In general using stored breast milk (also known as expressed breast milk or EBM) is as easy as popping the breast milk in a bottle and feeding away. If you are concerned about bottle feeding your breastfed baby, see my link below to an excellent article on "Offering a Bottle to Your Breastfed Baby." But assuming all is well in that department, there are still a few important details to know when feeding stored breast milk to your baby.
Milk Separation is Normal
When milk is stored in the refrigerator or at room temperature, it is totally normal for milk stored in the refrigerator to separate with a cream layer on top. This does not mean there is anything wrong with the milk (cow's milk does this too if not homogenized!). Simply swirl the milk gently in the container to remix.
Warming or Thawing Breast Milk
The best way to warm or thaw breast milk is simply by placing the container holding the milk under warm running water. Frozen milk can also be pre-thawed in the refrigerator before warming for a feeding. For a slightly greener approach than using running water, place the breast milk in a container of heated (not boiling) water. Fancy bottle warmers are really not necessary.
Never place breast milk in a pot of water on the stove, and *never* microwave breast milk. Either of these methods remove more of the nutritional value than necessary. In addition, microwaves heat unevenly and can cause "hot spots" in the milk which can burn the baby.
It's important to also note that warming breast milk may not be necessary for your baby. I did this diligently for weeks before getting lazy once and just giving her the breast milk cold. It made absolutely no difference in her acceptance of the milk or the amount she drank. And it's much easier to pop the milk out of a cooler bag when out and about and not worry about where and how to warm it up. This may not be the case with all babies, but it's worth trying!
Reusing Milk From Feedings
There is some debate about whether it is ok to save unfinished milk from a feeding and use it again. With formula feeding, this is not acceptable. The common recommendation for breast milk is the same.
However, according to La Leche League, there are anecdotal reports from mothers that there does not seem to be problems with this. There doesn't appear to be scientific evidence one way or the other. However, do not refreeze previously frozen milk. Once unfrozen it should be kept refrigerated for up to 24 hours, and used or discarded (regardless of whether the thawed milk is fed over more than one feeding).
For my part, I will tell you that I re-fed refrigerated breast milk all the time. My daughter drank very small amounts of fresh expressed breast milk while I had to pump at the beginning to increase my supply after a poor breastfeeding start. I pumped bottles and we fed them back. If she didn't finish it, I changed the nipple, put the milk back in the refrigerator and used it until it was gone.
Do note that reusing milk in this way is not the official recommendation of most "official" groups. It's really up to you if you want to give it a try. But in my mind, throwing away formula after feedings, while expensive, is not the same thing. Breast milk is like liquid gold. Every ounce represents time on the pump for a busy tired mama. I feel that if it's not truly necessary to throw it away for health, then it's too precious. Seeing as how breast milk is known to have antibacterial properties that formula does not, I'd love to see some real studies to answer this question and make it easy for mothers.
Using Stocks of Frozen Milk – Before stocking up on major amounts of frozen breast milk, it might be worth a quick test to make sure your baby will drink it. Frozen milk does have a slightly different smell and taste than fresh milk – sometimes described as sour. Some babies are not bothered by this at all, but it's worth testing before your pre-pumped stock of milk becomes the primary piece of your feeding plan.
La Leche League's site on milk storage (linked below) talks about a way to eliminate that taste, which appears to compromise nutritional value slightly, but still better than formula.
Incidentally, if you do end up with more milk stored than you can use and your stash is approaching the 3 month mark, do contact your local milk bank, as many can still take donations of frozen milk within 3 months of pumping date.
For more information on pumping, storing and using stored breast milk, also see my articles "Breast Milk Pumping and Storage Basics" and "How to Store Breast Milk" through the Related Links section below.
Disclaimer: All material on the BellaOnline.com Breastfeeding website is provided for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. Although every effort is made to provide accurate and up-to-date information as of the date of publication, the author is neither a medical doctor, health practitioner, nor a Certified Lactation Consultant. If you are concerned about your health, or that of your child, consult with your health care provider regarding the advisability of any opinions or recommendations with respect to your individual situation. Information obtained from the Internet can never take the place of a personal consultation with a licensed health care provider, and neither the author nor BellaOnline.com assume any legal responsibility to update the information contained on this site or for any inaccurate or incorrect information contained on this site, and do not accept any responsibility for any decisions you may make as a result of the information contained on this site or in any referenced or linked materials written by others.