Express yourself

Pump, store and save your breast milk for later!
Whether you’ve just started breastfeeding or you’re about to return to work, there will be times when you’ll want to have breast milk on hand when circumstances prevent you from nursing. Using a breast pump offers flexibility with feedings and also provides Dad with a little bonding time. Once you’ve expressed (by hand or by pump) your breast milk, there are a few things you should know about storing it safely.

Keep it clean.
Start with clean hands! And be sure that your breast pump has been cleaned in hot, soapy water, rinsed and sterilized before you use it. You don’t want any bacteria to end up in baby’s bottle.

Choose storage containers with a proper seal.
If you store your breast milk in sterilized glass bottles or hard plastic containers, make sure they have a screw top or a lid that closes tightly. You can also use sterilized nursing bags meant for this purpose.

It’s a good idea to divide the milk and store it into portions equivalent to a normal feeding. For example, if baby usually takes 3 ounces, put 3 ounces in each bottle or container.

Check the expiry date.
Be sure to label your bottles with the date the milk was expressed so you’ll know to reach for the the older ones first. Labeling is an important step… choose waterproof labels and ink and if you are expressing milk for baby’s childcare provider, be sure to write your baby’s name on the label too.

Who left the milk on the counter?
Remember hearing that as a kid? There are varying thoughts on how long freshly pumped breast milk can stand at room temperature. If absolutely necessary it can be stored at room temperature for up to 6 hours, but the best place for milk has always been in the fridge. You can store it there for several days. Don’t store it on the fridge door as it will last longer on a shelf inside near the back of the fridge where the temperature is more constant.

If you need to transport your milk, carry it in an insulated cooler with frozen ice packs touching it. It should last for 24 hours.

Yes, breast milk can be found in the freezer section!
If you plan to freeze some breast milk, don’t fill your bottles or containers to the top. Your milk will expand during freezing so be sure to leave a gap of about an inch at the top. Safe storage time for frozen breast milk varies:

  • Inside your refrigerator’s freezer (not on the door) = 2 weeks
  • Self-contained freezer (upright or above fridge) = 3-6 months
  • Deep chest freezer = 6-12 months

Remember that fresh is best so the longer you leave breast milk in the freezer, the more nutrients it loses.

From freezer to fridge – the best thawing method.
Once you’ve thawed frozen breast milk, it will last in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours. Be sure to use thawed milk within that time frame.  Breast milk cannot be re-frozen, so throw away any milk that has thawed or partially thawed and not been used.

Microwaves are for warming your dinner, not baby’s.
Don’t defrost your breast milk in the microwave even if you are in a hurry.  You can defrost a frozen bottle quickly by placing it in a bowl of  warm water or running it under warm tap water. Dry the bottle thoroughly before opening. Don’t use the microwave to warm your bottles either.  Warm water works wonders!

Can I top that off for you?
It’s probably best to avoid topping off baby’s bottle with more milk. Let baby finish one bottle at a time and start the next feeding with a new bottle. Don’t add freshly expressed warm milk to cold or frozen milk. The warmth of the fresh milk can cause bacteria to form in the colder portion.

Breast milk looking a little funny?
Don’t worry if your breast milk separates or changes colour. If it has been stored for a bit of time, the fat will rise to the top. You might also notice your milk has a blue tint to it. That’s normal. The colour of your breast milk varies at different stages and can also be affected by medications and diet. Before giving it to baby, swirl it around to blend the fat throughout the bottle.

Bottoms up!
You will find that many resources have varying information for breast milk storage. Ideally, the sooner you use expressed breast milk, the fresher it is and the better it is for baby.  Some studies have indicated that breast milk can lose some Vitamin C, fat content and other beneficial properties when it is stored for extended periods of time. If you have any questions or concerns, ask your health care professional. Expressed breast milk is a great way to ensure that even if you are apart, your baby is enjoying the wonderful nutrients that only your breast milk can provide.