Baby bottles - Photo by Jaye Haych / Unsplash

How Long Is Breast Milk Good For?

Bottle Feeding Jan 9, 2023

Ensuring that your baby receives the best quality breast milk is important. The longevity of breast milk depends on how it is stored. To ensure that your breast milk remains fresh, follow the guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). These guidelines will help prevent spoilage and ensure that your breast milk is safe for your baby to consume.

Breast Milk Is Good for How Long?

Breast Milk On The Counter

According to the (CDC), breast milk can be left out at room temperature for up to 4 hours. It is important to use caution when storing breast milk and to use it within this time frame to prevent the growth of bacteria that can cause illness. If the room temperature is above 25°C (77°F), the breast milk should be used within 2 hours. It is also important to keep breast milk covered and protected from direct heat and light while it is being stored.

"You could never leave formula out for that long, but breast milk is a live substance with antimicrobial properties that prevent bacteria growth,” - Julie Morgan-Vaughn, a registered nurse and a certified lactation consultant in Vancouver, Washington.

In an Insulated Cooler

How long is breast milk good for in an insulated cooler?

Breast milk can be stored in an insulated cooler with ice packs for up to 24 hours. Make sure to store the breast milk in the coldest part of the cooler and to use a separate cooler for storing breast milk, as other items in the cooler may contaminate the milk. If you are unable to transport the breast milk within 24 hours, it should be stored in a refrigerator or freezer until it is ready to be used.

In a Refrigerator

Breast Milk How Long in Fridge?

Fresh Breast Milk

Fresh breast milk can be stored in a refrigerator for up to 4 days. Make sure to store the breast milk in the back of the refrigerator where the temperature is most consistent, as the door of the refrigerator can expose the breast milk to temperature fluctuations. If you are unable to use the breast milk within 4 days, it can be stored in a freezer for longer periods of time.

Thawed Breast Milk

Once breast milk has been thawed (not warmed), it should be used within 24 hours (stored in the refrigerator) to ensure freshness. If breast milk is not used within this time frame, it should be discarded to prevent the growth of bacteria that can cause illness.

In The Freezer

How long is breast milk good for in the freezer?

Breast milk can be stored in a regular home freezer for up to 6 months. Make sure to store the breast milk towards the back of the freezer where the temperature is most consistent, as the door of the freezer can expose the breast milk to temperature fluctuations. Breast milk can also be stored in a deep freezer for up to 12 months, but it is important to note that the quality of the milk may decline over time.

frozen breast milk
Frozen breast milk

Left Over Milk

Leftover breast milk (if your baby didn’t finish their bottle) needs to be consumed within two hours of the baby finishing feeding.

Storing Your Breast Milk

When storing breast milk, it is important to choose an appropriate container and to follow any protocols in place at your child's daycare center. Avoid using disposable bottle liners or plastic bags that are not intended for breast milk storage. Remember to label the container with the date it was expressed and, if your child attends daycare, include their name on the label as well.

When freezing breast milk, it is important to leave some space at the top of the container to allow for expansion during the freezing process. It is also recommended to freeze breast milk in small amounts, such as 2 to 4 ounces, to make it easier to thaw and use as needed. Any leftover breast milk that was not used within two hours after your baby finished feeding should be discarded. The CDC recommends not refreezing breast milk that has been thawed but not used. Using storage bags can help save space in the freezer, as they can be stacked flat.

Warming Breast Milk

When using breast milk that has been stored in the freezer, it is important to thaw it safely by using one of the following methods recommended by the CDC: in the refrigerator overnight, in a container of warm or lukewarm water, or under lukewarm running water. It is not recommended to defrost or heat breast milk in the microwave, as this can destroy nutrients and immune factors and create hotspots that may harm your baby's mouth. If you choose to warm the breast milk before giving it to your baby, place the milk in a container of warm water for a few minutes or run warm (not hot) tap water over the container.

Never warm breast milk for longer than 20 minutes, and be sure to shake the bottle gently to redistribute the fats and even out the temperature before feeding it to your baby. Test a few drops on the top of your hand to ensure that the milk is not too hot. It is also important to note that freshly pumped breast milk does not need to be warmed, and many babies are happy to drink milk that is at room temperature or even cold from the refrigerator.

How long is breast milk good for after heating?

Once breast milk has been warmed, it should be used within 2 hours. Never refreeze breast milk after it has thawed.

Has The Milk Gone Bad?

It can be difficult to determine whether breast milk has gone bad. It is normal for breast milk to have a different smell after being frozen, and the smell may also be influenced by what you ate on the day you pumped. Some mothers may notice that their milk has a soapy, metallic, or rancid smell, which can be due to high levels of lipase or chemical oxidation. Both of these types of milk are safe to feed to your baby, but if your baby refuses to drink milk that has a different flavor, you can try to prevent the flavor change. If you are unsure about the quality of the breast milk, it is better to throw it out. If the milk has freezer burn, smells, or tastes sour, do not give it to your baby.

References

The CDC - breast milk Storage protocol

La Leche league - Milk issues

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Tracy Behr

Mom of two, breastfeeding helper, qualified nutritionist and lover of all things natural! Studying a breastfeeding counselor course via Childbirth int.

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