How Long Does Breast Milk Last in the Fridge?

Many new moms find that they will pump some of their breast milk and store it for later use, such as times when they are not around and their baby needs to be fed. The question then becomes how long you can store milk for in the fridge after it has been expressed. The answer depends on the type of refrigerator you have and whether the milk was previously frozen. Of course, these numbers are only accurate if you store the milk properly.

How Long does Breast Milk Last in the Fridge?

Most experts as well as experienced mothers agree that you can keep breast milk in the refrigerator for between three and five days or keep it in the freezer for between three and six months.

Because of this time frame, it doesn’t make sense to freeze milk if you plan on using it within the next three to five days. That is because when you freeze the milk some of its antibodies will be destroyed; despite this, it is still better for your child than formula. If you do freeze milk and then choose to thaw it in your fridge, you should not do so for more than 24 hours and never refreeze it if it isn’t used.

Notes on Prolonging Storage Time of Breast Milk

  • In reality, you will not find an absolute when it comes to breast milk storage guidelines because there are many different factors involved. Just one example is your freezer itself, specifically how well it works and what type it is. If you have a freezer that is separate from your fridge, the milk will generally last longer without spoiling simply because it won’t be opened as often as you would a freezer combined with your fridge.
  • No matter whether you are freezing or refrigerating your breast milk, you can extend its shelf life by always cleaning the pump, collection bottles and your hands. The best ways to clean the supplies are using your dishwasher or hot soapy water. Another important thing to remember is to refrigerate or freeze your milk right after it is pumped if you want it to last longer.

The following table represents the commonly greed upon storage guidelines for breast milk depending on what type of milk you are dealing with. One thing to remember is to try to use smaller containers for storage so you don’t have to toss unused milk.

Milk Type

Storage Location

Temperature

Storage Time

Freshly expressed

Warm room

80 to 90°F (27 to 32°C)

3 to 4 hours

Room temperature

61 to 79°F (16 to 26°C)

4 to 8 hours (although 3 to 4 is ideal)

Ice packs or insulated cooler

59°F (15°C)

24 hours

Refrigerated

Refrigerator (for freshly expressed milk)

32 to 39°F (0 to 4°C)

3 to 8 days (although 72 hours is ideal)

Refrigerator (for milk that is thawed from the freezer)

32 to 39°F (0 to 4°C)

24 hours

Frozen milk

An older style freezer compartment within a refrigerator

Can vary

2 weeks

A freezer unit in a refrigerator/freezer that is self-contained

Less than 39°F (less than 4°C)

6 months

A deep freeze that is separate

0°F (-18°C)

12 months (although ideal is 6 months)

How to Store Breast Milk in a Proper Way?

Whether you decide to freeze or refrigerate your breast milk, you should always be sure to do the following things:

  • If you choose to freeze your breast milk, you should do this right after you express it. Be sure to leave a space at the top of your bag or bottle because the milk will probably expand while it freezes. If you use plastic bags instead of containers, you need to keep a few things in mind. Be careful of tears or cuts (which sometimes aren’t noticeable until the milk starts to thaw) and remember that the bag may fall over when you thaw it.
  • To thaw out frozen milk, put it in the fridge. After you do this, you should not refreeze it and be sure to use it in 12 hours. Even if you are in a rush, don’t use a microwave to heat up or thaw the breast milk. Instead, try defrosting it by running it under water that is cool then warm. Always dry the container on the outside before opening it.
  • Always use sterilized containers. The best options are plastic breast milk bags or plastic bottles. It is always possible to use glass bottles as well but they have the risk of chipping or cracking.
  • Always label your containers with the date and be sure to use the oldest containers first.
  • Make sure that your breast pump is always clean. You should use hot, soapy water to clean them and then rinse them completely.
  • Always be sure to wash your hands before you express your milk. Maintaining cleanliness will decrease the risk of bacteria developing.
  • If you want to, you can add fresh expressed milk to a container of breast milk that you have in your refrigerator but if you do this, you should only keep it for five days after the original milk was produced.
  • If your milk was stored for a while, it may have separated. This is normal and can be fixed by shaking it.
  • If you want to add fresh breast milk to frozen breast milk you should always make sure to add a smaller portion than the original milk. You also need to be sure to let the milk cool down in the refrigerator for an hour or more before you add it to the frozen milk.

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