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Breast-Feeding: Storage and Handling of Breast Milk

There may be times when you need to be away from your baby and unable to nurse. You may need to return to work before your baby has stopped nursing. The baby's father or another person may want to feed the baby. Or, your baby may not be able to breast-feed for a while because of a medical problem. In all these instances when your baby can't be breast-fed, it is best for your baby to be fed milk that has been expressed from your breasts. Thus, you will want to know how to handle and store your breast milk safely for later use.

Preparation and Hygiene

  • Always wash your hands well before you hand-express or pump your breasts.
  • A daily shower or bath will keep your breasts clean.
  • After each use of a breast pump, wash all the parts that come into contact with your milk. Use hot soapy water or a dishwasher.
  • Tell your healthcare provider and your baby's healthcare provider if you get ill or need to take any medicine.

Collection of Milk

  • Pour the milk expressed during one pumping session into a clean hard-sided plastic or glass container. You can also buy special breast milk storage bags. The thin plastic bottle bags are not recommended as they tear easily. Do not use plastic bottles that contain bisphenol A.
  • Frozen milk is good for 24 hours in the refrigerator after thawing.
  • Premies need smaller serving sizes.
  • Babies who drink pumped milk only occasionally would need single-serving sizes, 2 to 4 ounces (60 ml to 120 ml).
  • Tightly cap bottles. Do not store bottles with nipples attached.
  • Label each container with your baby's name and the date and time the milk was expressed. This is very helpful if your baby is in daycare.

Storage of Breast Milk

Fresh milk may be kept at room temperature (up to 85°F or 29°C) for 6 to 8 hours. Cover the container and keep it as cool as possible.

Milk may be stored:

  • In the refrigerator (34°F to 39°F, or 1°C to 4° C) for at least 72 hours after pumping and 24 hours after thawing. Store it in the back of the main body of the refrigerator
  • In a freezer (20°F to 28°F, or -7°C to -2°C) inside a refrigerator for up to 2 weeks after pumping
  • In an insulated cooler bag with ice packs for 12 to 24 hours.
  • In a separate-door freezer (5°F to 15°F, or -15°C to -9°C) for 3 to 6 months after pumping. Vitamin C levels in frozen milk may decrease after 3 months.
  • In a deep freezer (0° F or below, or -18° C or below) for 6 to 12 months after pumping.

Thawing of Milk

Milk may be thawed:

  • Slowly in the refrigerator. Volumes of 3 or more ounces (100 or more milliliters) of milk may take several hours to thaw.
  • Relatively quickly under running warm water or by placing it in a bowl of warm water. Be sure the top of the container remains above the water at all times. Do not thaw milk at room temperature.
  • Swirl the container of milk to mix the cream back in.

Warming of Milk

You need only to take the chill off cold milk. You do not need to heat it. You may warm a bottle of chilled milk:

  • Under warm running water
  • In a bowl of warm water (be sure the top of the container is above the water at all times)
  • In a purchased bottle warmer (be careful not to overheat).

About Microwave Heating

Authorities recommend AGAINST using a microwave oven or stove top to either thaw or heat expressed milk. Milk can overheat very easily in a microwave. Babies have been accidentally burned by milk that was too hot. Also, many of the immune properties of breast milk can be destroyed by overheating.

Additional Recommendations

  • DO NOT thaw milk by letting it sit out of the refrigerator or freezer at room temperature.
  • DO NOT overheat milk. Overheating will destroy some immune components, and hot milk can burn an infant's mouth.
  • DO NOT leave defrosted milk at room temperature for more than 1 to 2 hours.
  • Milk left in the bottle after a feeding should be thrown out and not used again.
  • Milk may be reheated and used for the next feeding if it has not been left at room temperature for more than 1 hour. Throw out any milk left after a second feeding.
  • DO NOT refreeze thawed milk.
  • DO NOT add warm breast milk to frozen milk because it will partially thaw the frozen milk.
  • DO NOT store milk in the door of your freezer, where the temperature may change frequently.
  • DO NOT feed milk that looks stringy or smells foul to your baby.
  • Always transport milk on ice in an insulated cooler.
  • For healthy babies who are not in the hospital, it is safe to layer milk collected at different times on the same day in the same bottle. Chill freshly expressed milk in the refrigerator for an hour before adding it to previously frozen milk.
Developed by RelayHealth.
Pediatric Advisor 2013.2 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2012-02-01
Last reviewed: 2011-11-28
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2013 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.
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