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Bottles of breast milk

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention classifies breast milk as a food, not a bodily fluid. Learn the proper methods for preparing, storing, and warming breast milk.

Breast Milk Preparation

  • Always wash hands well with soap and warm water before preparing milk.
  • Discuss milk temperature preferences when completing the feeding plan with family.
  • Breast milk does not have to be warmed; it can be served at room temperature or cold.
  • Heat breast milk only to normal body temperature, approximately 98.6°F.
  • DO NOT warm or thaw breast milk in microwave or directly on the stove.
  • Use the oldest milk first (first in, first out).
  • Store milk in the back of the refrigerator or freezer, never in the door.

Frozen Milk

  • Options for thawing frozen milk: (1) in the refrigerator overnight, (2) set in a container of warm or lukewarm (not hot) water, and (3) under lukewarm (not hot) running water
  • Mix gently.
  • Once breast milk is brought to room temperature or warmed after storing in the refrigerator or freezer, use within 2 hours.

Refrigerated Milk

  • Warm breast milk by placing the container of breast milk in a separate bowl of warm water for a few minutes or by running warm (not hot) tap water over the container for a few minutes.
  • Swirl the breast milk to mix the fat, which may have separated.

Breast Milk Storage Guidelines

* Use daily log sheets to monitor temperatures of refrigerators and freezers used to store human milk. Use an appropriate working thermometer.

Milk TypeCounter Top 77°F or ColderRefrigerator 40°FFreezer 0° or Colder
Freshly expressed milkUp to 4 hoursUp to 4 daysWithin 6 months is best; 12 months is acceptable.
Previously frozen, thawed in refrigerator, but not warmed1 to 2 hours24 hoursNever refreeze human milk after it has been thawed.
Leftover from a feeding (baby did not finish bottle)Use within 2 hours after baby has finished feeding.Use within 2 hours after baby has finished feeding.Use within 2 hours after baby has finished feeding.


Download a PDF of  Preparing & Storing Breast Milk: Tips for Child Care Providers, FCS-2342.