You’re probably not counting up the exact number of hours you’ve spent pumping milk, but it’s safe to say that pumping milk for your baby is a labor of love. Each drop of milk is incredible and incredibly precious.
So what do you do when you have a bottle—or deep freezers full!—of leftover pumped breast milk that you can’t use?
It happens more often than you might expect. Maybe a bottle was left out too long to re-feed your baby with, or you accidentally thawed a bit too much milk for their meal. Your little one might develop an intolerance to something in your diet, or you might find that you have high lipase levels in your milk. And eventually, your little one will wean.
The idea of tossing breast milk, though? It’s heartbreaking to mamas who have spent so much time and energy creating that beautiful milk. Thankfully, there are lots of great options out there.
Is Your Breast Milk Expired?
Before you dismiss milk as unusable for feeding your baby, double-check its condition. You can feed your little one breast milk if it:
- Is freshly pumped (of course) and up to four hours afterward at room temperature
- Thawed for up to 2 hours afterward at room temperature or up to 1 day if refrigerated
- Leftover from a feeding for up to 2 hours afterward
If your milk has been hanging out in a deep freezer, it can safely stay there and be used for up to one year. However, once it comes out of the freezer and is thawed, never refreeze it!
Four Things to Do With Leftover Milk
Donating leftover breast milk is hands down one of the biggest acts of generosity you can undertake as a breastfeeding mom. Whether you are donating to a close friend or family member or through a donor breast milk bank or your local hospital, your milk can give vulnerable infants the best possible nutrition.
If you're considering donating through a milk bank, be prepared for a thorough screening process. Because most babies receiving donor breast milk are fragile, it's important to be transparent about alcohol consumption, drug use, smoking, nutrition, and pre-existing health conditions.
Once you've undergone the screening process, the hospital or milk bank will send a shipping container designed to safely transport your milk. Your milk then is logged in their system, tested, bottled, and pasteurized. (And then tested again—it’s a thorough process!)
There are numerous sites online for breast milk sharing. Most of the mothers that use them are truly looking to be helpful, but they do pose risks. Donors and the milk shared or sold through these networks don’t undergo the rigorous screening and testing that hospitals and milk banks use.
If you’ve visited Pinterest lately, you’ve likely seen hundreds of pins for different ways to use breast milk in home remedies for everything from sore nipples to conjunctivitis to acne. These treatments aren’t just old wives’ tales—studies have found that breast milk offers anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, and anti-microbial benefits across the spectrum.
Note: While breast milk therapies are widely used, they aren’t a replacement for medical care. Please consult your primary care provider if your baby is experiencing medical issues.
Ways You Can Use It
Topical application of breast milk can be as simple as just dabbing a bit of breast milk on your skin to aid healing. Popular uses include:
- Sore or cracked nipples
- Insect bites and stings
- Minor cuts, burns, and wounds
- Eye and ear infects
Lotions and Soaps
Breast milk doesn’t need to stay in its original form to be beneficial for your baby (or you!). Breast milk can be used to make wonderfully moisturizing lotion and gentle soaps. All you need are a few easy-to-find ingredients, some craftiness, and, of course, your breast milk.
If lotions and soaps aren’t a realistic project for you, there’s a simpler route to similar results: breast milk baths. Yes, the ones you’ve seen from those adorable baby photoshoots. However, breast milk does more than provide a lovely background for baby pictures. It can be added to everyday baths to help moisturize and fight against uncomfortable skin conditions.
Breast Milk Treats
If you’ve had a teething baby, you know first-hand how uncomfortable the process can be. Breast milk popsicles are a perfect way to use up leftover breast milk. Freeze by itself or blend with fruit for a special treat for older babies.
If your baby has added solids to their diet, breast milk purees and smoothies are other nutritious snacks for them. While there are lots of recipes available, all you really need to do is sub the liquid in your usual recipe with breast milk and voila!
Did you know that you can also sub breast milk for other liquids in baking? Try this recipe for breast milk pancakes!
If you have a small amount of breast milk stored and you’re looking to commemorate your breastfeeding journey, a piece of jewelry that encapsulates your breast milk can be a lovely keepsake. Companies like Precious Mammaries, Beyond the Willow Tree, and Mama's Liquid Love are all popular options for rings, earrings, bracelets, necklaces, and other accessories that utilize your breast milk.