Keeping your frozen breastmilk safe during a power outage

With the calendar now declaring it’s March and springing our clocks forward, daydreaming about spring is sure to follow. Warmer, sunnier days. Park play dates. Nature returns to green. Soon we will be opening the windows and breathing in fresh spring air once again! Just like the poem says, March roars “in like a lion” still cold from the winter but with hopes of spring, it sweetly ends going “out like a lamb.” And with it brings weather with similar personality changes – sometimes at a moment’s notice. Mark Twain once said, “In the spring I have counted one hundred and thirty-six kinds of weather inside of four and twenty hours.” Intense storms. Surprise blizzards. Avalanches. Floods. Tornadoes. And power outages are often their unwelcome companion. Which can be a pumping mother’s worst nightmare – all that liquid gold is suddenly in danger. So here are some tips to keep your frozen breastmilk stash safe and your pumping efforts afloat.

Often in the case of a power outage, a mother’s first thought is about preserving her frozen breastmilk. So let’s start with the obvious – preventing the milk from completely thawing. Rule #1: do NOT open the freezer until you absolutely must – it lets the cold air out and warm air in. The fuller your freezer is, the longer everything stays frozen = so load it up with extra ice or water bottles to fill that empty space. The USDA found that if remained closed, a full freezer will hold its temperature for about 48 hours (24 hours if half-full). And here’s the best piece of news: if ice crystals are still present on the milk (or it appears slushy), then it is still considered frozen and is safe to consume or return to a working freezer for further storage! So keep that baby closed as long as possible if you don’t have a generator or friendly neighbor with power that is willing to store your milk. And if you have some forewarning, store your milk in the middle/back of the freezer between other frozen products to keep it protected and frozen longer.

In the case where the milk has completely thawed, current guidelines state that it must be consumed within 24-48 hours (24 hours if your baby has any immune issues or concerns or is a preemie) and it should NOT be refrozen because the bacterial growth and loss of antibacterial activity in thawed milk varies widely based on a number of factors including the thawing technique & duration, age of the milk, and the amount of bacteria in the milk when expressed*. An interesting study in Breastfeeding Medicine (2006) explores this further if you want more information.   

Another common concern, especially for exclusively pumping mothers, is how to continue pumping if you only have an electric pump. Many electric pumps now offer car adaptors and/or battery packs, and some can even be converted to manual use. Consider purchasing one of these options and becoming familiar with its use beforehand for peace of mind in the case of an emergency. Not every mother has a hand pump for back-up or knows how to properly hand express milk. Effective hand expression is a skill that every mother will want be comfortable with for a variety of reasons and this video is a great guide!

Power outages can be completely nerve racking for a mom who has stored away a stash of hard-earned breastmilk, but with these tips you can breathe much calmer knowing all hope is not lost. Here’s a little recap:

·      Don’t open the freezer after you lose power! A watched pot won’t boil but frozen milk will thaw.

·      Milk that has ice crystals and/or is slushy can be used or refrozen.

·      Once completely thawed, milk should be used within 24-48 hours.

·      A car adaptor or battery pack is a great thing to have on hand for electric pump emergencies.

·      Learning to effectively hand express milk is a skill every mother needs to know!

So while we all daydream of spring flowers and sunshine, a few storms may come our way. Whether it’s roaring like a lion or gentle as a lamb, March is still sign that spring is on it’s way! And for that we are celebrating!

*Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine’s 2010 “Clinical Protocol #8: Human Milk Storage Information for Home Use for Full-Term Infants