Breast Milk Storage Tips

Your baby can still enjoy the health benefits of breast milk without actually being attached to your breasts. Learning how to properly collect and store breast milk is the key. The good news is that the process isn't difficult. With a little planning, you can return to work or enjoy a night out without having to offer your baby formula if you don't want to.

When to Start Pumping

If you simply want to collect a little extra milk to feed your baby so you can leave for a few hours, it doesn't matter when you pump. You can pump that morning and store the milk in the refrigerator. If you would like to return to work, it's a good idea to practice pumping for one or two weeks so that you get the hang of it. If the plan is to return to work, you can start pumping very early and collect the milk for freezer storage to be used when you're no longer home.

If your baby tends to nurse from only one breast, you can use an electric or manual pump to express milk from the other breast at the same time. (An electric pump is easier to use because it'll free both your hands to hold your baby. Electric pumps can be battery operated so you don't need to worry about cords. Modern electric pumps tend to be surprisingly quiet and won't disturb your baby.) Sometimes the milk will flow easier because the let-down reflex has already been triggered. You can also try pumping immediately after your baby has eaten.

You're not limited to just these two times. You can pump during any time of the day. Try to relax when pumping. If the milk isn't flowing, you can cover your breasts with warm cloths to help release the milk.

Once you get the hang of pumping, you can express milk in as little as 10 to 15 minutes. At work, try to pump 15 minutes every two or three hours to keep up your milk supply. Extra feedings when you're around your baby will also help maintain your milk supply. So will pumping between feedings.

Always wash your hands before pumping.

Prepare the Storage Containers

Breast milk can be stored in pre-sterilized bags specifically created for this purpose. These work well if you're planning on freezing your milk. These types of bags typically have a double zip-lock seal that makes the bag air tight and a square to write the date or amount.

Sterilization is important because it destroys bacteria and parasites that could cause infections like gastroenteritis (similar to food poisoning) or thrush of which young babies are especially susceptible to.

Bottles used to store breast milk can be sterilized in the dishwasher (use the sterilize setting to create a high enough temperature), microwave bottle steamers or boiling the bottles for 10 minutes. You should also sterilize your breast pump. Each breast pump can be sterilized in different ways so check with the manufacturer's guidelines.

Cold-water sterilizing is also an option if the power goes out. This process involves using a non-toxic solution or tablet in cold water. Completely submerge the bottles with no air bubbles for at least 30 minutes. The solution remains effective for up to 24 hours.

Length of Storage

You can store breast milk at room temperature for up to six hours as long as the temperature doesn't go higher than 77 degrees Fahrenheit (25 degrees Celsius). In a cooler with ice packs, breast milk can be safely stored for up to 24 hours. Freshly expressed milk can be stored for up to five days in the refrigerator as long as the temperature is 39 degrees Fahrenheit (four degrees Celsius) or colder.

For extended storage use a detached freezer with a temperature of minus four degrees Fahrenheit (-18 degrees Celsius). In a detached freezer breast milk can be stored for up to six months. In your fridge's freezer, milk can only be stored for two weeks.