Some of the rules for saving breastmilk can seem tricky and hard to explain. Yet we simplify it to help mother’s conform to the norms and help people get the basics down of how to save breastmilk should it be hand expressed, pumped or leaked out. The picture above is of a magnet that I found recently at the mother baby clinic where I took my new arrival, Daniel. I have two different types of these magnets on my refrigerator at home and they both say almost the same thing in two almost slightly different ways. I liked this one better because the picture also illustrates how room temperature can be a range from 60-77 degrees farinheight. It is very interesting because for me, saving breastmilk at room temperature is often the most appealing way to go because it means skipping a step in the bottle preparation process of reheating the milk. But, saving milk this way also has the connotation of having to waste the most milk because once it has sat out for four hours it is unfortunately, no good. There are other little tips and tricks relating to this mode of breastmilk storage. For example, if a baby drinks out of the room temperature milk or it touches something that is unclean it is really only good for an hour at that point, but not an additional hour past the 4 hours.
A popular way for a lot of mothers is to save milk at the freezer temperature. This is a nice method because despite variances in multiple methodologies of saving breast milk, the freezer recommendation has pretty much always been consistent where it can last for up to 6 months at precisely 0 degrees fahrenheit. One of the issues that I have with this method though, is in order to maximize the 6 months storage time, how much time do you have to place it in the freezer? Of course, immediately after pumping, especially if going to the milk bank since there are so many other factors that can affect preservation of breastmilk including, which pump you use, the quality of your breastmilk, possibly diet and exposure to air. Lots of bags on the market make this step easier. Some people prefer to get the milk frozen into cube form which can have its positives and negatives. The greatest positive is that since it is saved at a nice small amount and also consistently, you are able to get exactly what you think you might need out of the freezer when feeding your baby consistently with exclusive bottle feeding and have to get a certain amount in him or her just like when you are using formula. I tried this method with my first, one thing to note about this method is that if you are doing paced bottle feeding, the most compatible method of bottle feeding when a mother is hoping to continue her breastfeeding method (of course lower flow bottles can sometimes help too), however with paced bottle feeding usually the baby gets to decide when he or she is almost done with the feeding either by exhibiting signs of satiation or blowing bubbles in the breastmilk in relation to holding the bottle level and exposing some air into the nipple. Through paced bottle feeding I have realize that there really is no way for a baby to swallow air into his or her stomach except through integration of air directly into the breastmilk. This is why so many bottles have an air protection valve which is why I like to think of the milk as “heavy,” when I am holding the bottle as a breastfeeding mom and also put the valve on top and then visualize the air floating away out the bottle like a little balloon. There are so many visualizations one can do with bottle feeding including as you heat the bottle, allowing steam for resonate off of the milk as a way of warm water transferring a deep radiator heat into the bottle. Personally, my son is doing great with the bottle because it is just another method, another nipple to expose him to, rather than solely focusing on the training and teaching that I did at the breast during the early days, he can be a multitasker in different times and spaces gracefully switching back and forth between breast and bottle while dexterously utilizing his lips and gums in an organized fashion.
Aside from the cube method of saving stored breastmilk in the freezer… there is also the method of placing it in a bag. Currently I mostly use the medela bags with the medela pump bottles and noticed when you dump the breastmilk into the bag while creating a good catch with the bag surrounding the bottle, some of the milk can get stuck in the bottle due to medela’s method of exposing the milk to less air. How great medela! And, how curious?! At the same time. I look forward to trying lots of different bags including the trusty up and up brand, perhaps a vitamin sealed package bag and even the willow bags that make my milk look extra yellow. But still, a tummy is still better than a bag, and I would rather fill my baby’s tummy than a big old bag everyday anyway. Breastfeeding is going great, I do like feeding in the quiet wee hours of the night when everyone is asleep because it feels like me and my baby are good companions.
Refrigerator is another method where you can save milk up to 3 days at a point of 39 degrees or cooler. This is a great rule of thumb because it sets a limit and also illustrates one of the (not exactly exception), but rather, supporting points to the rule of thawing out breastmilk from the freezer. As long as there is some ice in your breastmilk, which means it is kept colder and able to last an additional 24 hours. Of course this method might not matter as much if you take your breastmilk out of the freezer before the six months is up. You can also thaw breastmilk at room temperature by waiting up to 2 hours.
These exceptions bring up other questions such as do not refreeze, or rather do not drastically change temperature in any way or continue to save. Example in place would be if you warm it up and the baby doesn’t finish it so you put it back into the freezer for baby to finish later, or you warm it up and it is too hot so you quickly try to cool it down by putting it on ice or running cool water over it.
I feel breastmilk storage guidelines are one of the biggest public health issues in our society today for a variety of reasons. One is that our value in breastmilk is being placed in how well we can save breastmilk and deliver it to the baby without wasting it. Breastmilk doesn’t always have to do with abundance, but rather, gratitude between family and baby. Mothers often have to rest due to maternal exhaustion in the early days and it is so nice to have someone give a good bottle of milk to help mom recover while also letting caregivers feel brave and confident to care for the newborn in a loving and authentic way being creative and true to ourselves while seeking out information and guidance.
Also the ability to use good storage guidelines with breastmilk or formula can be so uplifting to a mother who has to go back to work. For example I want to get these guidelines in place from the early days so I know I can work with a confident mind and well fed baby. Being able to talk and discuss about these guidelines with family care providers or friends is literally rewarding and keeps the free and easy aspect of relating to breast milk out in the open, social and the weaning process readily available once baby is ready. That’s why I am grateful to breast milk guidelines.com for coming out with this cute magnet with medela…
I am a mother of two, an RN, an IBCLC, and a spiritually minded, caring person. Here I am now, writing about my journey, my faith and trust in breastfeeding in hopes that it will help you along with yours…