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How to Store Breast Milk?

How do you store or handle breast milk?  There are many websites that explain the storage of breast milk. The shelf life of breast milk is determined by a number of factors: the environment and temperature it is kept in, storage techniques, type of container used, and clean practices used to express the milk.

The CDC has an excellent chart detailing how long one can store breast milk in various environments. (Click here to download The Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine protocol for human-milk-storage information.)


There are 3 main types of containers parents in the United States use to store breast milk—polyethylene bags, hard plastic bottles, and glass. Out of the three, glass is by far the best material in which to store breast milk. (Stainless steel is rarely used in the States mainly due to the inability to see through it.) The main benefit of glass is that the immune components of milk are best preserved in it [2]. In comparison, when hard plastic is used, the milk components do not adhere together as well. Another major advantage of glass over plastic is that with glass there is no need to worry about BPA and other chemicals that may leach from the plastic and may contain estrogenic or even androgenic properties. On the other hand, although glass is strong, its greatest drawback is its weight and its breakability factor as opposed to plastic which is durable. However, plastic is prone to scratching due to frequent cleaning, which can lead to bacterial buildup. Thus, such plastic bottles are best used for short-term storage. Polyethylene bags make for an inexpensive choice, but there are just too many negatives to even justify their use.

The handling of breast milk is another important topic that should be addressed.  For one, never use the microwave for reheating or thawing breast milk. It will destroy many immune components such as IgA and lysozyme. It will also create hot pockets within the milk that have the potential to burn your baby seriously. Hence, the best way to warm breast milk is to first transfer the milk to the refrigerator the night before use or place the milk under warm water or in a bowl of warm water for immediate consumption. Remember also to not re-freeze the milk once it is thawed.

Another tip in feeding stored breast milk to a child is that babies have sensitive taste buds. Thus, they will not drink milk that has gone bad. So if your baby is hungry but does not drink stored breast milk, as painful as it may be, just throw it away and use a new batch.

Check out the corresponding article (Is there a “best if used by” date for breast milk?) about breast milk explaining how to strategically feed your child the best quality breast milk along with what happens to breast milk after time passes amongst others!


1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/breastfeeding/recommendations/handling_breastmilk.htm

2. Lawrence RA. Milk banking: the influence of storage procedures and subsequent processing on immunologic components of human milk. Adv Nutr Res. 2001;10:389–404.

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