How Long Can Breast Milk Sit Out At Room Temperature?

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Baby Tips

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Breastfeeding is a crucial practice that holds umpteen benefits for you and the baby. Perhaps it is why feeding expressed breast milk is considered the second-best option when breastfeeding isn’t possible. But feeding expressed breast milk is beneficial when breast milk expression, handling, and storage are done appropriately.

A new mother who has just begun or is planning to feed expressed milk will have plenty of queries; the most prominent one being —how long can breast milk stay outside? This post answers your query and gives you tips to safely store breast milk.

How Long Can Breast Milk Stay Outside?

Breast milk is a perishable food. Whether hand expressed or pumped, it needs to be stored properly. Freshly expressed breast milk stored in glass bottles, BPA-free containers, or specialized breast milk storage bags with tight-fitting lids/caps can stay outside for up to (1) (2):

  • Four hours at a room temperature of 77°F (25°C). However, one can store very cleanly expressed and stored breast milk for six to eight hours.
  • Four days when refrigerated at 40°F (4°C). The time frame can go up to eight days for very cleanly expressed breast milk.
  • Nine months when frozen at 0°F (−18°C) in a freezer with a separate door.
  • 12 months when frozen at -4°F (−20°C) in a deep freezer.

Thawed frozen milk can stay at room temperature (77°F or 25°C) for one to two hours. If you need to refrigerate thawed milk, use it within 24 hours. Don’t refreeze thawed breast milk. Consult a pediatrician to know the proper guidelines for breast milk storage for babies with specialized needs, such as babies with health conditions or those born prematurely.

What Happens If You Leave Breast Milk Outside For Long?

Proper breast milk storage helps maintain its nutritional, immunological, and antioxidant properties (3). Additionally, it helps sustain breast milk’s antibacterial properties. Any deviations from the recommended storage temperature and time can change these properties.

Incorrectly stored breast milk may also be harmful to the baby’s health. The risk escalates multi-folds for babies born prematurely or those with a weak immune system. Therefore, avoid storing expressed breast milk beyond the recommended duration.

Tips To Store Expressed Breast Milk

Below are the points and steps to keep in mind if you intend to store expressed breast milk.

  1. Thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water before and after pumping or expressing the breast milk.  Unclean hands could transfer harmful pathogens to the milk.
  1. Properly wash pumping accessories and all storage containers in hot, soapy water before and after use. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for effective cleaning.
  1. Store the breast milk in small amounts. Two to four ounces is recommended to prevent wastage. Use clean and sterilized bottles to feed breast milk to babies at all times.
  1. Tightly close the container or milk bag’s lid or cap immediately after storing the milk in them. Doing so ensures that the milk doesn’t come in contact with air for long.
  1. Ensure the room temperature is at or below 77°F (25°C) to let the breast milk stay outside the refrigerator.
  1. Use insulated cooler bags with ice packs for a shorter duration. Otherwise, it is best to immediately refrigerate breast milk, especially when the room temperature isn’t conducive for safe storage. Most insulated cooler bags can keep milk good for up to 24 hours.
  1. Place the storage container or bag in a cool towel until you put it in the refrigerator. But ensure that it is only for a few minutes, especially if the room temperature is higher than 77°F (25°C).
  1. Store the breast milk away from direct sunlight in a cool and dry place even when stored at the recommended room temperature.
  1. Store breast milk in the refrigerator if you intend to use it within four days. Otherwise, store it in the freezer to keep it consumable for longer.
  1. Clearly label the milk expression date before you store the milk in the refrigerator or freezer so that you remember to use the milk in order of its expression or pumping date.
  1. Thaw frozen breast milk in the refrigerator gradually. If that’s not possible, place the frozen milk in lukewarm water. Never heat breast milk directly with a flame or microwave. Heating milk can destroy its proteins and antioxidants content.
  1. Never mix freshly expressed warm breast milk with already cooled or frozen milk. It is always best to feed them separately.

It is good that you feed your baby freshly expressed breast milk whenever possible. Use leftover breast milk within two hours or quickly refrigerate it to use for the next feeding.

Feeding expressed breast milk is a good option when breastfeeding isn’t possible. Proper storage is crucial to ensure the baby reaps the breast milk benefits optimally. You can safely store breast milk at recommended room temperature for a short duration. On the other hand, refrigeration and freezing are ideal options to store expressed breast milk for a longer duration.


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