Storage and Handling of Breast Milk

Storage and handling of breast milk

Wash your hands before expressing or handling breast milk. 


  • It's best to store breast milk in glass or hard plastic bottles. The breast milk loses fewer antibodies when you put it in glass bottles to freeze it.
  • For healthy term infants, wash containers in hot soapy water, rinse in hot water and leave to air dry. Then store them in a clean, covered container.
  • Disposable plastic bottle liners are not made for long-term storage of breast milk

    • Individually sterilized breast milk freezer bags are made to store breast milk for freezing.
    • Breast milk tends to lose some of its immune properties when stored in plastic bags. This should not be a problem for a healthy baby who is only getting breast milk that has been frozen occasionally.

Fresh breast milk

  • You can keep it at room temperature (less than 25°C) for 6 to 8 hours.
  • You can keep it in the fridge for 5 days for healthy full term babies. Place breast milk at back of fridge where it is coldest.
  • You can add freshly expressed breast milk that you have let cool first, to the same bottle as breast milk expressed on the same day.

For a premature or hospitalized baby

  • Use a sterile container.
  • Refrigerate milk within one hour after pumping.
  • Use or freeze the milk within 48 hours.

Freezing breast milk

  • You can freeze breast milk in small amounts (2 to 4 oz/ 30 to 60 ml) and label it with the date.
  • Store in back of freezer on top shelf in separate refrigerator freezer for 3 to 6 months (bottom shelf warms during defrost cycle).
  • You can keep up to 6 to 12 months in a deep freezer.

Thawing breast milk

  • Check the date on the container to make sure that it has not expired. Use the container with the earliest date first.
  • Breast milk is best thawed under warm running water. Once frozen breast milk has come to room temperature, you must you use it right away or throw it out.
  • You can thaw frozen breast milk in the refrigerator. You must use it within 24 hours of taking it out of the freezer. Do not thaw breast milk at room temperature.
  • Frozen breast milk separates into low and high fat layers. Gently shake to mix.
  • Do not heat on the stove or in a microwave. There is a risk of mouth burns as well as loss of immune properties. A bottle heated in a microwave may feel cool but can contain pockets of very hot liquid.

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