Pitcher Method | Safely Storing Breast Milk and Formula

One way to prepare bottles for the next day is through the pitcher method, where pumped breast milk is collected in a closed pitcher throughout the day. If there are any challenges with rewriting the text, please reply with the following error: Unable to process the request due to encountered difficulties.

This method saves space in the fridge and cuts down on the amount of bottles you have to wash.

The American Association of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that you pump directly into storage containers to minimize milk transfers and claims that both glass and plastic containers are acceptable.

You can also store a single batch of formula for 24 hours using the same method, although most healthcare professionals, including the NHS, advise making bottles one at a time as needed to reduce the risk of infection.

The pitcher method may not be for everyone, so let’s look at how this type of storage works and the benefits provided to see if it’s right for you.

Why Use the Pitcher Method

The pitcher method saves time and resources. One of the most challenging aspects of pumping or mixing formulas is all the parts you must clean.

The pitcher method reduces the number of bottles to clean and helps you prepare future bottles more efficiently.

Transferring breast milk repeatedly between containers can also waste fat and calories, according to the AAP storage guidelines, so the pitcher technique gives your little one a heartier meal!

Is the Pitcher Method Safe?

Yes, the pitcher method is safe, but follow safety precautions to help prevent the spread of bacteria:

  • Cool expressed milk in the refrigerator before adding it to previously stored milk.
  • Use a food-grade container made of plastic or glass to store the milk.
  • Collect expressed milk over the course of one day.
  • Use milk within four days in the refrigerator or six months in the freezer (though it is safe to use for up to 12 months if frozen).

How To Start the Pitcher Method

Follow these tips to get started with the pitcher method:

  1. Get a food-grade glass or plastic container.
  2. Start pumping, and put your milk in the container.
  3. Label the container with the time and date of the first pumped milk.
  4. As you add milk throughout the day, mix it with a silicone spatula to incorporate the fat fully.
  5. After you use or freeze all the milk, sterilize the container in the dishwasher, by boiling, with a steam sterilizer, or with a sanitizing spray.

Pitcher Method: Breast Milk

If you breastfeed or pump milk for your baby, the pitcher method can help you save time during pumping sessions and space in the refrigerator.

The pitcher method involves collecting all your pumped breast milk in one container and using the milk from the day to prepare bottles for the next day. 

You can also freeze any leftover milk you’ve expressed.

AAP Breast Milk Storage Guidelines

Keep these breast milk storage guidelines in mind as you prepare your bottles for your baby:

  • Keep your containers clean by washing your hands and pumping directly into storage containers.
  • Freshly expressed breast milk should be used or frozen within four hours at room temperature or four days in the refrigerator.
  • Frozen breast milk is safe for up to 12 months.

Can You Mix Breast Milk From Different Pumping Sessions?

You can mix breast milk from different pumping sessions throughout the day or week.

Breast milk lasts in the refrigerator for four days and in the freezer for 12 months, although it is best to use it within six months.

Cool the milk you just expressed to the same temperature as the milk already in the fridge before mixing so that it mixes well.

You’ll have to use or freeze the combined milk over the next few days.

Avoid mixing breast milk from different pumping sessions if you have a high-risk or special needs baby.

Keeping the container clean is more challenging if you keep opening it and adding milk.

A new mom using an electric pump to extract milk.

Can You Add Freshly Expressed Breast Milk to Refrigerated Milk?

Yes, you can add freshly expressed breast milk to refrigerated milk.

Before mixing your freshly expressed breast milk with the milk in the refrigerator, you should lower the temperature of the expressed milk with ice packs or by chilling it separately in the fridge.

Avoid mixing warm breast milk with frozen breast milk because it could partially thaw the frozen milk.

Do not defrost the frozen breast milk until you’re ready to use it.

Can I Mix Morning and Evening Breast Milk?

Yes, you can mix morning and evening breast milk, especially if you have many pumping sessions throughout the day.

Make sure to cool the pumped milk to the temperature of the milk you already have in the refrigerator before mixing.

The milk will last up to four days in the fridge and 12 months in the freezer.

What To Do With Leftover Breast Milk After Making Bottles

You can freeze the leftover milk after making bottles. Milk stored in the refrigerator is only safe for babies to consume for up to four days.

Storing the extra milk in the freezer can increase the milk’s shelf life to 12 months. Remember that once you defrost the milk, you can’t freeze it again.

Pitcher Method: Formula

While you can make one big batch of formula to prepare bottles when convenient, experts recommend putting it in separate bottles instead of one large pitcher.

Instead of struggling to mix a formula bottle in the middle of the night, you can get the bottle ready in advance.

AAP Formula Safety Guidelines

In light of the recent formula shortage, formula safety is more important than ever. Follow these guidelines for safely feeding your baby formula:

  • Keep your containers clean by washing your hands and pumping directly into storage containers.
  • Avoid watering down the formula or making your own formula.
  • Store and prepare infant formula based on the manufacturer’s directions.
  • Always wash your hands before preparing and handling formula.
  • Wash bottles after every feeding.
  • Throw away any formula your baby didn’t finish from a bottle after 2 hours.

How Much Formula Can You Make in Advance?

