Can Breast Milk Get Freezer Burn? How to Stop It

can breast milk get freezer burn

Freezer burn on breast milk is common but can be prevented. It happens when milk is exposed to air in the freezer. Storing milk in airtight bags/containers and not overfilling them reduces air exposure. Freezer burn just dries out milk, it doesn’t make it unsafe. Scraping off any icy areas on mildly burnt milk is fine to use. Severely burnt milk should be tossed out.

Seeing those white spots and icy areas on your frozen breast milk can be disheartening. Freezer burn not only ruins the texture, but you worry if it’s still safe for your baby. While unsightly, rest assured that mild freezer burn doesn’t make milk unsafe. With some precautions, you can avoid deep freezer burn and tossing out your liquid gold stash. Storing milk properly by limiting air exposure is key. Scraping off the affected areas on mildly burnt milk allows the rest to be used. Learning what causes freezer burn and how to prevent it helps protect your milk supply.

The Frustrating Discovery

It starts innocently enough – you’ve just finished nursing and place a precious bottle of breastmilk in the freezer. Weeks later when you take it out, your heart sinks. That liquid gold now has white flecks in it. Swirling it reveals icy chunks floating in the separated milk. 

We’ve all been there – sitting on the floor of the freezer, ready to cry over yet another bag with freezer burn. You dread having to toss out more of that milk you worked so hard to pump. 

As a new mom, I remember that feeling vividly. My freezer looked like a science experiment gone wrong, filled with the icy remains of my pumping efforts. I was constantly having to thaw new batches since so much had to be thrown out.

Don’t Despair – You Aren’t Alone

Freezer burn is a common breastmilk dilemma. Those frustrating white spots and dry icy bits happen to stored milk when it’s exposed to air. The oxygen oxidizes the fat and causes dehydration.

I used to think I was doing something wrong since it kept happening. But after polling my mommy friends, I learned they had all faced deep freezer burn too. One mom even said she had to chip the milk out with a knife because it was so solidly icy!

The truth is that freezer burn can affect even milk stored properly. But there are ways to reduce it, and even use mildly burnt milk. Learning what causes it and how to prevent it empowers you to protect your liquid gold.

What Exactly is Freezer Burn?

When you open your freezer and see those tell-tale white specks or dry spots on your breastmilk bags, you’re looking at freezer burn. It’s a process where the milk essentially dehydrates in the freezer due to air exposure.

Spotting the Signs


Freezer burned milk will have some obvious visual cues:

– White or grayish spots or flecks on the surface of the milk. These dry, icy areas indicate where the milk has dried out.

– Changes to the color of the milk, often a more yellowish hue. 

– Crystals or icy chunks floating within the milk. These happen as the fat separates.

– The milk will look separated, with the fat congealed. It will have a stringy, mucus-like consistency when swirled.

– The milk may be darker yellow closer to the bottom of the storage container where more separation occurred.

The tell-tale signs are dry spots and ice crystals. The freezing process has pulled moisture out of the milk. While unappealing, frozen breastmilk with freezer burn is still safe for baby. It does alter the taste and texture though.

Unlike spoilage or contamination, freezer burn isn’t a food safety issue. It simply indicates dehydration of the milk rather than bacteria growth or spoilage. Rest assured it won’t make your little one sick. The main concern is whether baby will accept the taste and texture change.

The Culprit is Air Exposure

The main cause of freezer burn in pumped breastmilk is air reaching the milk’s surface. When milk is exposed to oxygen, it sets off a process of oxidation and dehydration.

Air can sneak into storage bags and bottles through small gaps or cracks in the seals. Opening the freezer door frequently also leads to temperature fluctuations that introduce air.

The storage containers themselves play a role. Plastic bags are convenient but allow more air flow than hard sided bottles or containers. 

Even properly sealed bags will slowly leak small amounts of air over time. The longer milk is frozen, the more opportunity there is for air exposure.

Other Contributing Factors

Along with air reaching the milk, there are some other factors that increase the risk of freezer burn:

– Low fat content – Skim and low fat milk is more prone to freezing damage since there is less protection from fat. Creamy milk freezes best.

