Freezing Refrigerated Breastmilk_Pic_EditedTo freeze or not to freeze? That is the question when it comes to refrigerated breastmilk. We get this question a lot at Ybreast and we want to make sure you know the dos and don’ts of freezing breastmilk that’s been hanging out in the fridge, so your little one is getting the very best.

Picture this scenario: let’s say you need some serious me-time and you’ve scheduled a long-awaited and well-deserved mani/pedi. You secured Grandma’s babysitting services for this afternoon and you’re all set. You pump and leave milk in the fridge, just in case you’re not back in time for baby’s next feeding, and off you go. When you return, you find that the whole trip took under an hour and you’re back in time for baby’s next mealtime. Hurray! It’s only the next day when you go to grab some milk from the fridge for your morning coffee (which yes, is perfectly fine during breastfeeding!) that you realize you completely forgot to freeze that just-in-case breastmilk. Argh! Now what? Can you freeze the milk once it’s been refrigerated?

Wasting that precious commodity would be such a tragedy! So let’s get down to the facts. The first thing you should know about breastmilk is how incredibly cool it is: human breastmilk actually disinfects itself. That’s right, research indicates that human milk has previously unrecognized properties that protect it from bacterial contamination. And one study (Pardou, 1994) even found that after eight days of refrigeration, some of the milk had lower bacterial levels than it did on the day it was expressed. Seriously, the stuff is absolutely magical… just imagine what wonders it does for baby’s gastrointestinal system!

Now when it comes to freezing that refrigerated milk, the experts have different opinions. While some say you shouldn’t leave milk in the fridge for more than six hours before freezing, others say 24 to 48 hours, and still others say it’s fine to freeze milk that’s been refrigerated up to eight days, provided that baby is healthy and the milk is for home (not hospital) use. Bacteria doesn’t seem to be a big problem (see above), it is rather a matter of spoilage.

Our best advice is that if you’re planning on freezing your milk, go ahead and do it ASAP. If you need to freeze milk that has been sitting in the fridge, give it a sniff test (to make sure it’s still good) before freezing. Be sure to store it in clean, well-sealed glass or hard, BPA-free plastic containers or freezer bags specially designed for storing breastmilk. Add a label noting the date the milk was expressed and consider adding an extra note if the milk stayed in the fridge for a while. (This will remind you to do another sniff/taste test before offering the milk to baby… just in case.

Note that when you do thaw the milk, sometimes it has a smell, which doesn’t necessarily mean the milk has gone bad. The odor is due to the breakdown of milk fats by an enzyme called lipase; it’s still safe and most babies will drink it. If there is a rancid smell from high lipase activity when the milk was frozen, the milk can be heated to scalding (when it bubbles around the edges, but not boiling) after expression, then quickly cooled and frozen. This deactivates the lipase enzyme. While scalded milk does cause breastmilk to lose some of its magic, it is still a much healthier choice than commercial infant formula.

Now that you’re armed with the information you need, you can make an educated call on whether or not to freeze that refrigerated milk. Know that breastmilk is powerful stuff and can withstand a bit of refrigeration before freezing, but be organized and label everything once it’s in the freezer. And next week, when you head to the salon for some post-partum styling, you can leave that just-in-case milk in the fridge worry-free.