Handling Stored Breastmilk

By Beverly Ann Curtis, APRN, PNP-BC, IBCLC

SWIRL, DON’T SHAKE – those are the directions for remixing separated breastmilk.

Have you noticed that when breastmilk sits in your refrigerator or when it defrosts, there is a thick layer on the top of the milk and underneath that fatty layer, the milk is not as thick? That is how all milk ‘settles’ due to it not be homogenized. Homogenization is a process that makes a liquid not separate.

Obviously we’re not talking about dairies or cows here, but a very precious substance called human milk. Human milk, while sometimes difficult to collect, is actually much hardier in storage than formula and deters bacterial growth. Since your milk is not homogenized, it will naturally separate when stored in the refrigerator or when defrosting. Our tendency is to shake vigorously to mix then to feed. Think for a moment as to what you are shaking. There are actually live cells in your milk that you want to preserve as well as fat molecules. So rather than shaking, just swirl. Swirling involves gently rolling the container in your palms or holding the container upright and moving it in a circular motion so that the milk remixes gently. That’s it!

Remember to handle gently when feeding, warm in a warm water bath, never in the microwave and feed once it is warmed.

Bev Curtis is the former Executive Director of the Breastfeeding Center of Pittsburgh.