Breast milk may be required to be stored for various reasons. It could be because the mother might be planning to join her work part-time or full-time, or may be the mother is getting separated from the baby for a couple of hours (or more) due to some other reasons. You may also need to store breast milk if the baby is not nursing well. If you need to store breast milk, you must ensure that it’s stored in the right type of containers, and you follow the basic guidelines, as mentioned below.
- Hard-sided containers, such as hard plastic or glass, are the preferred containers for long-term human milk storage. These containers should have an airtight seal.
- Plastic bags specifically designed for human milk storage can be used for short-term (less than 72 hours) milk storage. Use of plastic bags is not recommended for long-term storage as they may spill, leak, or become contaminated more easily than hard-sided containers, and some important milk components may adhere to the soft plastic and be lost.
- Hands must be washed prior to expressing or pumping milk.
- Use containers and pumping equipment that have been washed in hot, soapy water and rinsed. If available, cleaning in a dishwasher is acceptable; dishwashers that additionally heat the water may improve cleanliness. If a dishwasher is not available, boiling the containers after washing is recommended. Boiling is particularly important where the water supply may not be clean.
- Store in small portions to minimize waste. Most breastfed babies take between 2 and 4 ounces (60–120 mL) of milk when beginning with an alternative feeding method. Storing in 2-ounce (60 mL) amounts and offering additional amounts if the baby is still hungry will prevent having to throw away unfinished milk.
- Consider storing smaller size portions [1–2 ounces (30–60 mL) each] for unexpected situations. A small amount of milk can keep a baby happy until mom comes to nurse the baby.
- Several expressions throughout a day may be combined to get the desired volume in a container. Chill the newly expressed milk for at least 1 hour in the main body of the refrigerator, and then add it to previously chilled milk expressed on the same day.
- Do not add warm breast milk to frozen milk because it will partially thaw the frozen milk.
- Keep milk from one day separate from other days.
- Do not fill the container; leave some room at the top because breast milk expands as it freezes.
- Label containers clearly with waterproof labels and ink, if possible.
- Indicate the date that the milk was expressed and the child’s name (for daycare).
- Expect that the milk will separate during storage because it is not homogenized. The cream will rise to the top of the milk and look thicker and whiter. Before feeding, gently swirling the container of milk will mix the cream back through again. Avoid vigorously shaking the milk.
- The color of milk may vary from day to day, depending on maternal diet. It may look bluish, yellowish, or brownish. Frozen breast milk may also smell different than fresh breast milk. There is no reason not to use the milk if the baby accepts it.