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Breast Feeding

How long is frozen milk as good as fresh milk

10/01/2000

Question:

I have read that frozen milk is good for up to 6 months, but told by friends that it only holds its nutrients for 3 weeks. Could you please clear this up for me?

Answer:

You and your friends are both correct, although curdling or spoiling-not nutrient loss-is the concern about how long breast milk is "safe" in the freezer. The length of time that human milk can be safely stored in a freezer depends mainly on the type of freezer. Proper collection also is important, as is where you place containers of milk in the freezer. (To properly collect milk, follow manufacturer directions if using a breast pump. If expressing milk by hand and you are unsure about collection technique, write again.)

Assuming a mother properly collects her milk , which is easy to do, milk can be stored for about 3 weeks if using a refrigerator-freezer combination that does NOT have a separate door for the two compartments. When the freezer of a refrigerator-freezer combo does have separate doors for each compartment, human milk usually can be kept frozen for 3 to 6 months. (If ice cream in your freezer tends to be soft, 3 to 4 months may be the limit for frozen breast milk. It probably will last longer if ice cream and other foods tend to be thoroughly frozen when removed from the freezer.) Breast milk stored in a "deep" freezer often lasts 6 to 12 months.

Label containers of your milk with the date and place them toward the back of the freezer-away from the freezer door-so they won`t be exposed to warm air every time someone wants something from the freezer. Also avoid placing containers next to the walls if using a frost-free freezer. Stored milk can be expected to have a layered look, as it is not homogenized. Simply swirl the container gently to remix before someone gives the thawed milk to the baby. You also may want to read the recent NetWellness posts about "Spoiled frozen breast milk" (8-17-00) and "Pumping and storing while still breastfeeding" (9-22-00).

References:

Martin C (2000). The nursing mother`s problem solver. New York: Fireside.

Spangler A (1999). Breastfeeding, a parent`s guide (7th ed.). Atlanta: Daddy, Mommy, and Me.

For more information:

Go to the Breast Feeding health topic, where you can:

Response by:

Karen Kerkhoff Gromada, MSN, RN, IBCLC
Adjunct Clinical Instructor
College of Nursing
University of Cincinnati