Nutritiously and immunologically, breast milk is considered “liquid gold” because it supplies all the necessary nutrients to your baby in the proper proportions, protects against allergies, sickness and other infections and is easily digested.
Breastfeeding often bonds a mother and baby, however exclusively breastfeeding long term may not be practical for moms returning to work, mothers who have an insufficient milk supply, or even just for some moms who prefer to pump and bottle feed (and that’s perfectly ok!).
The CDC reports that although 84% of moms usually start off breastfeeding, only 58% continue it up until 6 months of age. 60% of mothers do not exclusively breastfeed for as long as they intend to for many reasons including:
- Issues with lactation and latch
- Concerns with baby weight gain
- Mother’s concern about taking medications while breastfeeding
- Cultural norms/lack of support
- Unsupportive work policies
In this guide we want to provide all of the resources and information necessary for mothers who want to continue to provide breast milk to their baby, but aren’t exclusively breastfeeding. We will be highlighting how to safely express/pump breast milk, store it and warm it up.
Expressing/Pumping Breast Milk
Electric breast pumps verse manual pumps save tons of time and are often more convenient than hand expression. But even with the best electric pump, it’s important to understand how to best pump and store the breast milk to keep it bacteria free and maintaining its full nutritional value.
If you plan to return to work, it’s generally a good idea to pump 1-2 weeks before returning to work and to introduce bottle feeding around 4-6 weeks after birth. Waiting until a few days before returning to work to introduce the bottle can cause added stress to both mom and baby if it takes the baby takes a little time to adjust.
Make sure to follow your pump manufacturer’s cleaning instructions to be sure the milk being pumped is safe and healthy for your baby. It’s common for moms to pump every 3 hours, for at least 10-15 minutes to keep your milk supply high.
Other important tips include:
- Wash your hands before expressing or pumping. Wash your hands and all storage containers thoroughly. Label each container or bag with your child’s name and date you pumped.
- Store breast milk in small batches. It’s best to store the expressed milk in 2-4 ounce increments to prevent waste. Any milk left in the bottle after a feeding must be used within 2 hours or if quickly refrigerated, used during the next feeding.
- Refrigerate immediately. Freshly expressed milk can be at room temperature (up to 77 degrees Fahrenheit) for up to 4 hours (or up to 6-8 hours if very cleanly expressed). But if you don’t anticipate using the milk soon, refrigerate it immediately.
Storing Breast Milk
We mentioned above a little bit about how to store breast milk after you pump, but here are a few more important breast milk storage rules…
- It’s best to place breast milk in the back of the refrigerator and to use it within 4 days (however it can last up to 8 days).
- Hard containers with an airtight seal are best for long-term storage. Do not fill it completely because it will expand in the freezer.
- Plastic storage bottles and bags designed specifically for breast milk can also be used. Do NOT use ziplock or other plastic bags.
- You can combine milk into storage bags from the same day, but label and keep it separate from other days.
- Don’t add fresh milk to frozen milk.
An easy way to remember breast milk storage rules is the Rule of 4: you can store it for 4 hours at room temperature and 4 days in the refrigerator.
Storing milk on the go is easiest in breast milk storage bags. Whether you’re keeping cool in a cooler or taking it room temperature, these easily fit in one of the three interior or eight exterior pockets of the Ultimate Caddy organizer! Check out our other Modern Caddy Organizers for moms.
Warming Breast Milk
If you’re wondering how to warm up breast milk quickly or how to thaw breast milk safely, we’ve got you covered.
If your milk is frozen, it’s recommended you thaw it overnight in the refrigerator. The best way to warm it is to hold the bottle under warm running water. Avoid hot water to thaw milk—even lukewarm will do the trick.
If you don’t pre-thaw the frozen milk you can use the same methods for warming, it will just take a little longer.
A bottle warmer can be an easy way to warm a bottle as well, you’ll just want to be sure you are not overheating the milk. The goal temperature is a little below the body temperature at 98.6 degrees F (comparable to lukewarm water).
Avoid using the microwave to heat it because it doesn’t heat evenly and can easily scald the baby and/or damage the milk. Any form of excess heat destroys the milk's nutrients!
Once the baby has completed the feeding with the warmed milk, the container it was stored in and any remaining milk should be discarded. Do not refreeze breast milk once it is thawed.
Breast milk storage guidelines can seem overwhelming at first, but once you get in the habit of doing it you won’t think twice about it! How a mother pumps, stores and warms their breast milk can make a big difference in the health and nutrition of the milk…resulting in the health of her baby.