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How Quickly Should Thawed Breast Milk Be Consumed?

By Sara Ipatenco ; Updated April 18, 2017
Thawed breast milk must be consumed before it goes bad.

Storing breast milk is an economical and convenient way to ensure that your baby has a steady supply of nutritious food. Just as there are rules for properly storing and freezing breast milk, there are also guidelines for thawing it and feeding it to your little one. Knowing those guidelines by heart will help keep your baby safe.

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How Long Milk Lasts

Breast milk tends to go bad after a few hours at room temperature and after up to eight days in the refrigerator, so freezing it is a good way to make it last longer. According to the Cleveland Clinic, breast milk can be frozen for up to three or four months in a standard freezer that's attached to a refrigerator. The milk can last for six to 12 months in a separate deep freezer. Once the breast milk has been thawed, store it in the refrigerator and use it within 24 hours, according to MayoClinic.com.

Safe Thawing Procedures

The easiest way to thaw frozen breast milk is to remove it from the freezer several hours in advance and let it sit in the refrigerator. MayoClinic.com recommends transferring it to the refrigerator and letting it thaw overnight. If you're in more of a hurry, run a container of frozen breast milk under warm water until it's liquid. You might also set the container in a bowl of warm water. Don't thaw breast milk at room temperature because that could cause dangerous bacteria to grow, which could make your baby sick.

Using Thawed Milk

Heat thawed breast milk under warm running water and then gently shake the milk to mix it evenly. Don't use the microwave to thaw or heat up the milk. According to the Lucile Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford in California, microwaving breast milk can cause hot spots, which can burn your baby's mouth. Once you've warmed the milk, use it within one to two hours, then discard any leftover milk.

Additional Considerations

Don't refreeze breast milk. It must be used within 24 hours, or discarded. Don't refreeze partially thawed milk either, MayoClinic.com cautions. Before you place containers of expressed milk in the freezer, write the date on them so you can keep track of how long each container will keep. When taking milk out of the freezer, thaw the oldest container first so you won't end up throwing away milk that went bad before you were able to use it.

Keep in mind that different containers of breast milk might look different. Breast milk can be bluish, yellowish or brownish, depending on what you've eaten. The cream in the milk might rise to the top of the container, too. As long as the milk hasn't been in the freezer for too long, it's safe to feed your baby, according to KidsHealth.org.

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About the Author

Sara Ipatenco has taught writing, health and nutrition. She started writing in 2007 and has been published in Teaching Tolerance magazine. Ipatenco holds a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in education, both from the University of Denver.

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