Home Read All An IBCLC’s Tips for Storing Your Precious Breast Milk
An illustration of 3 bottles of breast milk
Author: TLN

An IBCLC’s Tips for Storing Your Precious Breast Milk

How to Store Your Liquid Gold

It’s Breastfeeding Awareness Month, and there’s no better time to acknowledge that breast milk is a precious commodity that costs time, effort, and energy—despite the common narrative that it’s “free.” At the end of the day, what lactating parent wouldn’t cry over spilled milk?

We asked an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant for their expertise on how to keep your breast milk safe and usable…Because your efforts are too valuable to waste!

How to Store Breast Milk

Storage Bottles

According to the CDC, you should always use breast milk storage bags or clean, glass or plastic food-grade containers with snug-fitting lids to store expressed breast milk. Our consulting IBCLC, Suzanne Juel, recommends glass bottles as the safest choice: “Glass is inert, so there is no chance of contaminants leaching into the milk.” No matter what, be sure to avoid bottles that contain BPA, and never store breast milk in plastic bags or disposable bottle liners that aren’t intended for breast milk storage. 

Simple Labeling

Before you pop your milk in the fridge or freezer, clearly label its container with the date it was expressed (not the date it was frozen) so you can use the oldest batch first. Our IBCLC recommends painter’s tape and a wax pencil for easy labeling. 

She also clarified that “it is ok to combine milk that is at the same temp, but the combined milk has to be dated by the oldest milk. For example, if you pumped an ounce of milk and refrigerated it yesterday, then today you pump another ounce; you can combine them after the second ounce is refrigerated. However, you should date the milk with yesterday’s date.”

Location, Location, Location

Don’t stash your milk in the refrigerator or freezer door: Doing so would expose your breast milk to temperature changes that could impact its quality. According to our IBCLC, you should “place it at the back of the fridge, ideally on the bottom shelf, as this has the most stable temperature control.” And keep your fridge temperature below 40°F, but not cold enough to freeze your milk.

Finally, if you are freezing your milk, leave at least an inch of space at the top of each container (breast milk expands when frozen) and freeze it in two to four ounce portions—or your baby’s typical feeding size—so that you don’t waste the milk your baby doesn’t consume. Our IBCLC added that “you should not combine freshly expressed room temp milk with refrigerated or frozen milk.”

Breast Milk Storage Schedule

Safety Schedule for Fresh, Refrigerated, and Frozen Milk

The CDC breast milk storage guide recommends storing your breast milk at room temperature (77°F or colder) for no longer than four hours, in the refrigerator for no longer than four days, or in the freezer for six months to a year (breast milk starts to decline in quality after six months). Per our IBCLC: “We always preferentially feed fresh or refrigerated milk, as freezing the milk has a chemical impact on the milk, and over time, the milk will lose some nutrients. So, we tell our clients… to look at their freezer stash as their “emergency fund” for breastfeeding.” 

Our IBCLC also clarified that if you know you won’t be using refrigerated milk within the CDC-recommended four day timeframe, “it is best to move it to the freezer as soon as possible. On the other hand, don’t throw out milk that is nearing four days in the fridge—move it to the freezer.”With some preparation and know-how, your milk reserve can become Fort Knox for your liquid gold. And if you need help with pumping—or anything lactation-related—TLN can connect you to an IBCLC who will give you the confidence and tools you need. Check your coverage here.