At some point during breastfeeding, you may need to pump or express breast milk. If you are not using it right away, you can store your milk for future use.
Reasons to collect and freeze breast milk
Breastfeeding women breastfeed for many reasons.
Once you get your expressed breast milk correctly, you can freeze and store it for six months or even longer. You may choose to pump and freeze breast milk if:
- You’re going back to work or school, but you want your baby to continue to be breastfed.
- You need to reduce the pain and swelling of the mammary glands.
- You want to create a source of breast milk to use when you are no longer breastfeeding.
- You want to slow down the strong lactation reflex or the rapid flow of breast milk.
- You want to breastfeed your baby when you can’t be with him.
How to freeze breast milk?
If you are pumping breast milk for a premature baby or donating to a milk bank, the collection and storage process may be more stringent. Ask the hospital staff or representative at the milk bank for proper collection and storage instructions to follow.
Here’s a step-by-step guide to collecting and freezing breast milk you plan to use at home for your healthy, full-term baby.
- Choose your collection container. When you plan to freeze your breast milk, make sure you choose a container that can withstand the freezing and thawing process. There are different types of containers that can be used to store breast milk including breast milk storage bags, plastic bottles, glass containers and breast milk trays. As you choose the right container for you, think about how long you plan to store your breast milk. For example, some breast milk storage bags are primarily designed for freezing and can be stored flat and then stacked, which saves a lot of space. However, you should not choose ordinary plastic bread bags that can leak and break. Glass and hard plastic will provide the best protection for breast milk if you plan to store it longer. Whichever container you choose, it should be clean, BPA-free, and safe for food storage. Depending on how much breast milk can be pumped, you may need to have additional collection devices ready.
- Collect your supplies. If you’re expressing breast milk by hand, all you need is a clean container. If you are pumping, you should prepare the pump, pump flange, piping, and container(s). All your breast pumps should be clean and dry to prevent bacteria from getting into your breast milk when you pump.
- Label your breast milk container. Before you start expressing breast milk in a storage bag or container, you should label the date and time of collection.
- Handwashing. Always wash your hands before starting to pump, express, or handle breast milk. Any germs on your skin can get into your breast milk while you’re collecting it. The best way to prevent contamination is to keep things as clean as possible.
- Pump or express milk with your hands. Use a breast pump or manual expression technique to remove breast milk from your breasts and into a breast milk storage bottle. If you use a breast pump, pump for about 10 minutes on each side. Manual expression takes about 20 to 30 minutes.
- Don’t overfill your storage container. If you are using the same collection container to collect and store your breast milk, be sure not to fill the bottle to the top. Breast milk expands in the freezer, so it needs more room at the top. If you fill the container to the rim, it may break. Therefore, you should stop adding breast milk to the container when the milk is about 2/3 or 3/4 full. If you still have plenty to pump, switch to a second container. If you are pouring breast milk from one container to another, complete the collection then pour the milk into the containers. As instructed above, do not fill the containers to the top. Your breast milk needs that room to expand.
- Seal your container. Once you have put the desired amount of breast milk in the container, seal the container with a suitable airtight stopper or zipper lid. Bottle nipples are not airtight, so you should not use a pacifier when storing bottles in the freezer.
- Freeze your breast milk. Place breast milk in the freezer as soon as possible after collection. It is recommended that your milk be stored in the back of the freezer, where it is usually coldest. If you refrigerated breast milk first, freeze it within 24 hours. If you don’t have a refrigerator or freezer, you can put the milk in an insulated cooler with an ice pack to freeze for up to 24 hours and then put it in the freezer.
How long can you freeze breast milk?
The type of freezer you have will determine how long you can store frozen breast milk.
- Freezer attached to the refrigerator has its own door: Breast milk can be stored in a standard Top and Bottom Refrigerator/Freezer, for up to 6 months.
- Freezer compartment in the refrigerator: Breast milk can be stored in the freezer inside the refrigerator for about two weeks.
- Freezer stand alone: Breast milk can be stored in the deep freezer without a defrost cycle for up to one year.
Frozen breast milk for baby care
If your child goes to daycare or daycare, ask about their breast milk policy. When labeling your breast milk with the date and time, don’t forget to include your name and your baby’s name.
Thaw breast milk
When it’s time to use frozen breast milk, follow the instructions for safely thawing and reheating breast milk.
- Check the date and follow the safe storage instructions above. Thaw the oldest collection first according to the instructions.
- Once frozen breast milk has been thawed, you should not refreeze it.
- To safely thaw frozen breast milk, you can place it in the refrigerator overnight. For faster defrosting, you can place it in a container of warm water or place it under warm running water. You should not defrost breast milk at room temperature.
- You can use thawed breast milk right away or keep it in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours.
- You should not defrost or reheat breast milk in the microwave or in a pot of boiling water on the stove.
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