How to Store and Handle Breast Milk at an Early Childhood Program

After having a baby, families make the important decision of whether to feed their child with formula or by breastfeeding. Designing your 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!

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.

Breast milk is safe to drink…

  • 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 at best within 6 months, although it usually is still good for up to a 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, contaminating the milk. Using a clean glass container ensures that no plastic chemicals contaminate the breast milk.

It’s best for families to freeze milk in one-to-four-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 stored 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 recent blog on the top five misconceptions about sun safe place in child care!

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