If you are wondering how long can breastmilk sit out or the best ways to store it, you have come to the right place. Breastfeeding can be a very rewarding journey, but it is not without challenges. Nothing can be more upsetting for a new mom than finding a bottle of breastmilk forgotten on the counter. As tempting as it may be to put it back into the fridge, you must throw it away if you have not properly stored it.
How long breastmilk can be left out depends on the condition of the milk prior to it being left at room temperature. In most cases, four hours is the ideal amount of time breastmilk can be left sitting out.
In this article, we will discuss best practices for breastmilk storage. This includes:
- How long can breastmilk sit out
- How to store breastmilk safely
- When to get rid of breastmilk
You work so hard to pump enough ounces; don’t let those vital nutrients go to waste by improperly storing your milk. These guidelines, if followed, will ensure that your milk is safe for your baby.
How Long Can Breastmilk Sit Out?
According to Experts: 4-6 Hours
Breastmilk cannot sit out for long periods of time because of bacteria. When you express your milk, a small number of bacteria end up inside the bottle.
If you store the bottle properly, the bacteria will not have the opportunity to thrive and harm the milk. However, if the milk is left out for longer durations, the bacteria will grow and reach unsafe levels that can be harmful to your baby.
Even though it is best to freeze or refrigerate your milk immediately after you pump, fresh milk can be left out for a short period. Experts agree that four hours is the optimal amount of time fresh milk can be left sitting out.
If fresh milk will be used towards nourishing a healthy, at-home baby then it may be kept at room temperature for up to six hours says Mayo Clinic. However, if the room is particularly warm, this shortens the window. Four hours is the maximum duration of time that milk should sit out in a warm room.
Since milk is a “live food” like yogurt, it can withstand being unrefrigerated to a degree. If you forgot about that bottle on the counter, you may still be able to use it. Good news for new moms suffering through that exhausting post-partum haze!
How Long Should Breastmilk Sit Out If It’s Been Refrigerated
If you store your milk properly, either through refrigeration or freezing, these factors will affect the duration that it can be left out.
Previously refrigerated breast milk can sit out for up to four hours. After four hours, use it or throw it away. Once you warm this milk, it should not be put back in the fridge.
If you froze the milk, its lifespan depends on how frozen it remains. If you thaw milk out in the refrigerator but do not warm it up, you can then leave it out for 4 hours. You can also take the milk directly from the freezer, and leave it out at room temperature to thaw.
If you had thawed frozen milk and warmed it planning to feed your baby, but ended up not using it, this milk should be tossed. Some studies suggest that you can place it back in the fridge. However further research is necessary, notes the Mayo Clinic. Some experts suggest that if you warm up milk, you should discard it immediately. Others state that previously frozen, then warmed milk can survive in the fridge for up to twenty-four hours.
The good news is, if you happen to forget and leave that precious bottle of milk on the counter, you have a short window of time to return it to the refrigerator.
How to Safely Store Your Milk
Our Favorite Glass Containers
In order for your breastmilk to remain healthy and safe, it should not sit out and also should be frozen and kept in a suitable container. You can store milk in glass, plastic, or freezer bags.
Glass jars with leak-proof lids are an excellent way to store milk. Mason jars are the most common glass option. Using glass means your container is washable and you can use it over and over.
Mason jars are a stackable, space-saving choice for your fridge or freezer. As they are not plastic, you don’t have to worry about chemicals leaching into your baby’s food.
- Sage Spoonfuls Glass Big Batch- These jars are perfect for baby food or storing breast milk. Plus, they come with labeling stickers!
- Ball Quilted 4 oz Mason Jars- Keep it simple with these little mason jars that can be repurposed again and again!
Bottles That Connect Directly to Your Pump
Plastic bottles or containers are also an option. Sometimes, the plastic bottles will seamlessly attach to your pump. After you express milk into the bottles, you can cap them and place them directly into the fridge or freezer. Be sure to select BPA free bottles to keep the milk safe for your baby.
- Tommee Tippee with Nature Electric Breast Pump- Tommee Tippee bottles make it a breeze for pumping moms. They have both a manual and electric pump, and you can pump directly into bottles or breastmilk bags. Many bottle brands have a set like this or you can use them with a universal adapter!
Plastic breastmilk bags are like bottles. You can pump milk directly into them, then you can seal and store them. These bags remain standing or can lay flat, making them convenient for small freezers. However, unlike bottles or glass, most bags are not reusable.
- 100 Count Lansinoh Breastmilk Storage Bags– These bags are popular and it is no surprise since they are pre-sterilized with a double lock zipper. You won’t have to clean up any messes from leakage because these bags are so strong.
Label & Date
No matter the storage container you choose, be sure to label and date all breastmilk while it is still sitting out. On the label place your name, the date, and the quantity in ounces. By dating your milk, there will be no estimating the expiration date.
It’s helpful to store milk in small amounts, typically 2-3 ounces, especially for newborns. By dividing the milk into 2-3 ounce portions, you will waste less. Any milk that you heat or your baby does not finish should be discarded.
A final consideration when freezing milk is to leave an adequate amount of room in the container. Liquid expands when frozen. If you do not have enough room in your container for expansion, the bottle could crack, rendering the milk unusable.
When to Dispose of Your Milk
It is important to feed your baby fresh milk and to dispose of milk when it becomes unsafe. Expired milk should be tossed. Milk’s lifespan depends on how you store it.
Use milk that is in the freezer within six months. Keep your milk in the back of the freezer rather than in the door. In a deep-freeze freezer milk can last up to twelve months, but six months is still ideal.
Freshly expressed milk kept in the refrigerator is usable for up to five days. However, it is best to use refrigerated milk within 3 days. If you pump and do not have a fridge available, you can keep milk with ice packs in a cooler for up to twenty-four hours.
How the Quality of Breastmilk Changes When It Sits Out
When you store your milk for a long time the quality can change. Over time milk kept in the freezer will decrease in Vitamin C. Additionally, breast milk is constantly adapting to meet the needs of the baby. Milk that was expressed six months ago may not suit the nutritional needs of your baby as well as freshly expressed milk.
Enjoy the Journey
If you store your milk in a clean glass or plastic container, follow the guidelines about when to refrigerate or freeze it, and dispose of it at the proper time, your milk will be safe and healthy for your baby. Breastfeeding is no easy task; keep up the good work!
Other Breastfeeding Articles You May Find Helpful:
Warm It Up Mom! [A Quick Guide] to the Best Bottle Warmer for Babies
How to Wean from Pumping- Breastfeeding Tips for a Pro