Tips for Saving, Freezing, and Reusing Breast Milk

Follow these guidelines to keep your liquid gold fresh and safe for your little one.

Guidelines for Storing and Reusing Breast Milk

As you get into a routine of pumping, feeding, and storing breast milk for your baby, it’s important to always follow CDC guidelines to ensure that the milk you’re feeding your baby is safe and chock-full of the nutrients, vitamins, minerals, and other essential components that aid in your little one’s growth and development. These guidelines cover the full range of breast milk storage and feeding, including evidence-based directives for how to refrigerate breast milk and what to do when reusing breast milk. Some of the most important rules to remember from the CDC include:

  • When reusing breast milk, remember that leftover milk that was not finished from your baby’s bottle can be used for up to 2 hours after he or she has finished feeding. Used breast milk can become contaminated with bacteria from your little one’s mouth during their first feeding, which is why using the rest of it within your 2-hour window or disposing of the remainder – before any bacteria grows – is important.
  • As you learn how to refrigerate breast milk, know that freshly pumped milk can stay out at room temperature for up to 4 hours, be stored in your refrigerator for up to 3 days, or be frozen for up to six months (ideally – though 12 months is also acceptable).
  • Thawed breast milk that was previously frozen can be stored at room temperature for 1 – 2 hours, or in the fridge for up to 24 hours. This means that your thawed breast milk can safely remain in your refrigerator for a full 24 hours from the time it is completely thawed (or no longer frozen) – not from the time it was taken from the freezer.

Never re-freeze breast milk that has already been thawed. If you’re concerned about wasting breast milk once it has been thawed, try initially freezing it in smaller amounts. This can help you avoid having to dispose of already-thawed breast milk that does not get finished. Per the CDC, there are three best practices for thawing your breast milk:

  • Storing your frozen breast milk in the refrigerator overnight
  • Placing your frozen breast milk in a container of warm or lukewarm water
  • Placing your frozen breast milk under lukewarm running water

When reusing breast milk, never thaw or heat it in your microwave. This can create hot spots in your milk that may burn your baby’s sensitive mouth. Microwaving may also destroy important nutrients in your breast milk before it even reaches your little one. Download our storage guidelines infographic - also available in Spanish - for a convenient printable resource that you can keep on hand, stick on your fridge, or store in your pump bag!

Additional Tips and Considerations

To protect the quality of your breast milk and all its nutrients, vitamins, and minerals, freeze freshly pumped milk right away if you don’t think you’ll use it within 4 days. Clearly labeling your stored breast milk with the date it was pumped can help you remember to always use the oldest milk first, while keeping your refrigerated and frozen supplies organized. This is also beneficial because the quality of your breast milk can decrease over time.

You may also wish to download a printable feeding and pumping log to help you record your baby's feedings and your pumping sessions, so you can stay as organized as possible during those early days and nights at home - Doing so can also help you remember which pumped milk to use or freeze, so none of that precious liquid gold goes to waste!

Finally, breast milk can be stored in an insulated cooler bag with ice packs for up to 24 hours if you are traveling or away from home. Once you arrive at your destination, be sure to use, refrigerate, or freeze it right away. If traveling or away for a longer period of time, there are solutions for shipping your breast milk that may ensure it gets to your baby sooner.

Though it may seem as though there are a lot of rules and guidelines for properly storing, freezing, and reusing breast milk, you’ll quickly ease into a routine that will soon become second nature. All that work is helping your baby receive the best possible nutrition right away in life, no matter how long you may choose to breast milk feed. A happy, healthy baby who continues to grow, develop, and thrive is what’s most important!