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Expressed breast milk: Do we get it all wrong?

Health By Dr Ombeva Malande
Photo: Courtesy

Dear Dr. Ombeva,

I have a two-month-old baby, and will soon be returning to work. I am not sure about use of formula milk, and would like to be expressing my own breast milk and storing it for the baby. I think I have enough milk, and can express adequate amount to feed the baby until I return in the early evening hours. Kindly advise me on how best to go about expressing breast milk and keeping the milk hygienic. Hilda

Dear Hilda,

Thanks for your question. You, like many other moms, express breast milk for their babies to feed on when they are away from home. The question is how long should the expressed milk be kept before it is discarded?

 Should the milk be kept in a deep freezer? If frozen, how should it be warmed? Should plastic bags be used to store the milk? And are steam electric sterilizers better than boiling when sterilizing feeding bottles?

Expressing breast milk helps mothers to keep babies on exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months. Buy a breast milk pump brand that also has available bottles that fit well on the pump, so that after pumping, the milk is stored directly.

 It is wrong to store breast milk in plastic or polythene bags. The milk should be kept in the feeding bottle, covered nicely, then put in a refrigerator. Keep the milk for maximum 24 hours.

The recommendation (of storage life of up to six months for a temperature kept below 39 degrees) applies only to huge breast milk banks, especially in countries with institutions for communal breast milk collection systems for infants who for one reason or another cannot breastfeed often due to unavailability of mom, orphan hood, etc.

In our setting however, with unstable electricity supply, and multi-purpose fridge use, expressed breast milk should at best be kept for shorter periods. In any case, the mom can always come back later in the day to express more “fresh milk.”

When time comes to feed the baby, put the milk bottle in a jug or bowl containing boiled water, to warm the milk indirectly. Once warm, wash your hands, and open the cover of the bottle (nipple side), press out some drops over the back surface of your hand, to see if the milk is warm enough. If warm, go ahead and feed it to the baby.

Never should you touch the nipple of the bottle when going to feed the baby. The milk bottle should then be washed in warm boiled water, with soap, and once clean, put into cold water on a large enough sauce pan, and heated to boiling for about 15 minutes, then left to cool until the bottle is cool enough to be used again. Boiling is better and more reliable than using a steam sterilizer.

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