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What's the best way to store breastmilk?

You can store your breastmilk to keep it fresh for your baby in a number of ways:

- At room temperature (no more than 25 degrees C) for up to six hours.
- In a cold box with ice packs for up to 24 hours.
- In a fridge (at four degrees C or colder) for up to five days.
- In a fridge’s freezer compartment for two weeks.
- In a home freezer (at -18 degrees C or lower) for up to six months.
If you're returning to work, it's a good idea to get into the routine of expressing and storing breastmilk. Then your baby can continue to get the benefits of your milk, even though you're not around.

How you store your breastmilk depends on how soon you want to use it. If you plan to use it within a few days, refrigerating is better than freezing. This is because freezing destroys some of the substances in your milk that fight infection. Frozen breastmilk is still a healthier choice for your baby than formula, though.

Whether you choose to refrigerate or freeze your milk, you should:

- Use sterilised containers. The best choices are plastic bottles, or plastic breastmilk bags. You can use glass bottles, but there's always the danger that they may crack or chip.
- Label and date your bottles and bags, and use the oldest ones first.
- Keep your breast pump clean. Wash the parts in hot, soapy water and rinse them thoroughly before sterilising.
- Wash your hands before expressing. Keeping everything as clean as possible will lessen the chance of bacteria growing in your stored milk.
You can add freshly expressed milk to breastmilk that's already in the fridge. Bear in mind, though, that you can only keep it until the original milk is five days old.

If your milk has been stored for some time, you may notice that it separates. This is normal. Just give it a gentle shake.

If you want to freeze your milk, do it as soon after expressing as possible. Leave a gap at the top of each bottle or bag, as your milk will expand during freezing. If you’re storing your milk in bags, watch out for tears. You may not notice any until you start to thaw the milk. Bear in mind, too, that plastic bags tend to fall over when thawing.

You can add freshly expressed milk to frozen milk as long as the fresh milk is chilled for at least an hour first. Make sure the amount you're freezing is smaller than the frozen portion.

Frozen breastmilk should be defrosted in the fridge, and can be stored there for 12 hours. Once it has defrosted, though, it mustn't be refrozen.

Don’t be tempted to defrost or warm your breastmilk in a microwave. If you need the milk in a hurry, defrost it under cool, then warm, running water. Dry the outside of the container before you open it.

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