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Protecting Frozen Breast Milk During a Power Outage


Hurricane Ian made landfall in Florida this week as a powerful category 4 storm, bringing with it extreme winds, heavy rains, frightening storm surges and widespread power outages to millions in the state. If you’re the parent of a baby and live in Ian’s path — or have to deal with another bad storm in the future — you might be understandably concerned about what you can do with a freezer full of hard-earned breast milk or a fridge full of breast milk or formula bottles if your power goes out.

Experts say there are some steps you can take to keep your milk safe. And if a power outage lasts a while, there are certain rules of thumb to follow to determine when your milk or formula is still good and when, unfortunately, it will need to be tossed. 

Here’s what you need to know about your baby’s frozen or refrigerated milk in the event of a power outage.

How to protect frozen breast milk before a power outage occurs 

Power outages can happen unexpectedly, but sometimes you have a heads-up that one may be coming. If you know you may lose power, follow these tips to protect your milk  beforehand:

  • Pack your milk close together. “If there is room to reposition, it is best to pack the breast milk with as little free space between bags as possible,” says Mayo Clinic certified lactation education counselor Rebekah Huppert, R.N., B.S.N. That may mean stacking the bags on top of each other or next to each other in rows.

  • Put your milk in the center of your freezer. Huppert suggests surrounding your milk with as many “dense frozen items” as you can. Put other frozen goods underneath, on top and on the sides of the milk, she says. If there’s a power outage, the other items in your freezer will essentially serve as ice packs to help keep your breast milk cool.

  • Fill your freezer. “Make sure the freezer is full of frozen goods, buy dry ice or freeze containers of water,” says April Danielle Fogleman, Ph.D., R.D.N., I.B.C.L.C.,  an associate professor of nutrition and an extension specialist and principal investigator of the MILK Research and Education research team at North Carolina State University. The more items in your freezer, the more cold they’ll give off to help keep your milk frozen, she explains.

  • Store breast milk in freezer bags with minimal air. “When freezing milk, allow as little air as possible” in the bags, says Leigh Anne O’Connor, board-certified lactation consultant and La Leche League leader. This, she says, allows you to store the actual milk as close together as possible in the freezer, which also saves some space.

How long is frozen breast milk or premade formula good for if you lose power? 

It’s difficult to say exactly how long your milk will stay frozen, given that factors like how cold your freezer is and how well other items are helping keep the milk preserved come into play. 

But if you lose power, Fogelman recommends that you open your freezer “as little as possible” to try to keep the contents cold. 

The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) says[1] that a full freezer will keep its temperature for approximately 48 hours or 24 hours if it’s half full, as long as the door stays closed. The fridge will keep cold for about four hours, according to the FDA. And Fogelman says to remember this: “The milk is still considered frozen if there are ice crystals in the milk.”

Unfortunately, you can’t refreeze defrosted breast milk — it can break down the nutrients and has an increased risk of bacterial growth, according to La Leche League International.

It’s also important to note that the FDA does not recommend that you freeze formula since it can cause the ingredients to separate. However, if you have already-mixed formula in the fridge, it’s considered good for 24 hours while it’s still cold. 

Once it’s room temperature, formula is good for two hours. If you have ready-made formula that’s been opened, it can sit in your refrigerator for 48 hours. Once it reaches room temperature, it also must be discarded after two hours. 

And it probably goes without saying, but if you’re formula-feeding or combo feeding your baby and you have advanced notice of a big storm coming, try to stock up on formula ahead of time so you have enough to get you through any store closures, flooding situations or power outages.

What to do if your breast milk has completely thawed after a power outage 

If your breast milk has thawed out completely during a power outage, you’ll need to use it or throw it out, Fogelman says. Once your milk is thawed, it needs to be used within 24 hours, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)[2]. And if your milk has reached room temperature, it needs to be used within one to two hours, the CDC advises. 

If you’re pumping, what should you do if you lose power? 

If you have some notice that your power may go out, you’ll want to make sure you have a manual or battery-powered pump available for the just-in-case. 

“If the pump does have a battery, then make sure it is charged,” Fogelman says.

Whatever you do, try to stay on your pumping schedule

“It is important to continue to remove milk as you normally would to maintain milk supply and prevent issues with plugged ducts, engorgement or even mastitis,” Huppert says. “If possible, put baby on the breast to remove milk, even if you have been mostly pumping and bottle-feeding.”

If that’s not possible, Huppert recommends using a manual pump or hand-expressing milk. (She recommends visiting La Leche League International’s website to learn the proper hand-expressing technique.)

If you’ve just pumped and the power goes out, the milk is good for up to four hours.

Power outages happen, but they don’t automatically mean you have to throw out all that frozen breast milk you’ve been storing. Taking steps in advance, if possible, can raise the odds that you can salvage a lot of that breast milk you’ve been saving up in the freezer and even some of the milk you’re keeping cold in the fridge too.





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