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Breast Milk Storage Guide

In order to ensure that expressed breast milk is of the highest quality and safety for a baby, there are important factors that hospitals and breast milk banks must take into consideration when storing breast milk. 

This guide will show you the recommended storage and preparation techniques to take into account, as well as various software and IT applications that can support the safe storage of breast milk.

The Importance of Breast Milk Banking and Storage

Breastfeeding is an important part of raising a child. It’s essential for the child’s growth and cognitive development, and is widely regarded as being key to their health and wellbeing. The World Health Organisation recommends that babies are breastfed within the first hour of life, and exclusively for at least the next six months after. 

However, some mothers are unable to provide breast milk for their infants or do not want to physically breastfeed themselves, and this is why breast milk banks are so important. 

Breast milk banks collect milk from donors before processing, storing, and distributing the milk to children who need it. Breast milk banks are particularly important for providing milk to babies during a natural disaster or other emergency, as well as to premature babies or infants in need of special care.

In order to maintain the nutritional and immunological qualities of breast milk, it is vital that it is stored in the correct way. Correctly storing breast milk will keep all of its qualities intact, whilst also keeping away any harmful bacteria from spoiling the milk. 

When feeding a premature or otherwise ill infant, giving them the correct milk that has been stored in a safe way is essential. Therefore, it is vital that all breast milk collected from donors is labelled and stored correctly so that it can be administered as soon as the baby needs it.

woman holding breast milk

Benefits of Human Breast Milk for Premature Babies

Breast milk donated to a milk bank is vital for helping babies who cannot breastfeed get the important nutrients they need during the first six months of their lives. There are many reasons why some babies cannot be breastfed; premature babies are often very fragile and may not have the strength to breastfeed. 

In addition, some mothers have difficulty producing enough milk for their babies, or otherwise find the process to be too difficult or painful to continue. What’s more, certain medications or underlying health conditions may result in the breast milk not being healthy enough for the baby. What’s more, mothers who are recovering after a long or complicated childbirth may be unable to breastfeed. Finally, infants may end up being separated from their mothers, such as through a natural disaster.

Most scientists agree that a baby’s mother’s milk provides the best nutrition. That said, donated milk can provide more health benefits than formula milk when breastfeeding is not possible. Formula milk is often derived from cow’s milk, and therefore does not provide the same benefits that human milk provides. These benefits include:

  • Protection from illness and infection: Human milk provides bacteria that is helpful in protecting the baby from illnesses and infection.
  • Support for the baby’s immune system: Antibodies and enzymes found in human milk provide support for the immune system.
  • Protection for the baby’s digestive system: Helpful bacteria found in the milk protects the digestive system.
  • Compounds that help with the baby’s development: Long-chain fatty acids help develop the baby’s brain, eyes and nervous system.
  • Hormones: These hormones help regulate the baby’s appetite and also to develop a healthy sleeping pattern.
  • Stem cells: Stem cells are essential for organ development.
  • Oligosaccharides (prebiotics): Prebiotics help to support a healthy gut for digestion and absorbing nutrients. 

These benefits are particularly helpful for babies born prematurely. Mothers of premature babies produce breast milk with different qualities from regular breast milk. This breast milk contains more proteins and minerals (like salt) and contains easily absorbed fats that help with brain development, which is particularly important for premature babies. The helpful bacteria found in human milk also helps protect premature babies’ weaker immune systems. Premature babies who drink human milk rather than formulated cow’s milk are also less likely to develop harmful infections.

Premature breast milk stored in breast milk banks can be immediately provided to premature babies, especially when the mother is unable to breastfeed – particularly essential if the premature birth was an emergency operation. Giving them human milk within the first hour of birth is vital to keeping them healthy. Therefore, correctly labelling and storing milk in a breast milk bank are essential for ensuring each baby gets the milk they need when they need it.

The Importance of Breast Milk Banking and Storage

Because correctly labelling and storing breast milk are such important procedures, there are many stages involved in the milk banking and storage process. Before they can donate milk, donors must undergo careful screening. 

Many breast milk banks and health providers, such as the NHS, have strict guidelines when it comes to screening potential donors. Typically, donors will consist of women who produce more milk than their baby needs or women who have lost their baby but are still producing milk. 

The tests involved in the screening will often include a thorough evaluation of the potential donor’s medical history and lifestyle, as well as blood tests for various diseases and infections, including but not limited to:

  • Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)
  • Hepatitis B & C
  • Syphilis
  • Human T Cell Lymphotropic Virus (HTLV)

Breast milk screening can typically take a few weeks to complete, so donors are advised to continue expressing milk during this time. 

Once a donor is selected, they are given specific instructions on how to collect breast milk, how to store it and send it to a breast milk bank. The process is different for different milk banks, but typically they will supply sterile bottles, labels and instructions on getting the milk to them. Donors are often required to have access to their own breast pump. The bottle should be labelled with the name of the donor and the date, and then put in a freezer. The label should state whether it is standard breast milk or premature breast milk.

