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Breast Milk Storage Basics

Your milk supply and schedule won't always be in sync with your baby's feeding schedule. While keeping a stash of breast milk on hand allows other caretakers to feed your baby, improperly stored milk can lose its nutritional value -- and that's not good enough for your sweet little one. Start with clean hands, sanitized containers and a trusty breast pump. It takes a little extra work, but with every bottle you collect, you'll know that you're giving your baby the best.

RELATED: How to Balance Breast Milk Bottles and Regular Nursing

Pumping and Prepping

Wait until your breastfeeding routine is set before you attempt to build a supply of stored milk. Allow a few weeks after birth to give your body time to acclimate to the demands of your baby's milk needs. In her book "The ABCs of Breastfeeding," Stacey H. Rubin says the best time to pump is in the morning, after feeding your baby. Store milk in specially-made breast milk storage bags or in glass or BPA-free plastic bottles with tight lids; food storage bags or disposable bottle liners can leak and aren't recommended. Prepare containers by washing them in a dishwasher with a hot cycle, washing them with hot and soapy water or boiling them on the stove. Label each container with the date; if your baby goes to daycare, clearly print your child's name on the container to make sure there are no mix-ups.

Freezing and Refrigerating

Storage times vary for milk stored in appropriate containers. At room temperature, breast milk is safe for six to eight hours, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It can be stored for 24 hours in an insulated bag filled with ice packs or for five days in a refrigerator. Stored in the freezer of a traditional refrigerator -- in which the freezer compartment is totally separate from the refrigerator -- your milk stays fresh for up to six months; it stays fresh for just two weeks, however, when stored in a freezer compartment that is not separate from the refrigerator. According to the CDC, milk can be frozen for up to one year in a chest or upright deep freezer, but it loses quality in passing months. In any fridge or freezer, store milk containers at the back of the shelf where they won't be exposed to warm air when the door is opened and shut.

Thawing and Serving

When you're reaching for stored breast milk, pull out the oldest container first, assuming it's been stored for a safe period of time. Thawing methods are the same for bottled and bagged milk. Place containers of frozen milk in the refrigerator overnight, or set them in a bowl of warm water until thawed. Some infants will happily accept milk cold from the fridge, but if your little one has more discerning tastes, warm the milk by holding the container under warm running water. Never microwave breast milk, warns the CDC. Doing so could scald your baby and decrease the nutritional value of the milk. Use thawed breast milk within 24 hours.

RELATED: How to Carry Breast Milk for Travel

Tips and Considerations

Prevent waste by portioning breast milk into single-serve containers that hold the amount of milk your baby typically consumes at one feeding. If you're unsure how much that is, pump milk just before your baby gets hungry to measure how much he needs to be satisfied. If you expect your milk won't be used for several weeks or months, store larger portions in anticipation of his growing appetite -- your baby's nutritional needs change as he gets older, says Mayo Clinic. Whatever your baby doesn't finish at a feeding needs to be tossed out, however. Never mix fresh milk with old milk no matter how it's been stored.

Image via George Doyle/Stockbyte/Getty Images

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