Feeding your baby via a bottle?
Like so many mothers, there comes a time when you decide to wean your baby off breastfeeding and opt for a more convenient approach.
But unfortunately, things are not always straightforward as you would hope.
There are methods and guidelines that you should follow when expressing, storing and warming up your breast milk.
After all, you don’t want to be feeding your baby anything that hasn’t been prepared correctly!
If you have questions like how long you can store breast milk, how to tell if its gone bad and ways to warm it, rest assured that they’ll all be answered in this guide.
I’m a mother of two myself, having raised two beautiful boys, so I know what it’s like to have many questions when it comes to feeding your baby.
It’s my aim that this guide will alleviate all your concerns!
Let’s dive into it.
How to Express Breast Milk
Before we can store breast milk, we first have to get it into a baby bottle or container. This is where expressing comes in.
Expressing breast milk is when you squeeze milk out of your breast into a container so you can store and use it later.
It’s what mothers do when they need to take a break from the ole naturale method of breastfeeding.
Expressing breast milk has some distinct advantages over traditional breastfeeding:
- You can store multiple servings of breast milk in advanced so you’re baby has access to your milk at anytime. For example, you might be at work but you’re baby can still enjoy his or her milk whilst being cared for by someone else.
- It can relieve engorgement. From time to time you may feel your breasts are filled to the brim with milk. There’s no better time to start filling those containers!
There are two ways to express your milk, either by hand or by pump.
Before beginning, ensure that the container or bottle to catch the milk is clean. The same goes for your hands!
Let’s go through each one.
Expressing Breast Milk by Hand
This is a very simply way of expressing you’re milk. It has the distinct advantage over pumping as you don’t need to buy anything or use any power source.
Cup your breast with one hand and simply form a ‘C’ shape with your forefinger and thumb of your other hand. Squeeze the area close to the areola (the dark area around the nipple), and release the pressure. Keep squeezing and releasing until milk begins to letdown.
As the milk flow begins to slow down, try applying pressure to different areas of the areola to stimulate the glands.
You can follow these steps for your other breast and alternate between both until the milk stops flowing.
Pumping Breast Milk
Pumping breast milk can either be done manually or automatically. A manual pump is cheaper but also slower to use, whilst an automatic (or electric pump) is faster but more expensive.
Depending on the make and model, you can alter things like the suction strength, and suction pad sizes depending on your breast size. You can also get what is known as a ‘double pump’ that allows you to pump both breasts at once.
It’s always a good idea to start the suction strength on low and then eventually work your way up to a higher strength.
Don’t worry if your breasts have difficulty producing milk at first. It can take a couple of sessions or days to get used to, and you’ll find the more often you do it, the easier it will be (and the more milk you will produce).
As always, follow the manufacturers guidelines…you’re dealing with your babies milk after all!
How to Store Breast Milk
So you’ve expressed your milk into clean bottles and containers. You’re now ready to store it for later use!
Storing breast milk is a convenient option because it allows us to easily feed our babies at a later time without having to breastfeed. As mentioned before, it’s also a bit of a time saver as we can produce multiple servings in one sitting.
Storing breast milk is a bit more complex then you would imagine, and most of it is to do with how long you can preserve the milk. This table shows the preservation times as recommended by the government website Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
|Countertop, table||Room temperature (up to 77°F)||6 – 8 hours|
|Insulated cooler bag||5 °F - 39 °F||24 hours|
|Refrigerator||39 °F||5 days|
For Frozen Breast Milk (do not refreeze!)
|Freezer compartment of a refrigerator||5 °F||2 weeks|
|Freezer compartment of refrigerator with separate doors||0 °F||3–6 months|
|Chest or upright deep freezer||- 4 °F||6–12 months
We can break this table down into storing breast milk in three ways – at room temperature, chilled or frozen.
Storing at room temperature means you need to use the milk during that day. With chilled you can extend this duration from 1 to 5 days.
