If you’re breastfeeding, it’s likely that you’ll need to know at some point or another the best way to store breastmilk. I tried a lot of different methods before I finally discovered (what I think) is the easiest way to freeze and store it. Other ways may work better for you, so tweak it to suit your needs.
1. Always, always, always wash your hands before pumping.
2. While you’re pumping throughout the day, store your baby’s milk properly. Freshly expressed (not thawed!) breastmilk will last for up to 6 hours at room temperature, up to 24 hours in a cooler with ice packs, and 5-8 days in a refrigerator. I found that the easiest way to store breastmilk during the day was in one larger container in the refrigerator. Each time you pump, pour the milk out of the little Medela bottles (or whatever brand you use) into the larger container (like this one) so that it all mixes up. The reason for doing this (other than the fact that it’s easier to keep it contained in one bottle, rather than multiples) is that the consistency of breastmilk is different according to the time of day. It’s thinner in the morning and thicker in the evening. While it’s cool and pretty remarkable that your body personalizes your baby’s food, it really doesn’t help when you’re having to pump. It’s complicated enough to try to make sure you pump enough milk to feed Baby in your absence without also having to make sure he’s fed the right milk at the right time.
3. At the end of the day, or whenever you’ve collected however much milk you want/need to collect, pour it into breastmilk trays and freeze it in cubes. The only problem I ever had with these trays are that the cubes each contain a little less than 1 ounce, which makes absolutely no sense to me.
4. After the cubes are frozen (at least overnight), store them in Lansinoh breastmilk storage bags. I tried a lot of different bags and I found these to be the best of all I tried. They’re really large and sturdy and they’re cheaper than most. It’s tempting, but you really shouldn’t use Ziploc bags to store your milk directly (I do use them to contain the bags, as discussed in the next step). Different plastics are intended for different uses–Ziploc does not make their bags with the storage of breastmilk in mind.
5. Label the bags with dates and store them in gallon-sized Ziploc bags with a date range written on the it (for instance, if you have several Lansinoh bags of milk cubes for the entire week of January 3rd through the 9th stored in one large Ziploc bag, write “1/3-1/9″ on the Ziploc bag). The Ziploc bag serves 3 purposes: it keeps the smaller bags contained so that they’re not floating all over your freezer; keeping them contained and organized ensures that you rotate them correctly; and it provides extra protection while in the freezer.
6. Store the bags in your freezer. It’s preferable to use a deep freezer, but if you can’t, then store them in the center of the freezer, not on the sides or in the door, so that the milk stays completely frozen. Store them so that the older bags are in the front and the newer bags are in the back. Always rotate your milk to avoid having to throw any out because of spoilage. Breastmilk can last for 3-6 months in a standard freezer, but up to 1 year in a deep freezer.
7. When you need to make your child a bottle, remove however many cubes you need (remember with the Fresh Baby trays, each cube is less than 1 ounce, so I typically thawed 3 cubes per every 2 ounces I needed) and plop them right into your baby’s bottle. This method allows you to take out the exact amount of ounces you need, rather than having to thaw an entire bag. In order to do this, you’ll need to use a wide-mouthed bottle such as Tommee Tippee. However, if you’ve found that a bottle with a smaller mouth works better for your baby, the Sensible Lines milk tray should work for you. I always prepared my son’s bottles the night before and left them in the refrigerator overnight to thaw. But, you can always run the bottle under warm water and defrost the milk immediately. Remember, you must use thawed breastmilk within 24 hours–so don’t thaw more than you need! Also, make sure your childcare provider knows that they should never shake breastmilk. The cream separates when the milk is heated, so whoever is preparing the bottle should gently swirl the bottle to mix it.
For a handy little chart on how long you can store breastmilk, go here.
- Lesson 44: Tips for pumping at work (cabernetandbreastmilk.com)
- Lesson 45: Never open the door while pumping at work (cabernetandbreastmilk.com)
- Lesson 46: How to increase milk production while pumping (cabernetandbreastmilk.com)
- Lesson 49: Whoever said there’s no use crying over spilled milk… (cabernetandbreastmilk.com)