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Top Tips for Freezing Human Milk

Milk storage bags in a container near an infant.

I recently talked about the common questions I hear about the safety of freezing milk for newborns and infants. Today, I’ll address some questions I get about storage and tips on how best to freeze human milk.

1. What container is best?

It depends.

I would avoid freezing human milk in soft plastic bags if I had a preterm baby or any baby who needed every last gram of fat. That’s because some fat can stick to the sides of the bags.

The glass-or-plastic question has created an ongoing argument with little research to favor one over the other as related to human milk collection and storage. Some components are diminished in both.

I’m a “glass” girl in my own kitchen. There are too many things that scare me about storing food in plastic. I’m more worried about the junk that might leach out of the plastic and into the food. I’m less worried about the diminution of the food components.

For more information on plastic, listen to my podcast with Donna Walls.

The science doesn’t give us much guidance here. Which container you choose for freezing milk depends on your personal preferences. In addition to safety and quality, consider cost and convenience.

2. How should we transport frozen human milk in the car?

It depends.

How long will it be in the car? When do you plan to feed it to the baby?

To me, the simplest method is to simply put the frozen milk into a good thermal chest with several reusable ice packs.

I often use these Comfort Gel Packs, and I’ve also heard good things about Cooler Shock packs. This is not a good long-term solution, but it will probably keep milk frozen for many hours, if done correctly.

I’ve written about traveling with milk by various means of transportation, so be sure to see that post for helpful tips.

3. What about that funny smell sometimes?

Oh, that’s a whole ‘nother post!

When families tell me about the “funny” smell, I want to know what kind of “funny” they’re talking about.

In a previous post, I talked about what could make milk look “funny.” Sometimes, what looks funny can smell funny.

Along the same lines as what I said in the “looks funny” post, there can be pathologic reasons why the milk “smells funny”.” However, that’s not the first thing that leaps to my mind.

My first thought would be that the funny smell is indicative of what the mother ate. Garlic is perhaps the most obvious one. The smell of garlic intensifies in the freezer.

Consider this: I’ve frozen hundreds of pints of pasta sauce, and most certainly, that garlicky smell is much more prominent after the sauce has been frozen. Same for frozen human milk.

4. What if you lose power to your freezer?

It depends.

Ask and answer these questions:

Circumstances? What are your circumstances? Are you anticipating, experiencing, or recovering from a natural disaster? If so, it’s all about risk/benefit.

Timeline:  How long do you anticipate the power will be off? If your electricity is functioning but your unit is not getting power for whatever reason — and if the repair person is on the way to your house — the milk might remain frozen. If your ice cream is still hard, the temperature of your freezer is adequate for freezing human milk.

Resources: Do you have some ice “bricks” or those gel packs? Do you have some thermal chests? If so, does it make more sense to put the milk into the chests with the ice bricks? Does anyone on your block have ice bricks that you might borrow?

Helpers: Can someone on your block help? In some situations, friends or neighbors might have power or even a generator. They be willing to place the milk in their own freezer until yours is working again. Just be sure to label the milk with name, date, and telephone number.

Here’s perhaps the best test: If the milk still has ice crystals, it’s still considered to be “frozen.”

After you store and freeze human milk, your next question might be: How should I thaw frozen milk?

It depends!

Stay tuned for the next post where I will describe different methods of thawing: the dos and don’ts as well as the pros and cons.

What are your favorite tips for freezing human milk? Share your tips in the comments below!

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