Can You Freeze Breast Milk After It Has Been in the Refrigerator?

As a busy mother, sometimes it's impossible to physically breastfeed your baby. Pumping for at least some of the feedings may be the ideal situation for your family. When you pump breast milk for later feeding, proper milk storage is vital to keeping the breast milk safe and nutritious for your baby 1. There are several ways to store your breast milk and you can store it at room temperature, in the refrigerator, the freezer or a combination of these storage choices depending on you and your little one’s needs 1.

From Refrigerator to Freezer

After pumping your breast milk, the best place to store the milk is in the refrigerator. The refrigerator will keep the milk cool and limit the amount of time you will need to warm the milk when you or a caregiver is ready to feed your child. Breast milk will stay fresh in the refrigerator for up to eight days before you will need to use it for a feeding or move it to the freezer. After eight days, move any unused breast milk into the freezer to store for an additional 12 months, according to the Mayo Clinic 1. The freezer might remove some of the beneficial nutrients from the breast milk, so try to pump and use breast milk within eight days to avoid needing the freezer for storage, advises Dr. Sears 1.

Proper Storage

Whether you store your breast milk in the refrigerator or the freezer, choosing the proper storage method is key to preventing leaks, cross contamination and the loss of some nutrients 1. Store breast milk in glass or BPA-free plastic containers or bottles with a screw or snap-on top. These containers reduce the risk of leakage and have less of a chance of breaking or splitting open while in the refrigerator or freezer. Another storage option is breast milk storage bags 1. Made especially for the storage of human milk, these bags have a closure that seals to keep the milk in the bag. However, they can leak. If you choose to use a plastic breast milk storage bag, store the bags in a hard-side container in the refrigerator or freezer to limit the chance of leaking and breakage, says Dr. Sears 1. Fill each container or bag with only the amount of milk your baby typically eats in one feeding -- between 2 and 4 ounces, according to the La Leche League International. Label each bag or container with the date and amount of milk.

Keep it Cool

In both the refrigerator and the freezer, keeping the breast milk cool is important. Store the breast milk in the back of the refrigerator or freezer to limit the effect opening the doors of the refrigerator and freezer has on the air temperature. Do not store the milk in the door of either the refrigerator or freezer, advises the Mayo Clinic.

Using Pumped Breast Milk

The night before you will need the milk, place enough pumped breast milk into the refrigerator to thaw, using the oldest milk first to keep your supply of breast milk fresh. At feeding time, run the milk under some warm water or place in a container or pot of warm water to raise the temperature of the milk to body temperature or cooler. Do not microwave or boil milk, as this creates hot spots and might burn your baby’s mouth. If you need milk right away, thaw the milk under warm, running water. Before serving the milk to your baby, gently swirl the milk to combine the fatty components of the milk that separate during storage. If you have to, you can add some fresh milk from the refrigerator to previously frozen milk to make up a bottle, but do not add more fresh milk than there already was frozen milk, according to Dr. Sears. Store any unused but previously frozen breast milk in the refrigerator for no more than 24 hours, then discard.