Breast Milk Storage Guidelines

Check with your healthcare provider or an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant for specific storage instructions. This information is based on current research and applies to mothers who are storing their milk for home use with a healthy, full-term baby.

Storage Containers

The best option for storing your milk is glass or hard-sided plastic containers with well-fitting tops. When you are freezing your breast milk, do not fill the container more than 3/4 full to allow for expansion from freezing. Store your milk in the refrigerator or freezer compartment away from the door to avoid changes in temperature that may compromise the quality of your milk.

Thawing Frozen Milk

Frozen milk can be thawed in the refrigerator over night or under cool running water. Gradually increase the temperature of the water to heat the milk to feeding temperature. Make sure to use thawed milk within 24 hours and discard any leftovers.

Warming Refrigerated Milk

Refrigerated milk can be warmed by running under warm water for several minutes. ALWAYS test the temperature of the milk on the inside of your wrist before feeding it to your baby. The milk should be warm, but not hot.

Milk After Storage

When stored, milk may separate into a milk layer and a thicker, creamy layer. This is normal. Gently swirl the milk to redistribute the cream before giving it to your baby. Sometimes thawed milk may smell or taste soapy; this is due to a breakdown in milk fats and is normal. The milk is safe for consumption and most babies will still drink it.

Storing Milk in the Workplace

Expressed milk can be stored inside a refrigerator at a workplace or day care center. The US Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) agree that human milk is not among the body fluids that require special handling or storage inside a separate container.

Some Milk Storage Tips:

  • Storing milk in 2 to 4 oz amounts may reduce waste. Write the date you expressed your milk on the container (include your baby’s name on the label if your baby is in a daycare setting).
  • Use your oldest milk first.
  • Throw away any previously frozen milk that has not been used within 24 hours.
  • Do not heat milk directly on the stove.
  • Do not thaw milk in hot or boiling water or attempt to microwave your milk as microwaving alters the composition of the milk and destroys the immunological components. It may also create hot spots that may burn your baby. Do NOT refreeze thawed milk.
  • Do not refreeze thawed milk. Discard any remaining thawed milk.

Place of Storage Temperature Length of Storage Time Storage Directions
Refrigerator 39° or colder
  • Up to 72 hours is best.
  • Up to 5 – 8 days is okay for very clean expressed milk.
Store the milk in the back of the refrigerator.
Freezer 0° or colder
  • Up to 6 months is best.
  • Up to 12 months is okay.
Store the milk toward the back of the freezer where the temperature is the most consistent. Milk stored at 0° or colder is safer if you are going to store the milk for a longer duration, but the quality of the milk might decrease at time passes.
Cooler with an Ice Pack 59°
  • 24 hours.
Keep ice packs in contact with the milk containers at all times, and limit opening the cooler.
Countertop or Table Room temp
(60° – 85°)
  • Up to 3 – 4 hours is best.
  • Up to 6 – 8 hours is okay for very clean expressed milk.
The milk containers should be covered and kept as cool as possible. Covering the container with a clean, cool towel may help to keep the milk cooler.Throw out any leftover milk within 1 – 2 hours after the baby has finished feeding.

Source: Breastfeeding Made Easier at Home and Work