By Dr Suresh Gowda
Breast milk is warm and at a perfect temperature for the baby when directly fed. It is, however, not always possible for mothers to be present when their child needs feeding due to various reasons like work commitments, travel, etc. Sometimes, mothers, too, need a break from breastfeeding. In such situations, moms can pump their milk and store it for later use.
Pumped milk can be stored in a refrigerator, deep freezer, insulated bag and even at room temperature (but only for a short period). It is important to know what kind of containers to use and the time limit for storage of the milk. Caregivers should also know how to thaw the frozen milk and feed it to the baby.
Guidelines for storage:
Containers: Expressed milk should be stored in clean food grade glass containers or breast milk storage bags. If you are using plastic containers always remember to use hard, good quality ones. The plastic container should not be made of chemical bisphenol A (BPA) (it is an industrial chemical used to make certain plastic food containers and water bottles). Never use disposable bottle liners or plastic bags used in the kitchen.
Always remember to wash your hands before handling breast milk. The container should be clean and dry. You can note the date of expressing the milk on the bottle using waterproof ink and labels. It is important to remember the date to know how long the milk can be stored/used.
How and where to store: You should store the breast milk in small amounts, usually 60 to 120 milliliters — initially when your baby is less than 2 weeks old — or 90 to 150 millilitres for babies older than one month and below six months. If you have access to a refrigerator, place the milk container upright at the back of the refrigerator or freezer where temperature is coolest. Do not fill the containers to the brim as breast milk expands when it freezes. In case a fridge is not available, use an insulated cooler with ice packs.
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How long to store: The time limit depends on the storage method. If it is stored at room temperature, it can be kept for upto 6 hours before use. But if the room is warm, it would be better to feed it to the baby within 4 hours. In case you are using an insulated cooler, freshly-expressed breast milk can be stored for one day. Refrigerator is also an option and mothers can store freshly-expressed milk at the back of the fridge for up to 5 days, but it is advisable to freeze or use it within three days for optimal use. In addition, if you are freezing the breast milk in the freezer unit below 4 degrees Celsius, that milk can be stored for six months.
When you store the breast milk for a longer period of time, the amount of vitamin C decreases. In addition, the baby’s needs keep changing as they grow. The methods and guidelines of storage will change if the baby is premature, sick, or hospitalized. You must consult your doctor in such cases to understand the appropriate way of storage.
Thawing frozen milk: If you plan to use the frozen milk, it is best to let it slowly thaw in the refrigerator. Keep the frozen container in the fridge for about 12 hours before you intend to use it. Keeping it overnight would be better. Do not heat the frozen milk on a stove or in a microwave. The milk will not warm evenly, some parts will get extremely hot, and others will be still cool. Always thaw the oldest milk first, check the date before thawing. If you need to warm the milk a bit for your baby, place the container in warm water and let the frozen milk thaw. Never refreeze thawed milk and you should discard it if not used.
Is it okay to add freshly-expressed milk to already stored milk?
Yes, it is okay to do so as long as you have cooled down the freshly-expressed milk in the refrigerator or an insulated cooler before adding it. Never add warm freshly-expressed milk to already-frozen milk.
These simple tips can make life so much simpler for new moms. Rest assured your baby could get all the nutrients for healthy development.
(Dr Gowda is the Consultant Paediatrician & Neonatologist, Motherhood Hospitals, HRBR, Bangalore)
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