Don’t be misled by recent studies saying that breast milk stored in the refrigerator for one day or frozen for three days may cause harm to premature babies.
While there are indications that stored breast milk may lead to gastrointestinal disease in preemies, the lead researcher of the study, Dr. Alexander Penn of the University of California in San Diego, admits that week-old frozen breast milk still had less toxic effects than infant formula.
"So I'd say that if my only choice was stored breast milk or formula, I'd still go with the breast milk," said the doctor.
What are the risks?
Dr. Penn’s research, which was unveiled in late January during the American Society for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition's annual conference in Orlando, Florida, showed that breast milk stored in the refrigerator for one day or frozen for three days degrades the quality of the milk.
An enzyme called lipase turns the milk solids to unbound fatty acids. These acids may have adverse effects like cell death or cytotoxicity to the intestines of premature babies.
Preemes are more prone to other diseases and conditions simply because they were not yet fully developed upon delivery.
During the study, researchers used enzymes (lipase and protease) and saline solution (a sterile mixture of salt and water) to digest the frozen and refrigerated breast milk. Breast milk stored for three days at 4°C showed 41 percent cell death while breast milk frozen for three days at -20°C had 18.5 percent cell death.
How to store breast milk
The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the following for storing breast milk:
For healthy, full-term infants:
• maximum of five days in a refrigerator at 4°C
• 6-12 months in a freezer at -20°C
This does not apply to premature infants.
Based on Dr. Alexander Penn’s study, it is best to have preemies feed directly from the breast or with freshly expressed breast milk.
In the end, fresh breast milk is still best for baby.
Dr. Diana Sarmiento is a mother of three, part-time doctor, and a full-time wife and mother. The topics closest to her heart are women’s health, parenting, and any new information that she can get her hands on. Read more on her personal blog, Filipina M.D.