Freezing will result in far longer storage times and is handy if you are storing many servings of breast milk or want an emergency supply.
Do the Math! Typical infants from 1 to 6 months old consume about 25 oz of breast milk a day. If you usually feed your baby every 3 or so hours, you’re looking at about 8 feeds a day resulting in 3 oz per serving. Therefore; 3 oz, or multiples of this number is a good serving portion to store.
The serving sizes can change based on your babies age. Having said that, there is a cool calculator on this page that can help you figure out the number.
Always ensure you write the date of storage on your containers and use the oldest ones first! Research has shown that more vitamin C is lost the longer milk is in storage.
It’s also a good idea to ensure you don’t fill the containers to maximum volume as breast milk expands when frozen. The last thing you want is a broken container and spoiled milk.
As mentioned earlier, I can’t stress enough how important it is to clean your bottles and containers before use, and ensure they are air-tight. This goes along way in keeping your milk as fresh as possible!
How to Warm Breast Milk
So we’ve done all the milk expressing and have properly stored our milk. Now it’s time to feed your hungry baby!
But before we move on, it’s important to point out why we actually warm breast milk instead of serving it when it’s cold, like straight out of the fridge or when it’s just been thawed.
The answer lies in the fact that most babies spend time breastfeeding before being weaned off to use a bottle. In fact, most experts suggest at least a month of breastfeeding before using a bottle.
The milk from breastfeeding is at body temperature (duh!) which sits at 98.6 °F. Therefore; it’s very convenient for your baby if we serve milk at this temperature as it’s what they have grown accustomed to. Secondly, babies have greater difficulty then us in regulating their body temperature. Cold breast milk (or even formula) has the potential to upset their stomachs as their small bodies need to work much harder to deal with the cold liquid.
Regardless of how your baby gets its milk, it’s always a good idea to warm it to at least room temperature (70 °F), but it’s even better at body temperature.
There is a catch though. You see, studies have shown that warming breast milk to high temperatures causes nutritional loss.
We all know the fantastic properties of the golden liquid that is breast milk. It contains the antibodies, proteins, minerals and vitamins your baby needs to grow.
The exact temperature where nutrition starts taking a hit is at 104 °F. In fact, if the temperature keeps rising, nutritional loss is accelerated, so it’s crucial to ensure breast milk never exceeds or stays above this threshold for too long.
Ok, so we now know that warm breast milk puts a smile on your babies face, but what are the methods by which to heat breast milk to get it to this so called ‘Goldilocks zone’ of temperature perfection?
Let’s go through each one…
Thawing is technically warming, as we are essentially transitioning the frozen breast milk to an unfrozen state. It’s better to thaw inside a fridge as it takes about 12 hours. I don’t recommend doing this outside at room temperature as it’s much harder to monitor how long it will take.
The next 3 methods can also heat breast milk regardless if it’s in a frozen or thawed state. However; it’s always easier and quicker to warm thawed milk, which I’m sure you’ll appreciate if it’s 3 am in the morning!
An oldie but a goldie, simply running warm water over breast milk can heat it up to the desired temperature. There are a couple of nuances to this method that you need to be aware of depending on the state of the breast milk that you are heating:
- Frozen breastmilk: Start with cool water until thawing has completed. This avoids hot spots and potential damage to the nutrients. Gradually increase the temperature to warm and then hot, but not hot enough where steam occurs.
- Refrigerated breast milk: Similar to the above method, but since the milk is already thawed all you have to do is start the faucet water on warm and then gradually increase to hot. Again, ensure you don’t get to the point where steam is produced.
For either method, make sure to gently swirl the bottle or packet with a spoon to help distribute heat and to recombine the cream that typically forms when breast milk settles.
It’s exactly like a bath, except for your breast milk! Minus the soap of course…
Get a saucepan or pot and fill it with water. Start heating it on your stove and once the water begins to produce steam (before it reaches boiling) remove it from the stove.
