How to Safely Pump and Store Breast Milk

Earlier this week we released a study about the dangers of breast milk being purchased online.  Our researchers’ analyzed 100 samples of breast milk bought on a public milk-sharing website and found three in four samples contained either high levels of bacterial growth overall or contained disease-causing bacteria, including fecal contamination. Dr. Sarah Keim, lead author of the study published this week in November’s Pediatrics says the  findings were likely the result of poor hygiene during milk collection, the use of either unclean containers or unsanitary breast milk pump parts, or compromised shipping practices.

Much of the feedback we received was around women asking how do they know they won’t compromise their own milk they are pumping. So we thought we would put together a few tips out about how to safely pump and store breast milk. For any mother who is expressing her milk, whether for her own infant or to donate, strict adherence to hand washing before pumping and meticulous washing and sanitizing of pump parts is vital. Proper storage of milk, in clean containers, and at proper storage temperature is equally important.

Top 6 ways to pump and store breast milk for your baby:

1.    Find a clean place to pump. Do not pump in the bathroom or where food is prepared.
2.    Thoroughly wash your hands before beginning. Wash your pump parts with warm, soapy water after each pumping session, dry with clean paper towels and sterilize your pump parts daily.
3.    Pump and store your milk in clean containers, designed for breast milk. Milk storage bags are intended to be used once and discarded.  Bottles can be reused if washed with hot, soapy water and sterilized/sanitized. Please allow space for the milk to expand if it is going to be frozen.  When containers are overfilled, they leak and this could possibly contaminate the milk.
4.    Label the containers with the date and time that it was expressed and any medications that you have taken in the past 24 hours. Store your milk as soon as possible in the refrigerator, freezer or a cooler with ice packs.
5.    If your baby is in the hospital, the fresh milk in the refrigerator should be used within 48 hours of pumping or it should be placed in the freezer. After milk is thawed, it should be used within 24 hours or discarded.
6.    For any baby, milk that is stored in the freezer compartment of your refrigerator should be used within 3 months from the time you pump it. If you have a deep freezer, it can be stored 6-12 months. Always try to use your oldest milk first so that it doesn’t expire.

Additional Milk storage guidelines:
1. Milk may be kept at room temperature (up to 77°F or 25°C) for 6 to 8 hours. Temperatures greater than
77°F (25°C) may not be safe for room temperature storage.  Containers should be covered and kept as cool
as possible; covering the container with a cool towel may keep milk cooler.

2. Milk may be stored in an insulated cooler bag with ice packs for 24 hours.

3. Milk may be safely refrigerated (39°F or 4°C) for up to 5 days.6 Store milk in the back of the main body
of the refrigerator, where the temperature is the coolest.

4. The type of freezer in which the milk is kept determines timetables for frozen milk. Generally, store milk
toward the back of the freezer, where the temperature is most constant. Milk stored for the longer durations
in the ranges listed below is safe, but there is some evidence that the lipids in the milk undergo degradation
resulting in lower quality.
· Freezer compartment located inside the refrigerator (5°F or −15°C): 2 weeks
· Refrigerator/freezer with separate doors (0°F or −18°C): 3 to 6 months
· Chest or upright manual defrost deep freezer that is opened infrequently and maintains ideal
temperature (−4°F or −20°C): 6 to 12 months

The above guidelines apply only to healthy, term infants; guidelines are different for hospitalized, sick, or preterm infants.

Your breast milk is the best food and immunizations for your baby. Your body makes it special for your baby with the right antibodies and nutrition. If you cannot pump your own milk there are other options, like milk banks that screen donors and the milk. To find one visit the Human Milk Banking Association of America.

Chris Smith has been a pediatric nurse for over 30 years, an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant for 15 years and a founding member of Nationwide Children’s Hospital’s Lactation Team. As part of the team, she works with the mothers of hospitalized infants to provide life-saving human milk for their fragile infants. She also sees mothers and infants as outpatients who are having breastfeeding difficulties. Chris is the mother of two adult sons, both of who were exclusively breastfed. When not at work, Chris is an avid quilter.

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