I was about six months into breastfeeding my son when I left the cooler of milk I had pumped at work on the counter all night. I usually stored it in a small cooler in the staff refrigerator and then transported it home, but for some reason I got distracted and the cooler didn’t make it into my work bag. I remember feeling so defeated as I poured out the results of my hard work. 15oz down the drain, which added even more fuel to my stress of barely keeping up with my son’s huge appetite. I was even more devastated when I learned days later that I could have kept that milk.
Breastfeeding can be a time consuming task, but dealing with pumping and storing milk for later use can add to the stress and time spent feeding your baby. It can be confusing knowing what to do and how to safely transport and store your breast milk from work, to home, and to your childcare provider. While mistakes might happen, here are some guidelines on what to do with questionable milk and pumping and storing issues!
How long was it out?
The first thing you want to think about is how long was the milk out and under what conditions. The CDC recommendations use the most concervative numbers, suggesting to use fresh breast milk within four hours at room temperature and four days in the refrigerator. Milk leftover in a bottle from a feed can also be safely offered within two hours. Milk in an iced cooler can also still be used or moved to the refrigerator or freezer within 24 hours.
While these conservative numbers are optimal, the La Leche League states that breastmilk may still be used up to 8 hours at room temperature and five days in the refrigerator. Much like cow’s milk, breast milk tends to develop a sour taste and smell when it has gone bad. Use your best judgement. If your milk still tastes, smells, and looks fine, it is probably fine to feed it to your baby.
If your milk develops a soapy smell or taste, sometimes even within an hour or two of pumping and proper storage, it could mean that your milk is high in the lipase enzyme. Some babies will continue to drink this milk without any problem, and there is nothing dangerous about this milk. Some babies, however, may refuse to drink this kind of milk. If you have a large stash of stored milk, you may be able to donate this milk to another baby that doesn’t mind the taste. For any new milk you pump, you can scald the milk to keep it from turning soapy following these instructions from KellyMom.
If you find yourself with milk that you don’t feel comfortable feeding to your baby or leftover milk once you’ve completely weaned your child, you still have some options for using your milk. Milk baths are one of the most common uses for extra milk. Milk baths can soothe and moisturize skin from common issues like eczema, baby acne, or diaper rash. Some people even take this a step further and use breast milk to create breastmilk soap or breastmilk lotion, which can be used for many of the same ailments as the breast milk bath.
Many people find breast milk useful as home remedies for treating common ailments or illnesses. Some people use breast milk to treat anything from ear infections, pink eye, minor cuts or scrapes, and as an alternative to nipple cream. The idea behind these uses is that breast milk contains anti inflammatory and antibacterial properties as well as antibodies from the mother. Caution, however, should be made when using these kinds of home remedies as you may accidentally make the original problem worse if the breast milk is contaminated. Use your best judgement or talk with your healthcare provider about potential benefits or risks for each individual situation.
If you have extra properly frozen milk when your child no longer needs it, consider donating your extra milk to a local baby in need. Many people would prefer donor milk over formula, and you can help feed another baby in your community and potentially make a new friend. Eats on Feets and Human Milk for Human Babies have Facebook groups broken down by state to post your donation. You can also post in your local parenting groups or message a local midwife or doula who may know of someone that would greatly appreciate your extra milk. When I finished breastfeeding my daughter, I was happy to be able to donate an extra 100 oz to a local mom.
Some people have special artists make jewelry from leftover breastmilk. A breastfeeding journey can be a momentous event in a person’s life, and some people want to make a keepsake to mark this occasion. These special jewelers typically combine a small amount of milk with resin to harden and turn the milk into a shiny bead to place inside the piece of jewelry. Common jewelry pieces include necklaces, rings, and earrings. Some can even combine other materials to create colorful truly stunning pieces.
Don’t pump and dump
Many people are concerned about breastfeeding after consuming alcohol. The old advice was dump out any milk you pump after consuming alcohol and to refrain from breastfeeding your baby for several hours (the amount depended on the amount of alcohol you consumed). Now, we know that very little alcohol reaches your breast milk, around 2% according to KellyMom and many people have adopted the stance that if you are sober enough to drive, you can safely breastfeed your baby or feed them any milk you pump during that time. The bigger concern when consuming alcohol can be safely caring for your baby. If you are not sober enough to safely pick up or hold your baby, you should not breastfeed and should have another adult take care of your child. If you’re concerned about any milk you pump during this time, you can mix it with other milk for peace of mind.