The Comprehensive Guide to Storing Breast Milk in the Fridge
Breast milk, often referred to as “liquid gold,” is vital for your baby’s growth and development. It is, therefore, crucial to handle and store it correctly to retain its quality and benefits. This guide provides extensive information on how long breast milk can be stored in the fridge and some helpful storage tips.
Understanding Breast Milk
Breast milk is nature’s designed food for babies, packed with essential nutrients, antibodies, and enzymes.
It adapts to a baby’s nutritional needs, changing in composition from the newborn stage through to toddlerhood.
To ensure that none of this goodness is lost, proper storage is key.
Freshly Expressed Breast Milk
Freshly expressed breast milk contains the most active anti-infective properties.
It’s always best to offer fresh milk to your baby where possible.
However, circumstances may require you to express and store your milk for later use.
Storing Breast Milk in the Fridge
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), freshly expressed breast milk can be safely stored in the fridge at 40°F (4°C) for up to four days.
However, it is recommended to use it within 48 hours if the fridge temperature is not consistently at or below 39.2°F (4°C).
It’s essential to cool freshly expressed milk before adding it to already cooled or frozen milk.
Thawed Breast Milk
If you have previously frozen breast milk and thawed it in the refrigerator, it is safe for your baby to consume within 24 hours.
Once the milk has been warmed or your baby has begun drinking from the bottle, bacteria from the baby’s mouth can enter the milk.
The CDC recommends that this milk should be consumed within 2 hours and anything left after this should be discarded.
Containers for Storing Breast Milk
For storing breast milk in the fridge, use clean glass or hard BPA-free plastic bottles with tight-fitting lids.
You can also use milk storage bags, specially designed for storing breast milk.
Avoid using disposable bottle liners or other plastic bags to store breast milk.
Storing Tips for Breast Milk
- Cooling Fresh Milk:
If you’re not able to refrigerate freshly expressed breast milk immediately, use an insulated cooler bag.
- Filling Containers:
Don’t fill bottles or bags to the top – leave some space as the milk will expand when frozen.
Always label the container with the date the milk was expressed before placing it in the fridge.
- Safe Area:
Store breast milk at the back of the refrigerator or freezer, where the temperature is the most consistent.
Warming Refrigerated Breast Milk
When you’re ready to use refrigerated milk, you can feed it to your baby cold if they accept it.
However, most babies prefer their milk warm, mirroring the natural temperature of milk from the breast.
To warm refrigerated milk, seal it in a leak-proof bag or container and immerse it in warm (not hot) water until it reaches body temperature.
You can also use a bottle warmer designed for this purpose.
Swirl the milk gently to mix any fat that separated during storage, but don’t shake it.
Extended Breast Milk Storage Guidelines
While the focus has primarily been on refrigerated breast milk, it’s worth noting that breast milk can be stored for longer durations in different settings.
Here’s a quick glance at the extended guidelines according to the CDC:
- Room Temperature (up to 77°F or 25°C): Freshly expressed breast milk can be kept for up to 4 hours.
- Insulated Cooler Bag: It’s good for up to 24 hours, as long as the ice packs stay frozen.
- Freezer Compartment Inside a Refrigerator: Here, breast milk can be stored for up to two weeks.
- Freezer with Separate Doors from Refrigerator: Under such conditions, breast milk can be safely stored for up to six months.
- Deep Freezer: If you have a deep freezer that’s consistently 0°F or -18°C, breast milk can be stored for up to 12 months.
Remember, these guidelines are the maximum durations for storage. Using the milk as soon as possible is ideal to ensure the best quality.
Hygiene and Safe Handling Practices
Proper hygiene and handling are just as essential as proper storage.
Before expressing or handling breast milk, make sure to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water.
If using a breast pump, ensure that it’s clean and has been correctly assembled.
Troubleshooting Common Issues
At times, you might notice changes in your refrigerated breast milk that may concern you. Here are common issues and how to handle them:
- Separated Milk:
Breast milk naturally separates into a cream and milk layer when stored. Gently swirl (don’t shake) the bottle to mix it back together.
- Soapy or Metallic Smell:
Some mothers produce milk with high lipase (an enzyme that breaks down fats), which can give the milk a soapy or metallic smell when stored. The milk is still safe, but if your baby refuses it, you may need to scald the milk to deactivate the lipase before storing.
- Color Changes:
Stored breast milk might seem to change in color due to the diet or medications of the mother. This is usually harmless. However, if the milk turns pinkish or brown after refrigeration, it might indicate bacterial contamination and should be discarded.
Navigating through breastfeeding while balancing life’s other demands can be challenging.
Safe and efficient storage of breast milk provides a great option for mothers who need to be away from their babies due to work, travel, or other commitments.
Understanding the guidelines and practices for storing breast milk in the refrigerator ensures that your baby continues to receive the vital nutrition they need, even when you’re not around.
Remember, the quality of stored breast milk, though not identical to fresh milk, still far surpasses that of formula milk, providing your child with immune protection and optimal nutrition for growth and development.
Stick to the guidelines and tips outlined here, and you’ll be well on your way to mastering the art of breast milk storage.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Can I put breast milk back in the fridge after feeding?
If your baby didn’t finish the bottle, you can use it for the next feeding, but try to use it within 1-2 hours. If the milk has been at room temperature for longer than that, it’s safer to discard it.
2. Can I add freshly pumped milk to already stored milk?
Yes, you can add freshly expressed milk to cooled milk. However, ensure that the volume of the freshly expressed milk is less than that of the already cooled milk.
3. How can I tell if the breast milk has gone bad?
Breast milk that has gone bad has a sour or rancid smell. It’s also good to note that breast milk can have a soapy or metallic smell due to high lipase content, but this doesn’t mean it has spoiled.
4. Can I freeze breast milk that has been in the refrigerator?
If you decide to freeze breast milk after it has been in the fridge, do so within 48 hours of expressing it. The sooner, the better.
5. How long does thawed breast milk last?
Once breast milk is thawed in the refrigerator, it should ideally be used within 24 hours. Do not refreeze thawed milk.
6. What’s the best way to thaw frozen breast milk?
The safest way to thaw frozen breast milk is by placing it in the refrigerator or by swirling it in a bowl of warm (not hot) water. Never use a microwave to thaw or heat breast milk, as it can create hot spots and damage the milk’s nutritional and immunological properties.
7. Is it normal for stored breast milk to separate?
Yes, it’s normal. Breast milk naturally separates into a cream and milk layer when stored. Gently swirl the bottle to mix it back together.
8. Why does my refrigerated breast milk have a soapy or metallic smell?
Some mothers produce milk with high lipase (an enzyme that breaks down fats), which can give the milk a soapy or metallic smell when stored. It’s still safe to consume. If your baby refuses it, you may need to scald the milk to deactivate the lipase before storing.