Breastfeeding: Collecting and storing

Collecting and storing breast milk can be easy and convenient.

A mother and baby smiling.

Most mothers will at some point need to express and collect milk for use at a later time. Mothers can use either hand expression or a breast pump for the collection of milk. You can choose the method that works best for your situation. The Office of Women’s Health offers more information on selecting the type of expression that is best for you.

The safe handling of breast milk is similar to that of most foods. Wash your hands before pumping and handling your breast milk, use a clean pump and follow the cleaning directions for your pump. Breast milk for healthy full-term babies should be stored in clean glass or plastic bottles or in breast milk collection bags. Leave a space at the top of a bottle or bag especially if you will be freezing the milk. Label the container with the date the milk was expressed. Never add newly expressed milk to already frozen milk. The hospital will give special instructions for collecting or storing your breast milk if your baby is premature or sick.

It is important to store your breastmilk safely. Follow the CDC guidelines to keep your milk safe for your baby. Breastmilk can be kept at room temperature for up to four hours after it is pumped. Breastmilk can be left in the refrigerator for four days. Freshly expressed breast milk is best if used within six months but can be used up to 12 months. Once milk has been thawed it should not be refrozen.

There are several things to consider when feeding expressed breast milk to your baby. Stored breast milk separates; the fat in the milk rises to the top. Shake the bottle gently to mix the milk before you feed your refrigerated or previously frozen breast milk to your baby. Never defrost or warm breast milk in microwave. You can put frozen breast milk in the refrigerator to thaw. Warming and thawing expressed breast milk can be done by holding the bottle under warm running water until it reaches body temperature. Another option is to put the bottle of breast milk in a bowl of warm water until the milk reaches body temperature. Ask a breastfeeding support person if you have questions about breast milk storage guidelines.

Michigan State University Extension serves as a resource and offers programming to mothers that want to learn more about breastfeeding and food safety.

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