still good, but that may not be the best way to tell. Breast milk tastes different than cow’s milk. People who have tasted breast milk describe the taste as “very sweet.” So, when in doubt, throw it out.
How to Safely Transport Breast Milk
You can safely transport breast milk in an insulated cooler with an ice pack for up to 24 hours. Refrigerated or frozen breast milk can go right in the cooler. You should cool freshly pumped milk to room temperature before going in the cooler whenever possible.
How Long Can Breast Milk Stay in the Fridge: Wrap-Up
Whatever your reason for pumping, breast milk is like liquid gold. Knowing how long can breast milk stay in the fridge is the first step toward building a stash of milk. Whether you use that stash for days when you have to be away from your baby or for the times you want to share the feedings with someone else, knowing how to safely store and prepare your breast milk stash will go a long way toward protecting that supply.
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