When fam­i­lies have a baby, they must make the impor­tant deci­sion of whether to feed their child with for­mu­la or by breast­feed­ing. Design­ing your child care pro­gram to accom­mo­date the feed­ing prac­tices of each fam­i­ly cul­ti­vates a sup­port­ive, car­ing envi­ron­ment. Read this week’s blog to learn how to store and han­dle breast milk at an ear­ly child­hood program! 

Supporting families

You can sup­port moth­ers who are breast­feed­ing by know­ing how to safe­ly store and han­dle breast milk. Breast milk is clas­si­fied as a food, so you can store it with oth­er foods in the same refrig­er­a­tor or freez­er. The same rules for food han­dling apply. Always be sure to wash your hands before han­dling expressed milk.

It is safe to store breast milk …

  • at room tem­per­a­ture (no more than 77° F) for up to 4 hours,
  • in the fridge (at 40° F) for up to 4 days,
  • in the freez­er for 6 months (although it is typ­i­cal­ly still good for up to one year).

After you thaw frozen milk, you can keep it at room tem­per­a­ture for 1–2 hours or in the fridge for up to a day. Do not refreeze breast milk after thaw­ing it.

Store expressed breast milk at the back of the freez­er or fridge where the tem­per­a­ture is more con­sis­tent. Do not store breast milk in the freezer/fridge door. Stor­ing breast milk in the door makes it more vul­ner­a­ble to tem­per­a­ture changes.

Breast Milk Prep Instructions for Families

A breast­feed­ing-friend­ly pro­gram has infor­ma­tion on breast­feed­ing read­i­ly avail­able. Have posters, pam­phlets, hand­outs, and infor­ma­tion pack­ets on breast­feed­ing. Most impor­tant­ly com­mu­ni­cate with fam­i­lies how they should pre­pare breast milk so that your pro­gram will have a good sup­ply of breast milk ready at your facility.

For frozen milk, use spe­cial breast milk stor­age bags, clean glass, or plas­tic con­tain­ers. Make sure not to use plas­tic bags that aren’t specif­i­cal­ly intend­ed for breast milk. Any con­tain­er with the recy­cle sym­bol num­ber 7 risks con­t­a­m­i­nat­ing the breast milk with bisphe­nol A (BPA), an indus­tri­al chem­i­cal. Using a clean glass con­tain­er ensures that no plas­tic chem­i­cals con­t­a­m­i­nate the breast milk. 

It’s best for fam­i­lies to freeze milk in 1–4 ounce quan­ti­ties so that care­givers can meet children’s needs while min­i­miz­ing waste. Ask fam­i­lies to label their milk with their baby’s full name and the date and time col­lect­ed. You’ll want to use the old­est milk first pro­vid­ed that it hasn’t expired yet.

Some pro­grams orga­nize their breast milk with col­ored tape. Each baby is assigned a col­or so that each baby gets the right milk. 

Thawing and Heating Breast Milk

Breast milk can be served cold, at room tem­per­a­ture, or warmed. Ask fam­i­lies what tem­per­a­ture they’d pre­fer for their child.

There are dif­fer­ent ways to thaw frozen milk:

  • Let it thaw in the fridge overnight.
  • Put a sealed con­tain­er of frozen milk in a con­tain­er of warm or luke­warm (nev­er hot) water for a cou­ple of min­utes. If you don’t have a bot­tle warmer, this is a great method to warm up milk.
  • Hold a sealed con­tain­er of frozen milk under luke­warm (nev­er hot) run­ning tap water for a few min­utes. This method also warms the milk.

You don’t want to expose the milk to too much heat as this can destroy impor­tant nutri­ents in the milk. For this rea­son, do not microwave breast milk or warm it direct­ly on the stove or in a crock­pot of water. Microwav­ing can also cre­ate hot spots in the milk that burn the baby’s mouth.

The tem­per­a­ture should not exceed 98.6° F. Test the tem­per­a­ture by drip­ping a small amount on the inside of your wrist to see if it’s warm enough but not too hot. Once breast milk has been warmed, serve it with­in 1–2 hours.

Breast milk is not homog­e­nized, so do not wor­ry if it sep­a­rates into lay­ers with the fat ris­ing to the top or sports a bluish col­or. Frozen milk also often has dif­fer­ent col­or or den­si­ty vari­a­tions because of this sep­a­ra­tion. Gen­tly shake the milk to mix these com­po­nents. If shak­ing pro­duces air bub­bles, give the milk a few min­utes to sit before serv­ing. Air bub­bles can cause babies to have gas.

Dis­card any uncon­sumed milk after feed­ing and nev­er mix the left­overs with fresh breast milk.

Would you like more help­ful infor­ma­tion on mak­ing your pro­gram breast­feed­ing-friend­ly? Take our Sup­port­ing Breast­feed­ing in Child Care course to become an expert. Have any ques­tions about how to store and han­dle breast milk at an ear­ly child­hood pro­gram? Let us know in the comments!

Look­ing for more inter­est­ing blogs on child care top­ics? Read our blog on the top five mis­con­cep­tions about sun safe place in child care!

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Please let us know how we can be of any addi­tion­al assis­tance! Call us: 1–800-685‑7610, Mon­day through Fri­day, 9–5 ET, or email us days, evenings, and week­ends: info@CareCourses.com. We’re here to help!

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