If you're breastfeeding, you probably learned as much as you could about pumping, storing, and reheating breast milk before your baby was born. But the more specific ins and outs of breast milk storage, like knowing whether or not breast milk can get freezer burn, is probably not something you read up on.
Then, one day, you take out a bag of frozen breast milk to find it covered in icy crystals and get a whiff of something that smells a bit off. It reminds you of that time you put chicken breasts in a Ziplock bag without sucking all of the air out, only to pull them out of the freezer and see them discolored and covered in ice — the tell tale signs of freezer burn. You panic, whip out your phone, and Google like a mad woman because you definitely don't want to feed your baby something that isn't good for them. And what do you find?
"Breast milk is food. Any food can get freezer burn," Danielle Downs Spradlin, IBCLC, CLC with Oasis Lactation Services tells Romper. Welp.
Freezer burn occurs when moisture leaves food that is frozen and turns into ice crystals on the exterior of the food, thereby dehydrating and oxidizing it, according to a report by The Kitchn. "Freezer burn can happen to any food, due to drying out and oxidation," Lynnette Hafken MS, IBCLC with Rockville Lactation tells Romper. "Oxidation is the chemical reason responsible for turning sliced apples and avocados brown."
This can certainly occur with breast milk just as easily as it can with other foods stored in the freezer, considering that breast milk can be kept in the freezer properly stored for up to 6 months per the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
How can you keep your stash of frozen liquid gold from falling prey to freezer burn? This is simply a matter of proper storage, according to IBCLCs. "Air is a component of freezer burn, so getting as much air out when closing your storage bags may help," Kristin Gourley, an IBCLC with Lactation Link, LLC tells Romper.
When you're closing up your breast milk storage bags, allowing extra air to accumulate at the top of the bag could give extra space for moisture to evaporate from the milk, causing freezer burn.
"If using ice cube trays, use a lid to prevent things from falling in your milk and to reduce air flow over top of it," Spradlin says. "Unsealed food in the freezer can dry out, including your milk. When it’s thawed, it might have some dried solids in it. When in doubt, ask yourself if you would store any other food you eat this way."
Additionally, Hafken recommends alternative storage methods when you intend to store your breast milk for an extended period of time. "If you are storing milk for more than a few weeks, double bagging it will keep it safer. Storing milk bags in a Tupperware container would also work," she says.
So, freezer burn can definitely happen to your frozen breast milk, but does that make it unsafe to give to your baby? Per USDA food safety guidelines, freezer burn does not make food unsafe to consume. This includes breast milk, which is, after all, food for your baby.
"You can still use it, but just like with meat, etc. it could affect taste," Gourley tells Romper. "Some babies may be more particular than others about it."
If you notice your breast milk is freezer burned, it is likely OK to still feed to your baby if they will take it, but Hafken cautions that some extremely freezer-burned breast milk might have lost too much moisture to provide sufficient hydration.
"If it is only slightly freezer burned, it is safe, but may have a bad taste. If the milk is extremely desiccated (dried out), it may not have a high enough water content to meet the baby’s full hydration needs," Hafken tells Romper.
Ultimately, using your best judgement when dealing with freezer-burned breast milk will help keep your baby safe, well-fed, and healthy.
Kristin Gourley, IBCLC with Lactation Link LLC
Danielle Downs Spradlin, IBCLC, CLC with Oasis Lactation Services
Lynnette Hafken MS, IBCLC with Rockville Lactation