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.