Place the frozen or thawed container of breast milk into the pot. Obviously, it will take longer to warm up the frozen milk. Similar to the running water method, it’s a good idea to stir the milk during the warming process.
Tip: Ensure that the water doesn’t enter the container or bottle whilst you are warming breast milk. The same can be said for the running water method as well.
If you decide to use the water bath or running water method, it’s a good idea to test the temperature of the milk before serving:
Simply sprinkle a couple of drops on the inside of your wrist which happens to be the most sensitive part of your arm. The milk should feel warm, but not cold or hot.
If it feels either side of warm, either continue to use the faucet to warm it up, or let it cool off a little bit.
Using a Bottle Warmer
Here are where things get advanced and technological!
A bottle warmer is a nifty little device that does all the manual work for you. They can heat frozen or thawed breast milk, as well as breast milk that’s been refrigerated or is at room temperature.
Bottle warmers either use steam or a water bath to heat breast milk. Sometimes a combination of both is used. Many also allow you to set the temperature and a countdown.
In general the steps are pretty simple for the majority of bottle warmers:
- Fill up the reservoir with water.
- Insert the bottle or packet of breast milk. You can also heat jars and formula with bottle warmers, but the truth is, this can also be done with the manual methods I’ve already mentioned earlier.
- Set the correct timer and/or temperature settings. It’s common to find specific modes for heating breast milk, formula or jars of baby food. Heck, some bottle warmer can even sterilize your baby’s pacifier!
- Sit back and wait for warming perfection.
Now of course, not all baby bottle warmers are made equal. Some even have a tendency to overheat milk.
If you are interested in purchasing one, be sure to check out our reviews and guide which points out our top recommendations.
How to Tell if Breast Milk has Gone Bad
Despite following all the guidelines above, you may find that your breast milk looks a bit odd, which makes you wonder ‘should I be feeding this to my baby?’
Firstly, what should breast milk look like?
Similar to milk you buy at the store, breast milk tends to have a creamy, white appearance. However you may also notice it having a more clear complexion depending on how much fat is present.
Don’t be alarmed if the milk has a tinge of blue, yellow, brown, orange, pink or even red as these colors occur due to your diet, any medications you are taking, and the varying nutrients in the milk that change over time.
As alluded to previously, you may also see a thicker ‘cream’ develop which naturally occurs when breast milk settles. You can simply gently swirl the milk to recombine the cream again.
Now that we know what fresh breast milk should look like, here are the things we need to look out for that tells us if the milk is no good:
- The cream does not recombine after swirling, or you can see curdling.
- Use your smell! Similar to milk that has gone off, breast milk also has a similar strong sour smell. Don’t fret if their is a soapy or even metallic smell – this is due to the natural enzyme lipase which helps break down milk fat, making it easier to digest.
- You can also sample the milk on your tongue. If it has that familiar off, sour taste then you can consider it rancid. In the bin it goes!
Finally, if you do feed your baby breast milk that is off, there is a very good chance that he or she will simply reject it. Like us adults, babies don’t like anything that smells or tastes terrible.
As always, follow the correct procedures in expressing, storing and warming up breast milk and you will minimize the chance of your milk ever going bad.
At the end of the day, it’s up to you how you go about feeding your baby.
Back when my now oldest son was a baby, I use to manually hand express my milk and refrigerate it for later use. Before serving, I simply used warm water from the faucet to heat up the milk.
I never froze my milk as I just didn’t agree with freezing something and then feeding it to my son. I was also a housewife so I had plenty of time to breastfeed if I chose to do so.
Fast forward to my second son, and I moved to using an electric breast pump and bottle warmer which ended up saving me a lot of time. It was super convenient as I also started working part-time again and was sharing responsibilities with my husband who convinced me to go the bottle warmer route.
What I’m saying is, is that there is no single best way to go about feeding your baby and it’s truly dependent on your lifestyle, time constraints and what you are most comfortable with doing.