– Storage container head space – Leaving too much room at the top for expansion can expose milk to air. 

– Frequent freezer opening – The temperature fluctuations when opening the door frequently causes ice crystals.

– Freezer temperature issues – An improperly functioning freezer that rises above 0°F introduces early crystallization.

– Extended freezing times – The longer milk sits frozen, the more chance for air leakage into containers.

while air exposure is the main culprit, being aware of these other risks allows you to optimize storage and minimize freezer burn.

Nutrition Content Remains Intact

The most important question about freezer burned breastmilk is whether it’s still safe for your baby. The reassuring news is that the proteins, fats and other nutrients are not degraded by freezer burn.

While the texture and taste is altered, the nutritional content remains intact. Freezer burn doesn’t introduce any contaminants or bacteria. So mildly affected milk can still offer excellent nutrition for infants.

When Can It Be Used?

Mild to moderate freezer burn is usually safe for babies to consume. Here are some guidelines:

– With mild burn, scrape off any icy bits and use the rest of the milk as normal.

– If the burn is moderate, do a taste test first before a full feeding. Watch for rejection.

– Severe burn with extensive icy areas and yellowing should be tossed out.

– Older milk with burn may be refused by babies due to taste.

– Freezer burnt milk won’t keep as long once thawed. Use within 24 hours.

There are exceptions where you may wish to avoid using affected milk:

– For premies or immunocompromised babies where food safety is critical.

– If your baby is prone to intestinal issues like reflux or gas.

– If your baby repeatedly rejects even mildly burnt milk.

When in doubt, it’s best to err on the side of caution and discard milk. But in most cases, mild freezer burn doesn’t make breastmilk unsafe for healthy, term babies. Just be alert to any tolerance issues.

Choosing the Right Containers

The best way to avoid deep freezer burn is to use proper storage containers. This limits that pivotal air exposure that dehydrates your milk. 

Hard plastic bottles with tight sealing lids or screw tops are ideal. They provide an airtight barrier and sturdy structure. Square sided bottles hold up better than rounded ones. 

Freezer bags are convenient but riskier. Opt for thicker, high quality bags with a secure zip seal closure. Lay bags flat rather than standing up to minimize air pockets.

Avoid glass containers which can crack and break in the freezer. Also steer clear of cheap thin plastic bags that easily tear and let in air.

Storing Bags and Bottles

Along with the right containers, proper filling and sealing is crucial:

– Express excess air before sealing, gently pressing bags to squeeze out space.

– Leave an inch or so of room at the top of bottles or bags for expansion as milk freezes.

– Secure lids tightly and double check zip seals on bags.

– Double bagging provides extra protection. Place sealed bags into a secondary bag.

– Store bags flat or horizontally to minimize air pockets.

– Freeze right away after expressing, don’t let milk sit out.

With some care when storing and sealing your milk, you can severely limit freezer burn issues.

Salvaging Freezer Burnt Milk

Okay, so you’ve taken steps to avoid freezer burn but you’ve still ended up with some affected bags. Don’t dump that liquid gold just yet! With minimal burn, you can salvage some or even all of the milk.

If there are just small flecks or dry spots, simply scrape off the icy portions with a clean spoon and feed the remainder as normal. Gently swirl the milk to distribute the fat evenly again. You can place the container in warm water to thaw if needed.

For more extensive burn, do a taste and smell test on a sample after scraping. If it smells and tastes okay, try a small serving before fully feeding. Watch baby’s reaction. 

If there is any discoloration or sour smell, toss the milk. Don’t take risks with milk that is extensively freezer burnt. Remember it won’t keep as long once thawed either.

When In Doubt, Throw it Out!

If you have any hesitation about feeding affected milk, it’s best to simply let it go. No milk stash is worth an upset little tummy or lethargic baby. 

Erring on the side of caution protects your peace of mind too. We moms already have enough worries. Freezer burnt breastmilk isn’t worth second-guessing.

While researching proper storage and handling can minimize deep freezer burn, having to discard some milk may still happen. Don’t anguish over spilled (or frozen) milk! Just keep on pumping and storing so you have plenty for baby.

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