Breastfeeding mothers often feel confident about feeding their baby breast milk — an optimal source of nutrition designed specifically for them. Now with innovations like breast pumps and refrigerators, moms can easily store that super milk and feed their baby however and whenever they like. But sometimes the quality of stored breast milk can come into question, especially if it looks funny. If your breast milk has separated, does that mean it's gone bad?
Romper spoke with Danielle Spradlin, Certified Lactation Consultant from Oasis Lactation Services, who says that when breast milk separates, it’s not an indication that it has gone bad — it’s just something normal that happens when breast milk sits around for a while. “Separation of pumped breast milk is not an indicator that it is spoiled," she says. "It is only an indicator of how well the fat layer separates while sitting in a bottle.” On her website, Spradlin has a gallery of pumped breast milk, where you can see the variations in what perfectly good breast milk looks like
International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) and registered nurse Mary Kay Smith tells Romper that when human milk is not pasteurized or homogenized, as it cools down, the fat rises to the top. IBCLC Deborah Dominici of Babies' Breast Friend agrees. “Our milk hasn’t been homogenized or pasteurized like cow’s milk, so when the fatty layer sits on top, you can just mix it up again before feeding it to your baby," Dominici tells Romper.
Separation is a natural process, and both Spradlin and Dominici explain that cow’s milk would separate too if it wasn’t homogenized and pasteurized. Spradlin explains that the fat, or cream, layer of breast milk is what you see separating, and because everyone is different, some women will see their milk separating more slowly, or less visibly than others.
If your milk has gone bad, Spradlin says you will notice a sour smell, and it will probably taste bad. “Babies will let you know pretty quickly if the milk tastes bad,” she adds. "They'll refuse it and almost always spit it out.”
According to Dominici, it's very rare for breast milk to go bad if it was stored and handled properly, but if your baby somehow did end up drinking spoiled milk, they’ll likely just throw it up.
So seeing your breast milk separating is no cause for alarm. As long as it passes the smell and taste test and you've been following proper storage guidelines, all you need is a little shake or a stir to make it perfect for your baby.