Frozen Breastmilk Safety 101

By Caroline Steele, board-certified lactation consultant, board-certified specialist in pediatric nutrition, and registered dietitian at CHOC Children’s

Caroline Steele, director of clinical nutrition and lactation at CHOC Children’s

CHOC has board-certified lactation consultants as well as certified lactation educators available to assist breastfeeding or pumping moms. Many of our other staff members, including nurses, dietitians and developmental specialists, can also assist families with breastfeeding and pumping, and many have specialty lactation training.

Because nutrition is one of the most important factors in a baby’s health, CHOC Children’s provides lactation services to mothers who wish to breastfeed or pump while their baby is in the hospital.

Here are answers to some of the most common questions we receive on frozen breast milk safety.

Can breastmilk be frozen?

Yes, breastmilk can be frozen and should be frozen if it won’t be used right away (similar to what you would do with other foods).

What is the safest way to freeze breastmilk?

  • For preterm or hospitalized infants, it is generally recognized that milk that will not be used within 48 hours after it is pumped, should be frozen. For healthy babies at home, it is possible to store freshly pumped milk in the refrigerator for 5 days before needing to freeze it.
  • Milk should be frozen in rigid plastic bottles or plastic bags specifically designed for breastmilk storage. Plastic bags are not recommended for hospitalized infants because they are prone to leaking and are more difficult to handle in the hospital setting.
  • Freeze milk in volumes that the baby would normally eat so that once it is thawed, none is wasted.
  • Never add freshly pumped milk to a bottle already containing frozen milk. Newly pumped milk should go into its own container.

How long can breastmilk be frozen?

  • If freezing/storing breastmilk in a combination refrigerator/freezer unit, the milk should be stored in the back of the freezer to keep it from being exposed to temperature fluctuations when opening and closing the freezer door. In this type of unit, the milk may be stored 3-6 months.
  • If freezing/storing breastmilk in a deep freezer that can maintain a temperature at or below zero degrees Fahrenheit, it may be stored for 6-12 months.
  • Once frozen milk has been thawed, it must be used within 24 hours or discarded.

I’m giving my baby frozen breastmilk. Are there any risks I should know about?

  • It is best to use the oldest pumped milk first to prevent milk from being frozen too long.
  • Some of the immune enhancing properties of breastmilk are decreased over time when milk is frozen. However, the risk of bacterial contamination of milk that has been kept in the refrigerator too long and not frozen, far outweighs the downside of freezing milk.
  • Sometimes there are slight changes in the taste and smell of milk that has been frozen due to the enzymes naturally present in breastmilk. Those changes are not harmful and don’t matter to most babies.  However, some babies do have a noticeable preference for milk that has not been previously frozen.
Get more helpful tips about lactation and breast milk

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Happy World Breastfeeding Week 2012

By Cindy Baker-Fox, RN, IBCLC, lactation consultant at CHOC Children’s

August 1-7 marks the 20th annual World Breastfeeding Week (WBW), a yearly event which began in 2002, by the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA). World Breastfeeding Week is now recognized and celebrated in more than 170 countries worldwide. It commemorates the joint efforts of WHO (World Health Organization) and UNICEF in their collaboration and development of the Innocenti Declaration, a policy created to protect, promote, and support breastfeeding throughout the world. The Innocenti Declaration remains a cornerstone in guiding public and private breastfeeding policies, practices, and programs throughout every continent and most countries worldwide.

World Breastfeeding Week aims to celebrate this historic event and its ongoing impact on the health of babies and mothers around the world through breastfeeding awareness, education, and support. The theme of World Breastfeeding Week  2012 is “Understanding the Past—Planning the Future.”  It is a time to reflect on the progress made in breastfeeding promotion and education and the ongoing efforts that are still to be made.

In 2002, WABA launched the first WBW with a campaign known as the “Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative”. This campaign began a worldwide push to provide breastfeeding education, services, support, and trained lactation staff in every delivery hospital, clinic, and birthing center worldwide and to every women and newborn, despite their circumstances and resources culturally, socially, or economically. The goal was to reach every mother and newborn with proper information and skills to promote breastfeeding as a means of reducing infant mortality and morbidity worldwide.

According to UNICEF’s State of the World’s Children Report 2011, 136.7 million babies are born worldwide and only 32.6% of them are breastfeed exclusively in the first six months.  In July 2012, the WHO reported that, “poor breastfeeding rates contribute to over a million avoidable child deaths each year.”  Breastfeeding is a human rights issue that required the development of international policies and practices to assure adequate nutrition for every newborn.  This is truly a week to remember and celebrate.

At CHOC, we strive to support and promote breastfeeding for our patients.   CHOC’s lactation program began in 2001 with the hiring of a full time RN, IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant).  Since then, CHOC’s commitment to optimal nutrition for our tiny babies and at risk patients has lead to additional funding for staff to provide lactation services throughout the hospital.  The Clinical Nutrition and Lactation program at CHOC currently employs 3 registered nurses and 2 registered dietitians who are IBCLC’s as well as 4 Certified Lactation Educators (CLE).  Throughout CHOC many staff have participated in various levels of lactation training including the completion of the Certified Lactation Educator training.

To further support our patients’ unique lactation needs, CHOC has hosted several educational opportunities for healthcare professionals, including a joint conference with the American Medical Association in 2009, the La Leche League  Conference in 2012, and the recent annual hosting of the University of California—San Diego CLE course.

CHOC’s lactation program is rich in history and our commitment to the core values and goals set forth 20 years ago by WHO, UNICEF, and WABA will continue to lead us in our pursuit for optimal nutrition for our young patients and further CHOC’s commitment to providing lactation services to all those in need. Join us in celebrating World Breastfeeding Week 2012!

For more information on World Breastfeeding Week and how you can become involved visit

For additional lactation information or services, visit the Clinical Nutrition and Lactation Department’s Web page.

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