Helpful Tips

Breast Milk – Everything You Need To Know

Bottles

There’s no doubt that breastfeeding can provide your infant with all the nutrients they need to develop and thrive. There have been many studies over the years that have focused on the nutritional value of breastfeeding versus formula feeding. Since more moms are taking the natural approach, learning how to properly express and store milk for those times when mom isn’t home has become a big concern, since storing milk incorrectly can be dangerous for an infant’s health.

The best breast milk storage method can heavily depend on how soon you’ll need to use it. For most mothers, collecting and storing breast milk for later use is necessary, especially for working mothers. Below, you’ll find helpful information concerning everything you need to know about storing, using, and expressing breast milk. This guide will also include helpful tips regarding breast milk storage when traveling, and even the pros and cons of pumping compared to hand expressing.

Storing Breast Milk

If you need to pump milk to store for later use, the following guidelines I’ve included here will go over the basic safety precautions you must follow to ensure your breast milk retains all of its essential nutrients for your growing infant.

Before you pump or express milk, make sure you wash all storage containers thoroughly. Each container should be carefully labeled with the date the milk was pumped. If your child is going to daycare, then you must also include their name in addition to the pump date.

The milk should be stored in smaller batches of two to five ounces in order to prevent waste. This can also be based on the age of your child and how much they normally eat per feeding. As an example, a newborn will consume two to three inches per feeding, while a seven-month-old will easily consume twelve ounces per feeding. Any milk left in your child’s bottle should be refrigerated so it can be used for the next feeding. If the milk has been left out for more than two hours it must be dumped.

The milk should be refrigerated immediately after it has been pumped. While milk that’s freshly expressed can stay at room temperature for up to four hours before bacteria grows, however, immediate refrigeration is recommended.

Proper Containers

Proper Containers

The milk should be safely stored in an airtight container at the back of the fridge since this is normally the coldest area. The fridge should have a temp of around thirty-nine degrees Fahrenheit. It’s recommended that you use any milk stored in the fridge within four days of pumping, however, it can remain good for use for up to eight days.

In order to heat up the milk once it’s taken out of the fridge, the bottle should be placed in a bowl filled with warm water. You can also place the bottle under hot running water. Never heat up the milk in the microwave since it can heat it unevenly.

If you need to freeze any extra breast milk, make sure you leave extra room in the bag or container since breast milk tends to expand when frozen. The milk should be stored in the very back of the freezer, never the door.

If kept frozen, breast milk can last for one year. In order to thaw it out, instead of placing it in the microwave, it should be placed in a bowl of warm water and allowed to thaw slowly. Hot running water also works. Once it’s thawed out it must be used within twenty-four hours.

Colors and Consistency

Breast milk can be blue-tinged, tan, cream, clear, white, or even yellow. Some moms are often surprised to find their breast milk changing color at some point. Depending on your diet, your milk can even have a red, pink, or green tint to it. At times, the milk may take on a light rust color, which can indicate that some blood has made its way into your milk.

Over time, you may notice that your milk has changed color, however, it’s also common for the milk to change color throughout the course of the day, depending on what you have eaten or drank.

Normal Changes

During the first month of your newborn’s life, your milk’s color and consistency will change. The color and composition will change in color during the first few days starting off with the colostrum phase. This is the first type of milk your body produces. You will only make a very small amount of it, however, it’s highly nutritious and very concentrated. While it may be clear in color, colostrum can also be very watery and thin, or it can also be orange or yellow and very thick. High beta-carotene is what can cause your colostrum to look bright yellow or a deep orange.

The Second Stage

A few days after birth, the production of your milk will begin to increase as your body starts producing transitional milk. This involves a two-week transitional period, during which time the color of your milk will go from orange or yellow to white.

Mature milk will come in at around two weeks. This milk changes in appearance depending on how much fat you consume.

Once the mature milk begins to flow at the start of a feeding, it will be lower in fat and much thinner. This milk is known as foremilk and it has a light, clear color.

Hind milk is yellow or white and thicker and is the milk that comes out close to the end of a feeding as the fat content in the milk increases.

How Diet Impacts Breast Milk

Woman with healthy food

Most mothers will tell you there are certain foods they can’t eat since they’re breastfeeding, such as food that’s very greasy or spicy, drinks that contain alcohol, or caffeine, and even foods and drinks that are high in sugar. But even if you follow a very healthy diet, what you eat or drink can still have an impact on the appearance of your milk and even the consistency. There are certain medications, supplements, herbs, and foods that can change the color of breast milk. They can also affect the color or your infant’s urine and even yours. While it can be distressing to see a new, vivid color, it’s normal for your milk to change in tint and colors.

