March 07, 2024

Does Frozen Breast Milk Have the Same Nutrients as Fresh Breast Milk?

Breast Milk in the Fridge

Breast milk is the ideal food for babies. It contains an optimal combination of proteins, vitamins, carbohydrates, fats, and antibodies to promote growth and support the immune system. When a mother produces more milk than a baby needs, it can be refrigerated or frozen for use later.

However, parents often wonder whether refrigerated or frozen breast milk has the same nutrient content as fresh breast milk. This article answers that question and provides guidelines for safe breast milk storage.

Frozen Breast Milk Retains Most of Its Nutrients

Thawed milk is an excellent alternative when fresh breast milk isn’t available. Previously frozen breast milk has similar nutrient and antibody content to fresh milk. It does lose a small amount of those qualities but can still provide a baby with the nutrition it needs. The key is to freeze and thaw breast milk in ways that preserve its nutritional value.

How to Refrigerate or Freeze Breast Milk

To maximize the quality of breast milk when refrigerating or freezing it, keep the following tips in mind:

  • Fresh breast milk has the most nutritional value, followed by refrigerated and frozen.
  • You can leave fresh breast milk at room temperature for up to four hours. If you don’t use, refrigerate, or freeze it within that period, you should discard it.
  • You can store breast milk in the refrigerator (at approximately 40 degrees Fahrenheit) for up to four days. At that point, you should freeze or discard it.
  • The period for which you can safely freeze breast milk depends on where you store it. If the freezer compartment is within a refrigerator, the milk is good for up to two weeks. If the freezer is part of the refrigerator but has a separate door, stored milk is safe for three to six months. In a separate deep freezer, breast milk is good for six months. Storing milk for up to a year is acceptable, but it is more nutritious when you use it sooner.
  • Refrigerate or freeze breast milk as soon as possible after expressing it.
  • If you don’t have immediate access to a refrigerator or freezer after expressing breast milk, it’s best to keep it in an insulated bag or cooler with a cold pack until you can store it properly.
  • Freeze breast milk in small quantities (to avoid waste) in special storage bags or food-grade glass or plastic containers.
  • Leave a small space at the top of a container for expansion.
  • Label containers with the date you expressed the breast milk.
  • Store breast milk at the back of the freezer to minimize temperature fluctuations when the door is opened. 

How to Thaw and Use Breast Milk

When retrieving breast milk from the freezer, remember the following:

  • You should thaw breast milk in the refrigerator—not at room temperature.
  • You should never refreeze breast milk.
  • Bring breast milk to body temperature of around 99 degrees Fahrenheit before feeding it to your baby.
  • Warm thawed/refrigerated milk by placing the sealed container in warm (not hot) water or holding it under warm running water. Test the milk’s temperature by putting a few drops on the inside of your wrist. It should feel lukewarm.
  • Shake the warmed container to distribute the heat evenly.
  • Never use a microwave to warm breast milk. The uneven heating can cause “hot spots” that you may not detect but can be dangerous for your baby.

Talk with Your Baptist Health Pediatrician About Storing Breast Milk

Breast milk is a healthy, natural food for babies. If you have questions about refrigerating, freezing, thawing, or using stored breast milk, your Baptist Health pediatrician is happy to answer them.

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