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Storing Breast Milk: How Long Does It Last in Room Temp, Ref, and Freezer?
  • People call breast milk "liquid gold" for a good reason. It's simply the best milk your baby can receive. You know the benefits: Antibodies that protect newborns from illnesses and cash savings that could have been spent on formula and sterilizer. And moms get a lot of perks from breastfeeding, too (read what they are here).

    The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends exclusive direct breastfeeding for the first six months of life. On your baby's sixth month, he or she should be given complementary nutritious food and should continue breastfeeding up to 2 years old and even beyond.

    When a mom cannot do direct breastfeeding, The WHO then recommends feeding the baby with expressed breast milk so he or she can still enjoy its benefits. It will also help relieve the nursing mom of pain caused by engorged breasts. Even if the mom has returned to work, experts still recommend direct breastfeeding whenever possible to continue to stimulate milk production. 

    Expressing or pumping breast milk is usually faster when done with the help of a breast pump, though manually expressing milk with your hand is more efficient and most recommended by lactation consultants. By hand-expressing breast milk, you can control the amount of pressure and so it's most likely not to hurt. 

    Every single drop counts. Expressing and storing milk does take a little bit of work, but once you have the basics and routine down, your baby gets to have every drop of that precious liquid gold. 

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    Expressing breast milk


    Expressing breast milk by hand is the least likely way to contaminate breast milk. If you're using a manual or electric pump, make sure your breast pump, milk containers, and other nursing paraphernalia are clean and dry before every single pumping session. Refrigerating without washing breast pump parts isn't always a good idea.

    Try to empty both breasts when expressing milk. Some nursing moms use a breast pump first and finish by hand-expressing. But keep in mind that your milk container or bag should only contain what your little one consumes in one feeding. And leave your container some room for the milk to expand when frozen, shares L.A.T.C.H. breastfeeding peer counselor Jenny Ong on her blog

    Seal the bag and label with the date and time you expressed the milk. When you take the milk bags out of storage, you need to use the "first-in, first out" rule: Consume first the milk bag labeled with oldest date and time expressed.  

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    breast milk, how to store breast milk, breastfeeding
    ILLUSTRATOR Stephanie Ocampo
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    Storing breast milk

    The Department of Health (DOH) and the World Health Organization (WHO)'s Gabay sa Nanay sa Tamang Pagpapasuso state that breast milk must be in a sealed container and placed in a bowl of cold water at room temperature for 10 to 12 hours. If it's in an ice box cooler, it's good for 24 to 48 hours. If it is placed in a refrigerator, it's safe to store for three to five days. Breast milk in a freezer is good for three to six months, and in a chest freezer, it's good for a year.

    Dr. Teresa Maria Ribaño, pediatrician and lactation consultant at Makati Medical Center, shares her "Rule of Three's" when storing breast milk: Three hours, three days, three months.

    "If the milk stays in the room temperature up to 30 degrees, it’s good for three hours," she explained during Makati Medical Center's Pregnancy & Beyond, the first leg of the series held last February 24, 2018. "If you put it in the refrigerator, it’s good for three days. If you put it in the freezer, it’s good for three to six months," she added. 

    Place the milk in the ref or freezer in the far back where it's coldest. If you're using an icebox or insulated bag, make sure ice packs are always in contact with the milk and try not to open the bag often. Mom Rodessa Villanueva-Reyes, who donates breast milk, shares that she fills in the gaps in her insulated bag with a towel or crumpled paper to help maintain the cold temperature. 

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    breast milk, how to thaw breast milk, breastfeeding
    ILLUSTRATOR Stephanie Ocampo

    Thawing breast milk

    Just leave the frozen expressed milk in the refrigerator overnight or hold the milk container under running water. Onc thawed, place it in a bowl of warm water. This process may take time, so it helps to plan. (Remember: first in, first out.) Never microwave breast milk!

    "Once you thaw a bag of breast milk, it needs to be used within 24 hours," Dr. Ribaño said. "Once the milk touches the lips or has the saliva of the baby, it needs to be used within one to two hours," she stressed.

    Don't re-freeze or re-thaw breast milk. It's the reason why you divided your breast milk into portions that your child usually consumes in one feeding, so no drop of liquid gold goes to waste. 

    According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it's best not to mix freshly expressed milk with thawed or warmed milk. But if you're combining two bags of expressed milk, make sure first that both bags of milk are of the same temperature. Don't mix cold milk with warm milk or vice versa.

    Your milk does change over time to suit our growing baby. Don't be surprised if your breast milk also looks different when frozen and thawed. As long as you stick to the guidelines above, your liquid gold is still good for your baby to consume.

    breast milk, how to store and thaw breast milk, breastfeeding
    ILLUSTRATOR Stephanie Ocampo
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