The frozen milk is then sent to the milk bank, where it is thawed and medically screened. It is then pasteurised, which involves heating the milk to kill any potentially harmful bacteria. Some beneficial components are lost during this stage, but, overall, the nutrition and health benefits of the milk are preserved. After pasteurisation the milk is re-frozen before being screened again to make sure any harmful bacteria haven’t grown to unsafe levels during the process. 

Once the milk is certified to be safe, it is ready to be given out to any infant that needs it. It remains frozen until it is needed, at which point it is thawed and must then be consumed within 24 hours.

Ensuring the Safety of Donated Breast Milk

It is essential that milk is kept safe during the storage process, especially if it is to be given to premature or otherwise ill babies with weaker immune systems. The pre-donor screenings are vital for ensuring that the milk is completely safe to be given to the baby. 

After expressing milk, the donor should place the bottle in a freezer to prevent harmful bacteria growing. Ideally this should be done immediately, but it can be done up to 24 hours after expressing. Most donations to a milk bank are sent completely frozen. 

To ensure the milk is completely safe for the child to use, NICE (the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) have produced a set of guidelines that breast milk banks must follow. These guidelines relate to screening potential donors, handling and processing breast milk and safely storing milk. 

The guidelines also offer advice on how to safely transport milk so that it remains frozen, transporting the milk in secure containers to prevent contamination, as well as ensuring employees are well-versed in safely collecting the milk from donors and transporting it. 

baby laying next to frozen breast milk
baby drinking milk from the bottle

NICE Guidelines: How to Safely Store the Milk

When it comes to safely storing the milk in a milk bank, NICE guidelines state that the milk is processed in a clean environment, with employees wearing gloves when handling the milk. 

  • Pasteurised and unpasteurised milk should be stored in separate freezers and refrigerators. 
  • Milk awaiting pasteurisation should be stored in a freezer at –20 degrees Celsius for no longer than three months after it has been expressed. 
  • Before the pasteurisation, the milk should be thoroughly thawed and kept in a refrigerator for no longer than 24 hours. 

The guideline for pasteurisation is as follows: 

  • Pasteurise donated milk at 62.5 degrees for 30 minutes in a human milk pasteuriser. 
  • Rapidly cool the milk to a temperature of 4 degrees or lower. 
  • Remove one bottle for testing if appropriate, then move the remainder of the batch to the freezer.

After pasteurisation, the milk should be re-frozen and kept in the freezer for no more than six months. The lid of the bottle should not be opened until the milk is ready to be used.

Following these guidelines means that the milk will be safe for the baby to use. It is also important that the milk is tracked from the donor to the hospital. This should include freezer temperatures, pasteurisation processes and stock control. The bottle should be clearly labelled with the name of the donor, the date expressed, what type of breast milk it is and the donor’s medical history (where appropriate).

How Savant and the Li-LAC Service Can Help Breast Milk Banks

Tracking and labelling the breast milk is of the utmost importance in milk banks. Hospitals need to be sure that a baby is getting the right breast milk for them. The Li-LAC breast milk labelling & tracking system from Savant can help breast milk banks accurately track and label breast milk bottles, ensuring the safety and quality of the milk. The Li-LAC service records and labels all of the relevant information so that a baby is getting the breast milk that it needs.

The Li-LAC services consist of two applications: 

  • Li-LAC MMC (Maternity Milk Checking) 
  • Li-LAC MB (Milk Bank)
breast milk in a bottle

Li-LAC MMC (Maternity Milk Checking)

The Li-LAC MMC is an app that runs on a handheld smart scanner. The app is used in a Special Care Baby Unit (SCBU), Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) or maternity unit to control all aspects of breast milk labelling, checking and tracking. It also checks whether the milk is safe to use and records all feeds. 

The Li-LAC MMC is hugely beneficial to a milk bank because it ensures that the wrong mother’s breast milk will not be given to a baby and that spoiled or otherwise unsafe milk will not be given, which significantly improves the safety of the milk being given. The Li-LAC MMC acts as a second check for the feed, thereby reducing staffing requirements at the point of feeding.

Li-LAC MB (Milk Bank) 

The Li-LAC MB is an app that manages all aspects of donated breast milk, including processing, testing, tracking, authorisation and issuing. It’s beneficial to milk banks as it complies to the NICE guidelines on breast milk safety, provides a single accessible database of all information relating to breast milk donors and allows for easy tracking of breast milk from the donor to the milk bank to the recipient hospital.

Ultimately, the Savant Li-LAC service helps breast milk banks and hospitals manage breast milk donations. The labelling and tracking system allows staff to accurately track every bottle of breast milk donated at every step of the process, ensuring that the milk always remains safe, and that staff can quickly find the right breast milk for the baby. 

woman feeding newborn with a bottled milk

Looking for a Breast Milk Tracking & Labelling System?

Get in Touch

Savant is a company based in Cumbria that provides innovative services and bespoke software to companies in the health sector (including the NHS) and beyond. 

With more than 30 years of experience and offering bespoke software for a number of devices, including PCs, tablets and smartphones, and with dedicated 24/7 IT support, we at Savant have all the credentials to help out any business. 

To find out more get in touch with Savant today to discuss the above breast milk storage solutions with a member of the team. 


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