Healthy Kids

How to Really Store Breast Milk

I know everyone is pretty familiar with the breast milk storage guidelines. They have been the standard guidelines for a long time and anyone who’s anyone in the breastfeeding world stand by them. Here is Kelly Mom’s standard page and here is the La Leche League’s.

I have found them to be conservative in some areas and would like to share my take on breast milk storage.

What got me thinking along these lines of breast milk storage was that I had heard through the online grapevine that the standards were conservative and that a good rule of thumb is to let the baby taste the milk before throwing it out just because it has passed the alloted time.

I also started thinking about how raw milk sours, but does not go bad. And sour raw milk is really good for you. So why would slightly soured breast milk be any different?

So I started experimenting with the times to see how far I could push it. As you all know, I have been exclusively pumping for Penelope since she was a week old. She comfort nurses around the clock, but I still pump for her once a day and give her a bottle once a day.

When she was younger, and I was pumping every two hours, I would just give her what I just pumped. But as she got older and my supply stayed at feeding-a-small-African-village level, I spaced out my pump sessions and got larger amounts at each session. So that meant, in order to give her fresh milk, I just left it out on the counter till it was time to feed her next.

I tried to always give fresh-from-the-tap-milk, that had never seen the inside of the refrigerator. I wanted her milk to be as close to perfection as possible. Because even milk that has been the refrigerator looses some of it’s leukocytes and beneficial bacteria.

So here is what LLL’s says:

  • at room temperature (66-78°F, 19-26°C) for 4 hours (ideal), up to 6 hours (acceptable) (Some sources use 8 hours)
  • in a refrigerator (<39°F, <4°C) for 72 hours (ideal); up to 8 days (acceptable)
  • in a freezer (-0.4 to -4°F, -18 to -20°C) for 6 months (ideal) up to 12 months (acceptable)

What I have found to be true:

I have found that at room temperature, that you can really leave breast milk out for 6 to 10 hours (ideal), up to 12 to 14 hours (acceptable).

I also found that the exact temperature of “room temperature” doesn’t really matter.  I have taken bottles in the car, outside, even in the summer.

And as far as thawed frozen milk goes, the guidelines say to store it in the fridge no longer than 24 hours.  I have found that its really more like 72 hours.

I also never threw out a bottle that she didn’t finish. I pace fed her, on demand, because I was trying to make her intake of milk as close as possible to normal on-demand nursing. So she was a “classic” breastfed baby in the sense that she never ate more 2 ounces at a time, through the day and night. I just put the bottle back on the counter until the next time she was hungry, never putting it in the fridge.

As a side note, when you store breast milk in bags, you can lay them flat like bricks (as in the picture above) and they take up less space in your freezer that way.

P.S. This is not medical advice, you must follow your own intuition about what is right for you and your baby. This is simply my experience.

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  • Cassandra
    April 8, 2011 at 4:08 AM

    Hooray for sanity! We just took our first long car trip, to the beach. We were sitting in the car to feed her before heading back home and it was another one of those quiet moments where I remembered the pain of not being able to breastfeed. My husband and I talked about the differences in bottle and breastfeeding on trips like these. And then I was so thankful I wasn't one of those anal mothers who thinks you always have to keep milk chilled and you have to throw away what isn't used and it always has to be the perfect temperature. It was bad enough forgetting the bottle in the car when we went on a little hike, but travelling would have been an absolute nightmare if I felt a need to follow every little guideline for bottlefeeding. And when a worker at WIC was questioning why I use 8 oz bottles, "What about bacteria? It doesn't matter if it's formula or breastmilk, it still gets bacteria in it after she drinks from it! You have to throw all that extra milk out!" Uuhh yeah no.

  • Sara
    April 8, 2011 at 7:41 AM

    Great post! This is so helpful.

  • Jeanette
    April 8, 2011 at 12:19 PM

    Nodding along here, we do almost exactly this. x

  • Stephanie
    April 8, 2011 at 6:03 PM

    Yay! So glad it was helpful!

  • Anonymous
    August 13, 2011 at 3:50 AM

    love it. definitely a return to sanity 🙂 thanks 🙂

  • Megan
    August 20, 2011 at 11:14 AM

    Thank you so much for this. I just discovered your blog and was excited to see info about pumping. I am not technically an exclusive pumper in that I am breastfeeding my 2 yo but pumping for my 3 month old, who is tube fed. Just read your advice on making the boobs a happy place too and it was so encouraging. My baby aspirates so I can on.y comfort nurse her at an empty breast and if she starts to get anything I have to immediately pull her off which frustrates both of us! She has another swallow study coming up in about a month and I am desperately hoping she passes it so we can at least attempt breastfeeding. I may up spending a lot of my pumping time reading your blog now!

  • Stephanie
    August 20, 2011 at 11:36 PM

    @Megan, I am so sorry to hear that. Have you checked out that yahoo group for pumpers? It has been such a wealth of information for me. A lot of mother's on there have babies who are tube fed. Hugs to you and so glad you found my blog!

