Storage and reuse of breast milk

Breast milk is rich in nutrients, antioxidants, and antibodies that are essential for the growth and development of babies, especially premature and low birth weight babies. For working moms, direct breastfeeding is possible only for a few months. Once they resume their work the only way they can continue to feed breast milk is by expressing and storing it (indirect breastfeeding). But most of the parents have doubts regarding how to express, preserve and reuse the milk. I hope I can clear all those doubts through this article.

expressed breast milk

How to express breast milk

Well! You can express breast milk by using manual, electric or battery operated breast pump. You can even use your hands to press the milk out, but it would take a lot of time and energy. I would recommend you a breast pump.

breast milk expression
• Wash your hands and breast pump thoroughly before and after expressing the milk
• Wipe your breasts with cotton, gauze cloth or clean cotton cloth before and after milk expression. Start with the nipples, move on to the areola (the black area surrounding the nipple) and end with the top part.
• Pump one breast for 10-15 minutes and then switch to the other and pump for another 10-15 minutes. The first milk coming out (when you start expressing it) is called foremilk and contains only water and few nutrients as major contents. Hindmilk flows out after 5 – 6 minutes of feeding/expressing and is rich in fat and other nutrients.

foremilk & hindmilk

The above is the reason why you should breastfeed/express for a minimum of 10 to 15 minutes (10 minutes at one breast and 5 minutes in the other). When you express your milk again, start with breast you had pumped for less duration (say 5 minutes). One more reason is that leaving out one breast and concentrating on one alone can result in engorgement (breast becoming hard and swollen because of excessive milk in it) of the neglected one.

Safe storage of breast milk

Labeled breast milk

1. First of all, wash thoroughly and sterilize the container in which you are planning to store the milk. You can sterilize the container by boiling it in drinking water for 5 to 10 minutes.
2. You can store the expressed milk
• At room temperature for about 6 to 8 hours
• In the fridge (preferably the upper rack) for three days (72 hours) and,
• In the freezer (of a refrigerator) for two weeks
The breast milk would remain good as mentioned above only if strict sterile and hygienic methods are followed while expressing and storing the milk. If you are doubtful of milk getting spoiled, then you can discard it once you are back from work and directly feed the baby. You can express it and store it for the next day or express the milk afresh before going to work. If you had preserved your milk for a more extended period, you should write the date and time of expression on each container and use the older milk first.

How to reuse the breast milk

reheating breastmilk

1. Never boil or heat the breast milk directly on the stove.
2. Heat some water in a bowl (bigger than the vessel with the milk) and turn off the stove
3. Now pour the required amount of breast milk in a container (steel tumbler would do) and keep it in the bowl with hot water. Swirl the container gently to spread the warmth evenly. Keep only for one or two minutes as we don’t want the milk to become too hot (the breast milk should be lukewarm).
4. Take a clean spoon and pour a few drops of milk on the back of your hand to check the temperature.
5. Once the milk is lukewarm, you can feed it to the baby with a spoon/feeding bottle, etc.
6. If the milk was refrigerated, bring it to room temperature and then warm it.
7. If there is any milk leftover (that you had reheated), throw it away.

Points to remember

  • Never heat the milk immediately after taking it out of the fridge
  • The thawed milk ( the milk that you had taken out of the refrigerator and brought to room temperature) shouldn’t be re-refrigerated again
  • The thawed milk should be kept at room temperature for about 4 hours only. If you had not used it within this time, discard it.
  • Once the feeding is over, the reheated milk should be thrown away.

A word about Human milk bank

A human milk bank or breast milk bank is a place where breast milk is collected from the donors, pasteurized and then stored. Preterm babies and low birth weight babies whose mothers cannot produce enough milk to feed them are benefited from these banks.

There are about 25 human milk banks in India. Vijaya Hospital in Vadapalani, Chennai has one such bank in it. I am not sure how much it costs or whether they are giving it for free. I came to know about it while attending a nursing conference. If you had delivered a premature baby and if you are in need of breast milk, then you can approach these human milk banks.

A word of caution – Business minded people and corporates are everywhere nowadays; so be careful when you set out in search of breast milk banks.

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