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As more and more mothers choose to breastfeed their children there are many mothers returning to work still breastfeeding.  Those working mothers usually have questions about how to store their milk and how long can it keep. The Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine has come out with a protocol for collection and storage of breast milk that is helpful.  To summarize:

  1. Moms need to wash their hands with soap and water before beginning to pump.
  2. Mothers can use a pump or hand express to attain their milk.
  3. Most moms choose plastic bags for milk storage.  These should be sturdy and be able to seal well.  Moms should avoid using containers with bisphenol A.
  4. Containers do not need to be sterilized.
  5. Breasts or nipples do not need to be washed before expressing nor does the mom need to discard the first drops of breast milk collected.
  6. Containers should not be filled to the top to account for expansion during the freezing process.  (Usually 2-4 ounces is ideal.)
  7. All milk should be labeled with the date of milk expression and the name of the child if the milk is used in a day care setting.
  8. Moms should avoid adding warm milk to already cooled or frozen milk.
  9. Sometimes the freezing process changes the smell and taste of the milk.  This is due to the activity of lipase that breaks down into fatty acids. The milk is not spoiled and can be fed to the infant but some infants do not like the taste.
  10. You may defrost frozen milk in the refrigerator overnight or thaw by placing under warm water or in a pan with warm tap water.  Microwaving breast milk is not recommended. (nor do we recommend microwaving formula)
  11. Moms should always choose fresh milk first if available.


Expressed milk does not require “universal precautions” like other bodily fluids such as blood. Breast milk can be stored in a workplace refrigerator where other workers store their food.  However, some moms prefer to store their milk in a personal lunch bag with a freezer pack.

Collection & Storage

Breast Milk Collection and Storage

Milk Storage Guidelines


Location of storage
TemperatureMaximum recommended storage duration
Room Temperature 
16-29°C (60-85° F)
3-4 hours optimal
6-8 hours acceptable under 
very clean conditons


Refrigerator 


=4°C (39°F)

72 hours optimal
5-7 days under very clean 

conditions

Freezer 
<-4°C (24°F)


6 months optimal
12 months acceptable


For more information on the collection and storage of breast milk you can go to http://www.bfmed.org/Resources/Protocols.aspx.