Protecting a freezer stash of breastmilk during power outages

When my local weather nut tells me that we are going to get buried under 18-30" of snow in the next couple of days and the Eastern seaboard is in for a full-on blizzard, I believe him. That leads me to thinking about keeping my house warm and my freezer frozen. When there's a stash of breastmilk in the freezer, this becomes even more important. Read on, lactating parents...

Get prepared ahead of time

Before the weather gets crazy, get prepared the best you can:

  1. A generator that could keep your freezer going would be ideal, but we are hearty New Englanders right?!
  2. Do your friends or neighbors have a generator? Or a chest freezer if you don't? Ask for help! We did this for people during Hurricane Irene.
  3. Fill all empty freezer space with ice, either frozen bottles of water, blue ice, dry ice, even containers of snow. A full freezer can stay cold twice as long as a half full one! Up to 48 hours says the USDA.
  4. Turn your freezer down as cold as it will go.
  5. Transfer any breastmilk from the small freezer in your fridge to the bottom and center of a deep chest freezer. Keep it packaged all together.
  6. Make sure you know where your batteries, car adapter, and/or manual pump are in case you need to pump in a power outage. Learn how to hand express!

During the storm

Try to keep the milk from thawing:

  1. Keep your freezer closed! Keep the cold air in!
  2. Your milk should be just fine in a full, unopened chest freezer for the first 48 hours.
  3. Feed your baby directly from the breast as much as possible.
  4. Are you exclusively pumping? Use those car adapters, battery packs, or a manual pump to express milk into a bottle or cup for your baby.

During an extended power outage

If your power is out for more than a couple of days, you're going to need to replenish the ice in your freezer to keep the milk frozen:

  1. Know where to purchase dry ice in your area. This should tide you over for an extra couple of days. (Be careful with it! No bare hands)
  2. Reach out to friends and neighbors for help.
  3. Is there snow on the ground? You can refreeze ice packs outside and restock the freezer. You can also pack containers full of outside ice and snow to use in the freezer. Transferring your milk stash outside into a snowbank may be an option if you have a shady, cold, protected area that isn't going to get direct sun.

Safely using your milk

Current research on thawed and thawing breastmilk:

  1. Milk with any ice crystals in it is still considered frozen! It is safe to use or refreeze.
  2. Traditional wisdom is that milk that has completely thawed must be used in 24-48 hours. If you have a premie or baby with special health concerns, be extra cautious with these time recommendations.
  3. More current results of studies on the refreezing of breastmilk vary. Some studies indicate that refreezing recently thawed milk is ok, others discourage it.

Stay safe and warm everyone!
Marissa Potter
Birth Doula, Childbirth Educator

(And P.S. If you're needing a breastpump, check this out)