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Breast Milk Left Out Too Long? Here's How To Tell If It's Still OK To Feed Your Baby

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Breatfeeding is touted as the most natural way to fed your baby, but most women find it anything but easy. Not only is the act of nursing itself very complicated, but so are all the guidelines and procedures that go into pumping and storing your milk. Remembering all the details of proper milk care, like time limits and leaving your milk at room temperature, in the fridge, or frozen isn't simple. Like, what if some of your breast milk is left out too long? Do you have to dump breast milk that smells OK? Pouring out liquid gold that could still be good is not something any breastfeeding mother wants to do.

According to Leigh Anne O'Connor, International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), dumping breast milk that's been sitting out but still smells OK might not be totally necessary. "I encourage my families to taste breast milk and get a sense for what your personal milk tastes like," she tells Romper, "If the milk smells fine and tastes fine, it is likely fine." Kelly Mom confirms this, noting, human milk that has truly soured typically has a distinctly sour smell and taste, just as soured cow's milk does. If it doesn't smell or taste distinctly sour, it should essentially be safe to feed your baby.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are a few things to keep in mind when storing your breast milk. Expressed breast milk can be kept at room temperature (up to 77 degrees Fahrenheit) anywhere from six to eight hours (though use or proper storage within four hours is optimal) in a covered container. The container should be kept as cool as possible, like in a shaded corner away from any heat source (like the stove or steam from a dishwasher).

If you're transporting expressed milk to and from work or travel in an insulated cooler bag, make sure ice packs are surrounding the milk at all times and limit opening the bag up — milk can be kept this way for up to 24 hours. When refrigerating the milk, make sure to keep it in the main body of the fridge, not in the door compartments, where the temperature is a little warmer. Milk can be kept in the fridge for up to five days (though use or freezing within three days is optimal).

I know, that all seems pretty confusing and complicated. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) offers this conservative and easy to remember guideline to help you keep track of your milk — follow the rule of fours. Four hours at room temperature or four days in the fridge is best for keeping milk safe and fresh.

Keep in mind that your own individual milk can have different spoiling days than the norm. For instance, your milk's taste might begin to change after the fourth day instead of the fifth. Doing regular taste tests can help you figure out when exactly your milk is starting to turn, so you can offer it to your baby or freeze it before it goes bad. Once milk turns rancid, it cannot be salvaged, noted Kelly Mom.

Writing dates and times of when you expressed the milk will also help you to keep track, because as we all know, parenthood tends to make us slightly more forgetful (use dry erase markers directly on pump bottles if you're not as inclined to transfer the milk to a bag, like me).

If you are thoroughly confused (as I was) about the best methods for expressing and storing breast milk, getting in touch with your pediatrician or local lactation consultant is always the best option. But generally, if your milk smells and tastes OK, it's probably OK.

Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.