Proper handling and storage of breast milk

By following safe preparation and storage techniques, nursing mothers and caretakers of breastfed infants and children can maintain the high quality of expressed breast milk and the health of the baby.

Safely preparing and storing expressed breast milk

  • Be sure to wash your hands before expressing or handling breast milk.
  • When collecting milk, be sure to store it in clean containers, such as screw cap bottles, hard plastic cups with tight caps or heavy-duty bags that fit directly into nursery bottles. Avoid using ordinary plastic storage bags or formula bottle bags because these could leak or spill.
  • If delivering breast milk to a child care provider, clearly label the container with the child’s name and date.
  • Clearly label the milk with the date it was expressed to facilitate using the oldest milk first.
  • Do not add fresh milk to already frozen milk within a storage container. It’s best not to mix the two.
  • Do not save milk from a used bottle for another feeding.

Safely thawing breast milk

  • As time permits, thaw frozen breast milk by transferring it to the refrigerator for thawing or by swirling it in a bowl of warm water.
  • Avoid using a microwave oven to thaw or heat bottles of breast milk.
  • Microwave ovens do not heat liquids evenly. Uneven heating could easily scald a baby or damage the milk.
  • Bottles may explode if left in the microwave too long.
  • Excess heat can destroy the nutrients of the expressed milk.
  • Don’t re-freeze breast milk once it has been thawed.
Storage duration of breast milk for use with healthy, full-term infants
LocationTemperatureDurationComments

Countertop, table

Room temperature (up to 77°F or 25°C)

6 to 8 hours

Containers should be covered and kept as cool as possible. Covering the container with a cool towel may keep milk cooler.

Insulated cooler bag

5 to 39°F or -15 to 4°C

24 hours

Keep ice packs in contact with milk containers at all times, limit opening cooler bag.

Refrigerator

39°F or 4°C

5 days

Store milk in the back of the main body of the refrigerator

Freezer compartment of a refrigerator

5°F or -15°C

2 weeks


  • Store milk toward back of the freezer, where temperature is most constant.
  • Milk stored for longer durations in the ranges listed is safe, but some of the fat in the milk may undergo changes that may lower the quality or change the taste of the milk.

Freezer compartment of refrigerator with separate doors

0°F or -18°C

3 to 6 months

Chest or upright deep freezer

-4°F or -20°C

6 to 12 months

References:

  • Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine. (2004) Clinical Protocol Number #8: Human Milk Storage Information for Home Use for Healthy Full Term Infants. Princeton Junction, New Jersey: Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2017
Storage duration of breast milk for use with premature or hospitalized infants
LocationTemperatureDurationComments

Countertop, table

Room temperature (up to 77°F or 25°C)

AVOID

It is safest to refrigerate right away. NOTE: Bringing milk that is refrigerated and cooled is safer than bringing frozen milk to the hospital.

Insulated cooler bag

5 to 39°F or -15 to 4°C

24 hours

Keep ice packs in contact with milk containers at all times, limit opening cooler bag. This method is recommended for transporting milk to the hospital.

Refrigerator

39°F or 4°C

Up to 48 hours

Store milk in the back of the main body of the refrigerator.

Freezer compartment of a refrigerator

5°F or -15°C

2 weeks


  • Store milk toward back of the freezer, where temperature is most constant.
  • Milk stored for longer durations in the ranges listed is safe, but some of the fat in the milk may undergo changes that may lower the quality or change the taste of the milk.

Freezer compartment of refrigerator with separate doors

0°F or -18°C

2 to 3 months

Chest or upright deep freezer

-4°F or -20°C

Less than 3 months is optimal.

References:

  • Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine. (2004) Clinical Protocol Number #8: Human Milk Storage Information for Home Use for Healthy Full Term Infants. Princeton Junction, New Jersey: Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2017

Sources:

  • American Academy of Pediatrics.
  • U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Download the printable version of this page (PDF).