Now that we’ve gone through the basics of expressing breast milk, it’s important to also know how to store and thaw the milk so that it is safe for use by your baby immediately, the next day or even after a few weeks.
The Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine recommends using the following guidelines for storing expressed breast milk (EBM) for healthy term babies.
By following these guidelines, you can be sure that all the important nutrients in the breast milk are preserved and bacterial contamination is minimised.
Therefore, if you’re a working mum or away from home and your baby for a long period of time and you’ve expressed during the course of the day, you can either store your expressed breast milk (EBM) in a refrigerator or if you don’t have access to one, you can use an insulated cooler bag with ice packs. This is especially important if you’re likely to take a while before getting home to refrigerate the milk or to feed it to your baby.
Some insulated cooler bags come with their own ice pack(s) that are placed in the freezer then removed as and when required for use without the need to add water to the pack. These tend to be less messy than “home-made” ice packs because when they begin to defrost, they won’t leave pools of water or spill out.
However, if you’re unable to find an insulated cooler bag with ice packs or if they’re too expensive, you can still buy a basic cooler/thermal lunch bag and make your own ice pack using zip-lock bags which you then add water to and freeze.
When you’re ready to leave the house for work in the morning, remove the now frozen ice pack, place it in the cooler bag and it should still be frozen once you’re ready to store your EBM in the bag.
TIPS FOR FREEZING AND THAWING/DEFROSTING EXPRESSED BREAST MILK
- Avoid filling storage bottles/ bags to the brim in order to allow space for possible expansion when the milk freezes.
- Label the bottle/bag with the date you expressed the milk so that you can follow the “first in, first out” rule. This means that with the earliest date should be used first because it has been in the fridge/freezer for the longest.
- Avoid storing breastmilk in the refrigerator door. Store it in the lower back area of the refrigerator, where the temperature is coolest.
- Expressed breast milk can be used straight from the fridge or it can be warmed gently by placing the bottle or bag in a bowl of warm water.
- Thaw/defrost frozen breastmilk in the refrigerator overnight and use the milk within 24 hours of removing it from the freezer.
- You can also thaw/defrost the milk quickly by placing the bottle or bag in a warm water (max. 37° C).
- Defrosted milk should be used within a few hours to avoid contamination.
- DO NOT thaw/defrost frozen breastmilk in a microwave oven or in a pan of boiling water because microwaves do not heat evenly, and exposure to high temperatures can destroy essential nutrients and antibodies in the expressed breast milk.
- DO NOT return defrosted breast milk to the fridge for a later feed if the baby does not finish it the first time, and this also applies to freshly expressed breast milk. As long as the baby’s mouth has come into contact with the milk, any left overs should not refrigerated. If you are afraid of wastage, store your expressed breast milk in smaller quantities.