Rule of 6: Safe Milk Storage and Serving Guidelines

The rules of milk temperature, storage and use period can be confusing.

An infant specialist I spoke with once said “the rule of 6 is the easiest to remember.” Although the ‘rule’ is not super specific it does help offer guidelines in the grogginess of sleep deprivation and a perplexing pumping/nursing whirlwind. The general rule of thumb is ‘6 hours on the counter at room temperature, 6 days in the fridge, 6 months in the freezer.’

More specifically, see the guidelines below:

*You should always speak with your child’s doctor or a lactation specialist before taking any advice.*

1) Expressed Breast Milk

Warm Room (80-90 °F): Safe Storage time is 3-4 hours until consumption

Room Temp (61-79 °F): Safe Storage time 4-8 hours until consumption

Insulated Cooler with Ice Packs: (~59 °F): Safe Storage time is 24 hours until consumption

2) Refrigerated Milk

Always store milk in the back of the fridge, away from the door, to keep it safe from varying temperatures.

Fresh Milk: (32-39 °F): Safe Storage time is 3-8 days

Thawed Milk: (32-39 °F) Safe Storage time is 24 hours

3) Frozen Milk

Never refreeze milk. Store away from the door for the coldest and most consistent temperature.

Separate Freezer Unit of a Refrigerator can be stored up to 6 months (freezer bags)

Separate Deep Freezer can be stored up to 12 months

Always date the milk before freezing.

*The reference above is for full-term, healthy infants. If you child is premature, seriously ill, hospitalized, follow your doctor’s explicit recommendations for storage guidelines.*

4) Avoid Wasting Milk

Avoid wasting any precious liquid goal by freezing smaller portion of milk such as 1-4 ounces in a storage back and only thawing what you need, when you need it. Store all milk in similar portions in the fridge and for serving. You can always give baby more as they need it!

Yes, milk from different pumping sessions can be combined – but be sure to use the date of the milk first pumped to ensure the storage time is appropriate.

Do not add warm (fresh) milk to a container of previously refrigerated or frozen milk. First, cool the new milk before combining the two.

If your baby does not finish a bottle of breastmilk, it is likely safe to offer it to him/her within an hour or so after they have stopped feeding as long as the bottle is not in an excessively warm environment.

5) How to Thaw Frozen Milk

When retrieving milk from the freezer to serve, plan to thaw slowly in the refrigerator. You should anticipate 10-12 hours for this. It is helpful if you can remember at night or first thing in the morning for that evening!

For immediate thawing, hold the frozen milk container under running water. Begin with cooler water and gradually increase temperature.

6) Warming Milk

I find it easiest to add hot water to a coffee mug and allow the cold milk container to sit in the water until warm. This method is also perfect at a restaurant or friend’s house!

You can also use a bottle warmer

*Do not microwave milk or heat it directly on the stove.*