When I think back to those early years of pregnancy and motherhood, breastfeeding is one of those things that I thought would be easier than it was.
I tried to prepare by going to birthing classes, reading books, and talking to friends and family. But there was just no way of knowing exactly how things would turn out.
Nursing always struck me as something primal and basic, a process that all mammals seem easily equipped to perform second nature. The kind of thing where instinct just takes over. Birthing the baby is the hard part, right? Once that’s over, you just pop that new baby onto your breast and you’re good to go!
Except that’s not exactly how it went for me. Once I navigated the myriad of latching issues (who knew there could be so many?!) that resulted in painful, cracked, and sometimes bleeding nipples, there were other difficulties lurking.
With my first daughter, I fought a clogged milk duct. Think kidney stone inside the nipple… it was like nursing with a shard of glass.
With my second, a nasty case of thrush came on suddenly and hung on with stubborn persistence. Breastfeeding was painful and inevitably, my stress and discomfort swiftly passed on to my daughters.
While nursing is a wholly natural, beautiful, and healthy exercise, it’s not always easy and there is a multitude of reasons why new moms might decide to pump. In addition to the problems I experienced, mothers decide to use pumping when they go back to work, let dad and other family members feed the baby, draw out inverted nipples, and maintain their milk supply, just to name a few.
When moms decide to pump for any length of time, storing the saved breast milk becomes an important concern. If not stored properly or discarded in time, bacteria can grow, contaminating the milk and spoiling it.
What Happens if Your Baby Drinks Spoiled Breast Milk?
Typically, the first signs of a child consuming spoiled milk are expressions of discomfort, such as fussing, rejection of the bottle, and squirming. If you notice any of these, stop feeding immediately and check the breast milk for spoilage.
If your baby has swallowed any of the spoiled milk, they might have an upset stomach, which can lead to vomiting and in rare cases, diarrhea. If your baby vomits, let them get it all out. Hold them upright, in a burping position, rubbing their back to get all of the bad milk out of their system.
Once the spoiled milk is out of the baby’s stomach, it will likely be just fine. If symptoms persist, a fever develops, or you’re concerned about dehydration, it’s best to call your pediatrician.
Breast Milk Storage
Once you’ve decided to incorporate pumping, knowing how to safely store breast milk is essential. Keeping breast milk fresh will prevent running into issues of spoiled milk. Some moms who exclusively pump to feed their babies will go through it quickly and will likely have less to store. For those who stock up on breast milk, knowing where to keep it and for how long is even more important.
Breast milk can be spoiled due to improper storage. Feeding a baby spoiled breast milk can cause a variety of unpleasant and problematic symptoms. Luckily, prevention can be simple when you know the facts. According to the CDC, there are specific guidelines for proper storage and you can read the article in its entirety here.
Here are the basics. With freshly expressed breast milk, you have three options: feed it to the baby, store it in the refrigerator, or freeze it.
- Room temperature: 4 hours
- Refrigerator: 4 days
- Freezer: 6 months (ideal) to 12 months (acceptable); do not refreeze
- Deep freezer: 12 months; do not refreeze
Some lactation consultants use the handy “rule of six” (take note that it’s a little outside the parameters of the CDC guidelines):
- 6 hours on the counter
- 6 days in the fridge
- 6 months in the freezer
Breast milk will last longer in a deep freezer vs a refrigerator-freezer, as the temperature is colder and more stable. Thawed, previously frozen breast milk must be consumed in one to two hours or it can be refrigerated for one day. Never refreeze breast milk after you thaw it.
When following storage guidelines, remember that you can’t start the clock over if you change the method. For example, if you’ve had breast milk in the fridge for several days, you can’t toss it into the freezer and buy yourself six-twelve more months.
Normal Breast Milk
Despite your best efforts, breast milk can still spoil and you will need to know what to look for if that happens. But before we can discuss spoiled breast milk, it’s important to know what normal milk looks, smells, and tastes like. It’s also helpful to know that there is a wide range of “normal” when it comes to breast milk.
The first milk produced by a lactating mother is colostrum, nicknamed “liquid gold” for its golden color and tremendous health benefits, including high levels of nutrients, antibodies, and antioxidants. It’s made of white blood cells that build the baby’s immune system and is typically yellowish in color and thicker than breast milk.
Colostrum turns to transitional breast milk within two to four days and about two weeks after that, mature milk comes in and lasts throughout the breastfeeding process. It’s perfectly normal if the transitional milk has an orange tint. Mature breast milk is typically watery and whitish or bluish in color, resembling watered-down skim milk.
It’s normal for breast milk to change color slightly, this can be caused by eating particular foods, taking supplements, or certain medications. Milk can change throughout the day and even within the same pumping session. Foremilk is more watery and thin, while hindmilk is a little thicker and fattier.
Good, healthy breast milk has been described as smelling and tasting like cantaloupe juice, cucumbers, and even honey. It’s milder and sweeter than cow’s milk. It can sometimes have a soapy smell, which is perfectly natural due to the high levels of lipase, an enzyme that helps break down fats. Breast milk that has been frozen and thawed can smell slightly sour, which is also normal (more on that later).
Good Storage Habits
How you store breast milk can determine its freshness and safety. The two most important aspects of storing breast milk are the temperature and the storage container.
When stored in the refrigerator, breast milk should be stored in the back, never in the door, where the temperature is coldest and most consistent. A refrigerator-freezer is ideal for keeping milk good for up to six months. A deep freezer will keep it fresh for up to a year, since the door isn’t opening and closing often, ensuring a more stable temperature.
Breast milk should be stored in milk storage bags or plastic or glass containers specifically designed for freezing breast milk. All containers should be clean and sealed to prevent contamination, which can lead to spoiled breast milk.
3 Common Signs of Spoiled Breast Milk
So now that we know the look, smell, and taste of good breast milk and how to keep it fresh, let’s learn about the signs and health risks of spoiled breast milk. The best way to tell if your milk has gone bad is to use your senses.
Breast milk naturally separates once it’s stored, with the fat rising to the top and the watery part falling to the bottom. When it’s still good, the liquid will easily mix together with a simple swirl of the bottle, bag, or container. If it doesn’t mix together or there are chunks floating in the breast milk, it’s probably gone bad.
If you’re not sure, take a sniff to determine the milk’s smell. If there is a rancid odor or it smells like sour milk, it’s a good idea to toss it. The sniff test can be a little complicated because previously frozen breast milk can have a sour smell once it thaws. To test this theory, freeze a small batch for a few days and thaw it out. Since it’s been frozen for such a short time, if it smells a bit sour, your breast milk is safe despite the scent.
It’s worth mentioning that some babies will reject previously frozen milk. If that happens, you can scald your breast milk through direct heating before freezing it and it should resolve this issue.
To scald your breast milk:
- Heat your breast milk in a small pan.
- Wait until small bubbles form around the outside.
- Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
- Store and freeze as usual.
Taking a small taste of your breast milk can help determine if it’s still good. It won’t taste quite like cow’s milk, but as long as it’s not rancid or foul, it should be fine. Similar to the breast milk smell, its taste can be a little sour and still be normal. Follow the steps outlined above to be sure. If it tastes “off” or you think it’s bad, it’s best to throw it out.