If you're going to be away from your baby for a number of hours, then you'll want to store some breast milk. New moms often ask whether it's safe to store breast milk in bottles with nipples or teats, but is this an acceptable way of storing milk? Read on and the Limerick team will tell you.
Why Storing Breast Milk Properly is Important
Storing breast milk safely ensures it retains all the nutrients your baby needs, including antibodies, and reduces the risk of potentially harmful bacteria. The best approach for this depends on whether the milk is freshly pumped or has previously been frozen.
The CDC’s Guidance on Proper Milk Storage
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, freshly expressed milk is safe to use left at room temperature for up to 4 hours. After this, it must be refrigerated or frozen. Always wash your hands thoroughly with warm, soapy water, or use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol before handling breast milk and transferring it to containers.
So, Can You Store Breast Milk In Bottles With Nipples?
Generally, it's not recommended. Instead you should use bottles with secure, air-tight lids. Bottles that come with nipples or teats pose a risk to your baby's health because the hole in the lid can allow potentially harmful bacteria from the atmosphere to enter the bottle.
The ideal solution defined:
Ideally, for a healthy baby, you should store milk in a clean, BPA-free bottle with an air-tight lid - this will keep your milk fresh and free from harmful particles. If you do have bottles with nipples, replace these lids with air-tight ones.
It is also not recommended to freeze breast milk in bottles with teats, for the same reason - the hole in the lid makes it easy for germs and bacteria to get into the milk. Freezers aren't sterile; harmful particles could still grow inside the bottle.
- Single-use storage bags can be convenient because they freeze flat and can be stacked, taking up less room in your freezer. Make sure the bags are food-grade, BPA and BPS free, and ideally pre-sanitized. After pumping into a bottle, your milk can be poured into these storage bags. Be careful when handling storage bags, though - they are more likely to be punctured than other containers.
- Storage bottles and cups are a popular option. Bottles can be reused, provided they are properly sanitized between uses and are a convenient option as they can go in your dishwasher.
- If you choose bottles, it's a good idea to get some labels to write the date of expression and storage.
- If you'd like to store smaller amounts of breast milk, storage trays could be a good option for you. However, the tray must be made from silicone-free, BPA and BPS free, food-grade material. You also need a lid, to protect the milk from freezer burn.
- At Limerick, we recommend Milkies Milk Trays. You can pour milk into the trays, then cover them to freeze. Once frozen you have several 1oz milk sticks that you can remove from the tray and put into freezer bags, allowing you to reuse the tray. This option is incredibly convenient as it’s simple to only defrost what you need, minimizing any waste of breast milk.
- If you do choose a tray, remember to place a label with the date on the freezer-safe storage bags as you go.
- Don't use any containers which contain BPA or BPS. Containers with a recycle number 7 contain BPA, and therefore, shouldn't be used.
- Ensure that any lids are tight fitting, and bags should be tightly sealed.
- Zip-up or other sandwich bags aren't suitable - these aren't safe for long-term storage of your milk.
How to Clean and Sanitize Infant Feeding Items
It's important to store breast milk in clean, air-tight containers that are safe from contamination. Although breast milk can be stored in any sterile, airtight container, bottles or storage bags specifically designed for breast milk can have additional benefits. These include calibrated marking, so you can see how much they contain, and a strip you can write on to mark the date of expression. In addition, some single-use milk storage bags are pre-sterilized, but check the instructions to confirm.
Before their first use, wash and sterilize bottles or containers for at least 10 minutes. You can invest in a countertop sterilizer, but using boiling water is just as effective and is inexpensive. After that, wash bottles in hot, soapy water, or put them in your dishwasher, after each use.
Always follow the manufacturer's guidelines for sanitizing the container and the recommended boiling or sanitizing time, just in case it's different from the guidance offered here. Also, remember to wash your hands thoroughly before and after handling breast milk, to prevent any contamination. Limerick offers microwavable sanitizing bags, which can be used for bottles and breast cups
How long can I Store My Breast Milk?
How you store breast milk depends on the temperature of the milk and whether it's freshly pumped or has been frozen.
Breast milk must be stored in a clean container, or in special milk storage bags. Newly expressed breast milk can last up to 4 days in a fridge at 4oC or lower, but if the temperature of your fridge is higher than this, you should use it within three days or less.
Frozen breast milk lasts up to six months, if the freezer is 39.2F (18C) or lower. It's best to defrost frozen breast milk slowly in the fridge before feeding your baby. Never refreeze milk that's already been defrosted. When freezing milk, make sure to leave about three-quarters of an inch (or around 2 centimeters) of air space in the container, as the liquid will expand once frozen.
Microwaving frozen breast milk is not recommended, as it may create "hot spots" that can potentially burn your baby's mouth due to uneven heating. It's best to thaw the milk gradually in the refrigerator, which can take up to 12 hours. Therefore, plan defrosting time ahead of time. After thawing, use the milk within 24 hours or discard it.
If you need to defrost milk immediately, sit the container in a jug of warm water or hold it under a warm running tap. Don't defrost breast milk at room temperature - this can pose a safety risk for your baby. Once your milk has thawed, remember to give it to your baby immediately to avoid contamination.
Additional safety guidelines for storing milk in the fridge or freezer
- When refrigerating breast milk, put it in the back of the main compartment, rather than in the door or towards the front. This makes it less likely to be affected by temperature changes when the fridge door is opened and closed.
- Once your baby starts drinking chilled breast milk, it should be consumed within one to two hours, and any leftover milk discarded. Never put the leftover milk back in the fridge.
- If your fridge or freezer doesn't display its temperature, you could buy a fridge thermometer to measure this.
- If you need to take refrigerated breast milk with you, it can last for up to 24 hours if stored in a cool box with ice packs to keep it chilled.
- If your infant was born prematurely or has any health issues, your health provider or lactation consultant might recommend different milk storage guidelines. Check in with them before you store any breast milk for later use.
- Once milk is expressed and placed in a storage container, clearly write the amount in ounces and the date and time of expression. Use a label and write with a permanent marker (or another pen) which won't wipe away easily with moisture.
- With an electric breast pump, the tubing itself should never get wet. If it does, it's incredibly difficult to dry, which can lead to mold growth. If you see condensation on the tubing, remove the tubing and let it hang down. Then, turn on the pump to dry the tubing - Limerick pumps feature a drying mode that will run the pump for 5 minutes and then automatically switch it off.
- If milk gets inside the tubing, it isn't easy to clean, and it is recommended to replace the tubing.
Is stored breast milk any different from fresh?
Chilled or frozen breast milk can look different from freshly expressed or pumped milk. It might separate into a creamy and watery layer - this is normal; you just need to gently shake the milk and mix it back together. Babies can drink cold, room temperature or warmed milk - it just depends on what they like!
If your defrosted milk smells sour or rancid, the fat in your breast milk has broken down. It is still safe to feed to your baby - we eat many foods that have unpleasant odors (such as eggs, fish and cheese).