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Power outage? Here’s how to pump and store breast milk

Keep the liquid gold flowing when the lights go out

On left, breast milk inside of bottle and pump. On right, breast milk stored inside of pouches in fridge. Credit: Reviewed / Getty Images / Natalya Trofimchuk / Aliseenko

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As winter weather sets in, so do a new set of concerns for pumping mothers: the possibility of power outages. If you are a nursing parent who needs to keep your pumping schedule for milk production—as well as to ensure the preservation of previously frozen breast milk—it is critical to have a plan for when the power goes out.

While it's always a good idea to invest in a backup generator if you live in an area that's especially prone to power outages, the good news is that most power outages come with some warning so you can take steps to prepare even if you don't have one.

Making sure that you have everything you need for safely storing breast milk is the key to weathering power outages without stress.

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1. Charge your pump and plan for backup power

As a rule, make sure to keep all items powered between sessions; especially your pump.

If your pump has the ability to run on batteries, keep these on hand. Be sure to check that you have an ample supply of the correct size batteries so that you can power through several pumping sessions.

You should also have a power cord for your pump that works in your car on the chance that the power outage lasts longer than you expect. Since your car’s power supply works off of the battery, you can pump in the peace (and warmth!) of your car.

2. Purchase a hand pump

Person holding breast pump filled with milk on counter next to filled baby bottle.
Credit: Reviewed / Getty Images / Erstudiostok

Although a manual hand pump may take a bit longer to express your milk, they're a good back-up to keep on hand.

If you’re an exclusively-pumping mom, emptying the breasts fully is the key to avoiding uncomfort or, worse, an infection like mastitis. Don’t run the risk of not being able to pump because your electric pump runs out of charge.

One easy solution is a hand pump, a relatively inexpensive and absolutely priceless item. The Medela Harmony is a reasonably priced manual breast pump, and it’s recommended by Torrey Potter, RN IBCLC thanks to its “two different handle positions to help control the speed/suck.”

$29 at Amazon

3. Prep your freezer

Prior to the storm, get your freezer organized. The goal is to keep all existing frozen breast milk in the center of an absolutely packed freezer. "The key to keeping things frozen is having a full freezer. A full freezer should remain frozen for up to 48 hours without power. A half-full freezer is only safe for 24 hours or less," advises Dave Ellerby, Chief Scientist at Reviewed.

If you do not have enough food in your freezer to encase the milk, Chrisie Rosenthal, IBCLC offers this idea, “fill plastic bottles with water and put the bags in their own tightly surrounded spot”. You should not be able to see the milk.

Remember not to open the freezer once the power goes out, as keeping it closed helps maintain the cold temperature. Attach a “do not disturb” sign to remind yourself and other family members not to open the door.

4. Invest in a cooler and ice packs

An insulated cooler is the key to keeping newly-pumped breast milk fresh. Stocked with plenty of ice packs (or just bags of ice) the cooler will work as a temporary fridge for your milk and a place to safely store your breast pump parts until you’re able to fully clean them.

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5. Stock up on supplies

Packets of stored breast milk surrounding a baby bottle.
Credit: Reviewed / Getty Images / sawaddee3002

Keeping a nursing supply that is readily on hand can put your mind at ease in the event of a power outage.

You’ll need to have plenty of milk bags—and a marker to label them—for any milk that is pumped during the storm.

Keep extras on hand of any other gear that’s part of your pumping routine. This means an ample supply of clean bottles, pump supplies, cleaning wipes, and anything else that you find necessary for pumping comfort.

$29 at Amazon

6. Have a stash of nursing-friendly snacks

An adequate milk supply requires a well-hydrated and nourished parent. Make sure you have plenty of bottled water on hand, as well as a selection of your favorite non-perishable foods and snacks that encourage lactation. A bag of lactation cookies will satisfy your sweet cravings while also helping your supply.

$23 at Amazon

7. Dress comfortably—and practically

A nursing bra with dual access will allow you to use the same bra for both pumping and nursing. Ingrid and Isabel makes a super smooth Cooling Pumping and Nursing Bra which is perfect for the longer haul of a power outage. Purchase more than one so you have a backup in case of leaks.

$50 at Ingrid and Isabel

How to manage pumping breast milk during a power outage

Alternate between pumping, breastfeeding, and using pumped milk during a storm. According to Rosenthal, the exact formula will vary by parent and baby depending on the baby's age, parent's milk supply, and how much breast milk the baby is getting.

In general, it's a good idea to rely on breastfeeding at the breast as much as possible. Focusing on feeding at the breast will maximize the time before you need to access your milk stash.

Keeping on a regular nursing and pumping schedule is important in order to ensure that your supply doesn’t dip after the power outage.

How long is frozen breast milk good for?

Freshly-pumped breast milk can be stored safely in an insulated cooler with ice packs for up to 24 hours.

Thawed, previously frozen breast milk is good for up to 24 hours. Never refreeze breast milk after it has been thawed as it increases the possibility for bacterial growth.

If you’re freezing breast milk that’s freshly pumped, it will last 6 to 12 months, though it’s recommended to use it sooner rather than later.

How to thaw frozen breast milk

Always use the oldest breast milk first. You can thaw frozen breast milk either by putting it in a refrigerator overnight, setting it in a bowl of warm water, or simply holding the bag under warm running water. Once breast milk is brought to room temperature or warmed, use that milk within two hours.

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