Freeze Dried Breast Milk 101: Risks, Safety & What Parents Should Know
Pediatricians explain the trend, and why you should proceed with caution.
If you’re a nursing parent, you’ve probably memorized the classic, official Centers for Disease Control (CDC) breast milk storage rules at this point, right? You can pump your milk and store it on the counter for up to 4 hours, in the fridge for up to 4 days and in the freezer for up to a year. But if you’re a new mom and you’re spending a lot of time on social media platforms like TikTok, you may have encountered yet another breast milk storage option: freeze-dried breast milk. Whether you’re intrigued, considering freeze-drying your breast milk (hot tip: do not DIY), or just want to know more about the risks or potential benefits of freeze-dried breast milk, read on to find out what the experts have to say about the buzzy new way of storing breast milk.
What is freeze-dried breast milk?
Freeze-dried breast milk is a way of storing breast milk that involves removing all of the water, effectively turning your breast milk into a formula-like, shelf-stable powder. In recent years, companies like Texas-based Milkify — which you may remember from Shark Tank, where Gwyneth Paltrow invested $400,000 and took a 20% stake in the company, praising freeze-dried breast milk as a product that would “give such agency to moms, to working moms” — have begun to offer freeze-dried breast milk services. The emergence of companies like Milkify and Canada-based Booby Food may be largely responsible for freeze-dried breast milk’s trendiness. It should be noted that freeze-drying breast milk must be done under extremely specific, super-sterile circumstances — it should not be done at home. Each company that offers a breast milk freeze-drying service does it slightly differently, but for the most part, the process is the same.
First, customers typically get a shipping kit of some sort to use to send their breast milk to the company they’ve chosen to do the freeze-drying.
“We then use our patent-pending process to freeze-dry each bag of their breast milk individually, without any contact with equipment or utensils,” explains Dr. Berkley Luck, Chief Operating Officer and co-founder of Milkify, explaining her company’s specific process. “That means each bag of breast milk becomes its own pouch of powder,” that customers can rehydrate back to the original amount of milk by adding water when they are ready to use it.
Is it safe to freeze dry breast milk?
Not all pediatricians agree about whether or not they’re comfortable calling freeze-dried breast milk 100% safe. Freeze-dried breast milk is “probably safe,” says Dr. Uday Devaskar, M.D., a neonatologist and NICU Medical Director at Centinel Hospital if it is done correctly under ideal conditions, though he adds he’s not sure why a person would want to do it.
Meanwhile, Dr. Amna Husain, a board-certified pediatrician at Pure Direct Pediatrics, disagrees. “I do not consider it safe,” she says, “as there are concerns about the remixing process. It must be carefully done to make sure it’s the right dilution.”
Both pediatricians agree, however, that freeze-drying breast milk is far from necessary, pointing out that it’s currently not a service that’s regulated or recommended by any organization that we typically look to to ensure safety. Neither the CDC nor the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) have official stances on the safety of freeze-dried breast milk at this time. Even Luck says that she “encourages all parents to do their research before choosing any freeze-drying service for their breast milk, since this type of service is as-yet unregulated by the FDA.”
Potential freeze-dried breast milk risks
Freeze-dried breast milk is not yet well studied. Because of this, many pediatricians are not yet comfortable endorsing this method of breast milk storage. “Due to lack of available evidence on the nutritional, osmotic concentration, and microbial risks, I feel risks would outweigh any touted benefits,” say Husain. Specific concerns that she calls out surrounding potential risks with using freeze-dried breast milk include:
- Potential contamination in the remixing process
- Freeze-drying does not remove bacteria or viruses present in human milk
“We also have very limited evidence on the effects of nutrient make up regarding temperature and length of storage,” she adds.
There is always a potential for bacterial contamination when freeze-dried milk is reconstituted. While it’s still unclear exactly how risky or not it may be to freeze dry breast milk, Devaskar explains, there “are also no advantages,” echoing Husain’s concerns.
Potential freeze-dried breast milk benefits
Companies like Milkify and Booby Food offer to freeze-dry your breast milk for easy storage, and they claim they can do it safely for families who want to try this method of breast milk storage. “Breast milk requires sterile handling to prevent contamination. Our patent-pending process allows us to freeze-dry individual bags of breast milk without allowing the milk to come into contact with any equipment or utensils,” Luck tells Romper.
Parents use Milkify’s freeze-drying service for several reasons, says Luck. Common reasons include:
- They are out of freezer space
- They are moving or traveling
- Their frozen breast milk is going to expire
- Freeze-dried breast milk powder is 90% lighter than frozen milk and requires no refrigeration, it's much easier to travel with or ship across long distances.
- They are going back to work after maternity leave. “Some caretakers or day cares won’t accept frozen breast milk but will allow formula-like freeze-dried (powdered) breast milk,” Luck says.
Even though Luck is obviously an advocate for this storage method, she still encourages people who are interested in storing breast milk in this way to take care to educate themselves before trying a service, and to check in with their pediatrician to be sure they are comfortable with it.
How long does freeze dried breast milk last?
There is not yet sufficient evidence to demonstrate a safe length of storage time, says Husain, calling this out as another risk that any purported benefits simply does not outweigh — at least for now.
Meanwhile, each company that offers a breast milk freeze-drying service lists their own data about how long the freeze-dried breast milk that they prepare lasts. “We’ve had shelf life testing done by an independent third party lab. With our specific process and packaging, freeze-dried breast milk powder can safely be stored for up to 3 years,” Luck explains of their product.
It seems that freeze-dried breast milk is yet another trend that has emerged in response to the perpetual struggle of moms and breastfeeding people trying to do everything that’s expected of them — by the AAP, by society, by their peers. While no one could blame a person wishing for a magical solution to a very tricky juggle, it’s too soon to say for sure that freeze-dried breast milk is a good, safe option.
Dr. Uday Devaskar, M.D., a neonatologist and NICU Medical Director at Centinel Hospital
Dr. Amna Husain, M.D., FAAP, Board-Certified Pediatrician at Pure Direct Pediatrics
Dr. Berkley Luck, PhD, COO at Milkify