A green tone often occurs after you eat foods that contain green dyes. Milk can take on a greenish tint if you eat seaweed or spinach or you drink a green beverage.

Red, orange, or pink breast milk can occur after you eat foods that contain orange, yellow, or red dye. Orange or red fruit drinks or beets can cause the milk to turn different shades of orange, red, or pink.

Blood in Breast Milk

Rust or brown milk is caused by blood from inside the breasts that have leaked into the milk ducts. When the milk looks like rusty water it’s often called rusty pipe syndrome. If you have cracked nipples, blood can also leak into your breast milk. However, don’t panic, this is totally normally. You won’t need to pump and dump. The majority of the time, the bleeding will resolve on its own in a matter of two or three days. However, if you continue to bleed then you may need to meet with your physician for an exam to determine the root cause.

As I mentioned earlier, medication can also have an impact on breast milk color. Certain antibiotics can cause the breast milk to turn black. In most cases, when you’re on a heavy-duty antibiotic, nursing is not recommended during this time. You will need to continue to express your milk and dump it during this time to prevent the milk from drying up.

Breast Milk Looks Watery

Most moms worry that their breast milk is lacking nutrients if it’s watery. Compared to formula, breast milk definitely has a much different composition.

Mature milk is naturally watery and thin, especially compared to formula, but it’s still very nutritious. When you’re nursing, you might not even notice how thin or watery it is. As you pump, the milk may look very watery, then when the last of your milk empties from your breast, you’ll notice that it looks much thicker and creamier. As I mentioned earlier, when you begin a feeding, the first milk that comes out is foremilk, which is lower in fat and much thinner than the hindmilk, which is thicker and higher in fat.

Foremilk

Foremilk’s watery consistency is higher in milk sugars but lower in fat and it’s what gives an infant adequate fluids and provides the brain with nutrition for development. When you start nursing your baby the body will release oxytocin, which causes the thinner consistency. However, there should be no cause for concern since the hindmilk is much thicker and is what contains a majority of the fat in breast milk. However, if your baby is lactose sensitive, then too much foremilk can cause gassiness. In some infants, lactose issues can lead to dehydration. Fortunately, this condition is rare.

After nursing for a period of five minutes, the hindmilk should be released. The high-fat content is good for an infant’s overall growth. Because of this, it’s important that your child nurse for a minimum of ten minutes to ensure he or she receives both the foremilk and the hindmilk.

Should you notice that your milk is too watery the majority of the time, this may be an indication that you’re not breastfeeding often enough. If too much time passes between a feeding the milk tends to become diluted.

Nutrient Loaded Milk

Most pediatricians recommend breastfeeding for at least the first three months of life. Infants who are breastfed tend to have a lower risk of asthma, diabetes, and obesity. It can also lower the mom’s risk of ovarian cancer, postpartum depression, and breast cancer.

Can You Over-Pump Breast Milk?

Once you’ve been breastfeeding for a few weeks your supply will adjust to the needs of your baby. If you need to keep extra breast milk handy for times when you’ll be away from your infant, then you can pump as many times as necessary in order to build up a stockpile. Some moms will pump a couple of extra times a week in order to prepare for when they have to go back to work. However, pumping too often and too much can cause problems for both you and your child.

Some nursing mothers have found that they’ve pumped so much that if they skip a feeding their breasts will become full. Additionally, failing to completely empty the breasts can result in mastitis or plugged ducts. Both mastitis and plugged ducts can be painful and uncomfortable. Mastitis will often require medical attention and can cause the mother to feel symptoms similar to that of the flu.

If an infant is choking, coughing, or pulling away during a feeding this may be a sign of too much milk. When you first start nursing, before your body adjusts to the needs of your baby, this can be pretty common. Within a period of days, the body will adjust the amount of milk it produces in order to meet the needs of your infant, so this problem should cease. However, if you’re pumping too often this can be a recurring problem.

Too much milk can cause stomach issues, fussiness, and gas, in addition to your little one refusing to eat come feeding time. To prevent this, try to avoid pumping an extra supply of milk and shoot for every other day or every third day instead.