  • Darcy
    February 5, 2012 at 5:17 AM

    So do you warm up her milk at all? What are your “rules” for leaving that out or reheating?

    • Stephanie
      February 5, 2012 at 2:11 PM

      If it was frozen I would leave it out in the fridge to defrost and then once it was liquid, I would put in a bottle and put on the counter for a little bit more to give it to her room temperature. I never warmed it up, because I wanted to keep as many live good bacteria and white blood cells as possible. Like I mentioned in the post, I didn’t really follow the guidelines, I was able to extend all of the “guidelines” and it was fine. The “guidelines” are very conservative and in my opinion waste precious milk!

      • Darcy
        February 5, 2012 at 4:50 PM

        I totally agree with the guidelines being too conservative. So I pump at work, refrigerate, and then take that to daycare the next day. So I would just skip the “freezing” part. Did you ever give Penelope warm milk? I’m just wondering if Brinley will take it now if it isn’t warm. Any suggestions? I think I’m going to try this (I’ve had way too much “liquid gold” go down the drain), hopefully my rule-following daycare lady will be on board. So what if she doesn’t really drink much that day, could I just refrigerate it, after it has been sitting out a few hours?

  • Christina Hudler
    April 6, 2012 at 5:13 PM

    I’m so happy to see your suggestion about storing breastmilk bags flat. So many people I know don’t do this, but I always have because it takes up SO much less space!

  • Caroline
    September 18, 2012 at 5:43 PM

    I stumbled on your site from Pinterest. I am so impressed with your story. Pumping continuously like that is quite a feat! I am currently breastfeeding my 3rd child. I’ve been blessed with all three of them that they didn’t have any trouble latching on and I have a great milk supply. The baby is 7 weeks so I’ve only had to pump once to go to a meeting. But I’ll be going back to work in just over 7 weeks so I’ll have to start at some point stocking up. A friend sent me the same tip about freezing the milk flat which is one of those “slap the forehead, why didn’t I think of that before” ideas! Just wondering how much you were pumping when you say “feed a small African village”? With my first when I went back to work I was nursing him 3-4 times at home and pumping twice at work. I was able to fill both bottles each time I pumped (in less than 15 min), so I was coming home with 20-24 ounces each day. He was only eating about 12-16 ounces so I was freezing a lot. I ended up donating all my leftover milk when he weaned himself at 13 months. It was over 400 ounces!
    I’m rambling but wanted to tell you that I love your site and will be recommending it to friends that have trouble nursing. Blessings!

    • Stephanie
      September 19, 2012 at 1:36 PM

      Thanks so much for your comment and so glad you found MBL, welcome! Yes, I pumped so much! I can’t remember exactly, and I am pretty sure I the total ounces in a post some where, but Penelope was drinking about 24 ounces a day and I was putting away 20 to 30 ounces on top of that!

  • Summer
    October 12, 2012 at 4:11 PM

    If she didn’t finish a bottle of milk that had been frozen/refrigerated, did you reuse that? Did you put it back in the fridge? My son is breastfed but underweight and his Dr wants us to try and give him more from a bottle after I nurse him. Sometimes he will take it and sometimes not. He’s not crazy about drinking it cold so if I think he’s still hungry I will warm it up (I try sitting it out before hand to warm to room temp but its still usually not warm enough for his liking). A lot of times he doesn’t finish the bottle or even want it at all. I hate to throw it out because my freezer stash is getting so low… Is it bad to reuse after it’s been warmed? 90% of the time he only takes extra milk from the bottle after his last feeding before bed, so it would most likely be 24 hrs before it would be used again. Any thoughts on that? Thanks!

    • Stephanie
      October 17, 2012 at 2:07 AM

      It sounds like he may not be actually hungry, if he doesn’t want a bottle after he nurses. But maybe you could beef up your diet with lots of nutrients and make the quality of your milk better so he gains more weight. What is your diet like now? But to answer you question, I never heated milk for my daughter, she was always fine with drinking it cold or room temp. So I would just leave it out on the counter most of the time and in the fridge over night. Whether it was a new milk or from the freezer, I would always reuse unused breast milk.

  • Meg
    May 5, 2014 at 5:38 PM

    Hi Stephanie
    Thank you for your website! I love how encouraging and supportive you are to moms. After successfully nursing two babies for over a year, I am attached to the pump for my week old twins. I’m finding pumping much more manageable than direct nursing at this point. For me, it is th sane decision right now. These breastmilk storage guidelines are extremely helpful. Do you have any similarly realistic tips for cleaning and storing pump parts?

    • Stephanie
      May 6, 2014 at 12:54 AM

      Yes! I totally should do a post about that too! Put the falanges and parts in the fridge. I only washed everything every other day. And I just put it all in the fridge after each pump session to save me time. And get another set of stuff too, so you can be washing one set and one in use in the fridge. And welcome to M+BL! So glad you are here!