Nursing mothers who choose to continue breastfeeding after returning to work or mothers who prefer to pump for controversy-free on-the-go feeding often find themselves faced with the daunting task of storing and organizing their expressed breast milk in a way that ensures both freshness and convenience. Organization systems must also be simple enough for a childcare provider to make sense of while you’re out of the home so that they can be sure to feed your baby the earliest milk first. Because the World Health Organization recommends that babies be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of their lives, and fed solid foods to supplement breast milk until the age of one year, it’s of vital importance to your baby’s health that breastfeeding not be abandoned simply because an organization and storage system isn’t achieved. To keep providing your baby with the best possible nourishment for her growing body, take some of these organization and storage tips under consideration.
- Label Everything – Whether you choose to freeze large amounts of expressed breast milk or store bottles in the refrigerator, make sure that every container is labeled with the date and time that it was pumped. For children that attend daycare outside of your home in an environment with other breastfed babies, be sure that her first and last names are also on the bag for ease of identification. Clearly indicating that a particular container belongs to your child is one of the best ways of ensuring that the breast milk isn’t discarded due to confusion and your baby fed formula in your absence.
- Use Proper Storage Containers – Freezing your breast milk is a perfectly acceptable method of storage, but it’s important to use the right containers and methods for the job. Traditional freezer bags may be more likely to leak than those designed specifically for breast milk storage, so springing for the more expensive but more reliable bags may be of more value in the long run. Letting the bags lie flat in your freezer until they’re solid also makes defrosting quicker and easier, as well as creating a flat labeling surface that’s more easily read. Freezing your breast milk in bottles also works, but be sure to leave enough space at the top to accommodate expansion as the liquid freezes. Milk intended for refrigeration should be stored in two to four ounce containers, as they shouldn’t be mixed or saved for later feedings, and larger containers may lead to more waste.
- First In, First Out – Allowing bags of breast milk to freeze on a flat surface not only makes the labels easier to read, it also creates a shape that’s simple to organize in the freezer. Using a small plastic bin, put bags in order by date and sort them upright, similar to books on a shelf. Turn the container so that the oldest milk is facing the front, making sure that the first bag grabbed is the oldest to facilitate a “first in, first out” system. Sort bottles in freezers and refrigerators similar to the method grocery stores use for cow’s milk, with the newest containers in the back and the oldest pushed to the front. This rotation makes it easy for you or a childcare provider to know which container should be used first, eliminating waste and confusion.
- Know Storage Guidelines – Part of keeping your breast milk system organized and functional is knowing exactly how long milk can be frozen or refrigerated before it should be discarded. Ideally, refrigerated milk should be kept no longer than 72 hours, but can be stored for up to eight days if collected carefully, according to La Leche League International. Frozen milk has an ideal shelf life of six months, but is acceptable for use up to one year after being pumped. The first tenet of organization is to cut clutter, so make sure that you periodically check your stash for any milk that should be thrown away, both to free space and to prevent the inadvertent feeding of less-than-fresh milk to your baby.
- Ice Cube Trays – Pouring expressed breast milk into ice cube trays, then emptying trays into freezer-safe bags is a great way to store large amounts of breast milk in small enough increments that you can take only what you need, minimizing waste while consolidating large batches. Be sure to keep the cubes from each day in their own individual bags to prevent date mix-ups.
Part of making sure that your organization system is effective is to maintain it every day; no system works if it’s abandoned. With a bit of discipline and dedication you can keep your baby’s most valuable source of nutrition sorted and well-stocked.