How to Store Breast Milk When Traveling

If you want to have extra breast milk on hand when you’re traveling, make sure you bring along the best bottle sterilizer, such as the Papablic Baby Bottle Electric Steam Sterilizer and Dryer and a small breast milk cooler. You may want to bring a second cooler so you will have one for any extra milk you may pump along the way. If you need to bring a lot of stored breast milk, then one large cooler may be preferable.

Additionally, bring along a thermometer so you can keep a close eye on the temperature during the trip. The cooler must stay as cold as a fridge. If you’re traveling with frozen milk then this should also be packed in a cooler. For longer trips, dry ice may be a good option.

If you’re traveling by plane most airlines will allow you to bring along a reasonable amount, although airlines are no more specific than that in terms of exactly how much milk you can bring on the plane. Fortunately, milk is deemed a medical device, so it won’t count as a carry-on. If you’re bringing only three or four bottles you can store them in a cooler bag with some ice packs. Make sure the ice packs are frozen solid before you head to the airport.

When you’re making plans for your trip, make sure you find out ahead of time if there’s a fridge in your hotel room, to ensure you can properly store the milk once you arrive at your destination.

Hand Expressing Breast Milk Versus Pumping

Young beautiful mother

Most moms have been told that if they want to express their milk they need to use an electric pump. But how did mothers express milk before the electric pump was invented? And what can you do if you’ve left your breast pump at home and you’re in desperate need of relief?

Hand expression involves using the hand to compress the breast so the milk will come out. In many cases, hand expression can come in handy and will help to prevent engorgement when moms don’t have access to a pump.

This technique is very effective when an infant has trouble with latching on right after birth. Studies have shown us that moms who expressed their milk by hand tended to nurse for a longer period of time compared to mothers who relied on an electric pump. Additionally, mothers who normally expressed by hand were often more comfortable nursing in front of other people compared to mothers who regularly pumped in total privacy.

Benefits

While expressing breast milk by hand is definitely not for everyone,  some great benefits come with using this technique. Unlike pumping, hand expressing milk is totally free and doesn’t require you to purchase special, expensive equipment. Additionally, the natural feeling of skin to skin contact can also make it much easier for nursing moms to trigger milk ejection. However, hand expression isn’t without its downsides. Expressing milk by hand can take much longer compared to using a pump.

Ultimately, whether pumping is better than hand expressing milk is usually considered a personal choice. If you want to give expressing by hand a shot then you should become familiar with the best techniques to use in order to get the milk flowing. Most moms will begin by gently massaging the breasts, then placing their hands on the areola with the index finger placed directly under it and the thumb placed on top.

When the hands are correctly in place, squeezing gently should cause the milk to start flowing. Even if you’re determined to use a pump, learning how to express by hand is a must in the event you forget your pump at home and you’re stuck out and about or at the office with engorged breasts. If you’re not sure how to go about hand expressing your milk, meet with a lactation consultant for tips and tricks on the best way for you to hand express.

Related Questions

What Can Be Transmitted Through Breast Milk?

There are certain viruses that can pass through breast milk. Additionally, mothers with hepatitis C can transmit the virus through the milk, but more research is needed in order to determine for certain how commonly this can occur. However, if the mother has cracked or bleeding nipples, their infant will be at a higher risk of contracting viral infections.

Do You Have to Sterilize Bottles after Each Use?

Yes. Learning how to sterilize bottles will help to keep your baby healthy and prevent the ingestion of mold or spoiled milk that has clung to the cracks and crevices in the bottle. Most pediatricians recommend sterilizing bottles and other equipment after each feeding until an infant is at least six months old, which will give their immune system a chance to develop some antibodies. However, other pediatricians will encourage parents to continue to sterilize the bottles until twelve months of age. To learn more, click here to read my ultimate guide on how to sterilize bottles.

How Does Breastfeeding Help Mothers?

Breastfeeding can help to burn extra calories, promoting faster weight loss after pregnancy. Nursing will also release the hormone oxytocin, which will help the uterus to return to the size it was before pregnancy. The release of oxytocin can also minimize uterine bleeding after birth. Additionally, studies have found that breastfeeding can also reduce a woman’s risk of certain cancers such as ovarian and breast.

Final Thoughts

I hope this breast milk guide has helped to answer some of the most common questions new breastfeeding moms have concerning the colors and consistency of the milk, how to properly store it, and how to safely travel with breast milk. Learning how to keep a stockpile of fresh milk on hand, in addition to properly storing it can be a challenge since many new parents have so much to learn in the beginning. But by following the guidelines I have included here, you can rest assured that your baby will get all the fresh breast milk they need in order to grow and thrive.