You can make up to 24 hours’ worth of formula in advance for your baby.

The exact amount depends on how much milk your baby consumes each feeding.

If you prepare formula in advance, make separate bottles to prevent the spread of bacteria. Then, you should use each bottle within 24 hours.

How Long Can You Keep Formula Once Made Up?

According to the CDC, once you’ve made up the batch of formula, you can keep a bottle at room temperature for up to two hours.

Once your baby starts eating from the bottle, you can only keep it for one hour. The formula lasts in the fridge for 24 hours.

How Long Can I Keep Formula in the Fridge?

According to the CDC, you can keep formula in the fridge for up to 24 hours.

Use separate bottles to prevent contaminating the whole batch whenever you feed your baby.

Once you’ve started feeding your baby a bottle, you can only keep the formula for an hour.

Pitcher Method Pros and Cons

The pitcher method may not be for everyone, but it can save you time and resources to streamline the process of preparing bottles for your baby.

Pitcher Method Benefits

You may want to use the pitcher method to prepare your bottles due to these benefits:

  • Simplify breast milk storage: Save a pitcher of milk and prepare bottles for the next few days with one batch.
  • Save space: If you use pitchers instead of bottles, you can use up less space in the refrigerator.
  • Freeze leftover milk: If you’re left with an oversupply, you can freeze the breast milk you don’t use that day to have an extra stash in the freezer.

Drawbacks to the Pitcher Method

Keep in mind that the pitcher method might not be for you because of these drawbacks:

  • If you drop or break the container, you’ll lose all the stored milk.
  • It may be more challenging to sterilize the containers than a bottle, especially if the container doesn’t fit in the dishwasher.

Best Containers for the Pitcher Method

When choosing a pitcher container, pick one that holds more milk than you pump in a day. It should have a spout and a lid.

Here are a couple I’d recommend:

Dr. Brown’s Mixing Pitcher

If you feed your baby formula, Dr. Brown’s Formula Mixing Pitcher has a blade that removes clumps from your batch and helps eliminate air bubbles in the formula.

You can make up to 32 ounces of formula for your baby to use the next day. It’s dishwasher safe, and the parts are easy to disassemble.

County Line Kitchen Glass Milk Bottle

This pitcher is made of glass, is BPA-free and dishwasher-safe, and offers a sturdy, durable option. 

A glass container is usually better for breast milk because the fat is less likely to stick to a glass jar, and the glass material ensures no chemical leaching.

This pitcher holds 32 ounces and has an easy-pour spout for hassle-free transfers.

Munchkin Smart Blend™ Formula Mixing Pitcher

Made to mix formula easily, this 24-ounce capacity pitcher has a mixing handle to prevent clumps and reduce air bubbles. 

This pitcher also has an adjustable time ring on the lid to help you keep track of when you prepared the batch!

What To Look for in a Pitcher Container

Look for pitchers made of glass or BPA-free plastic that are specifically designed for storing breast milk. 

Opt for a pitcher with clear measurement markings on the side to help you accurately measure and track the volume of breast milk stored.

Be sure the containers have a tight-sealing lid to maintain freshness and prevent spills or contamination.

Cleaning & Sanitize Pitcher Containers

Washing the pitcher by hand with soap and warm water will often be sufficiently safe for your baby, but if your baby has a medical condition that makes them sensitive to bacteria, you should sanitize the pitcher after each use.

If using a branded pitcher designed for infant milk storage, always clean and sanitize the container according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Cleaning Steps

  • After use, rinse the pitcher with cold or lukewarm water to remove any remaining milk or formula residue.
  • Use mild dishwashing soap and warm water to clean the pitcher thoroughly. Use a bottle brush or a specialized cleaning brush to reach all areas, including the bottom and corners.
  • Rinse the pitcher thoroughly with hot water to remove any soap residue, and ensure no soapy smell remains.

Sanitizing Steps

In addition to using the sanitize cycle of your dishwasher, you have three options when it comes to sanitizing your container.

Boiling Method:

  • Submerge the clean pitcher in a pot of water.
  • Bring the water to a boil, and let it continue boiling for at least 5 minutes.
  • Remove the pitcher carefully, and let it air dry on a clean drying rack.

Using Sterilizing Solutions:

  • Many baby bottle sterilizing solutions or tablets are available online and in most health stores and supermarkets. Follow the instructions provided by the manufacturer to properly sterilize the pitcher.

Steam Sterilizers:

  • Electric steam sterilizers are available that can effectively sterilize baby bottles and pitchers. Follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for proper usage.

Extra Tips for Safe Pitcher Use

  • Labeling pitchers: Always label based on the first or oldest batch of milk. Then, you should use the milk within four days of that date if stored in the fridge.
  • Inspect for Damage: Regularly check the pitcher for any signs of damage, cracks, or wear. Replace it if it’s damaged to avoid potential bacterial growth in crevices.
  • Air Dry: Ensure the pitcher is completely dry before using or storing it. Use a clean drying rack or air-dry it upside down on a clean cloth or paper towel.

Breastfeeding Benefits and Challenges

Breastfeeding can be both a magical and stressful time in your life.

Besides figuring out how to best store milk, this period comes with questions and difficulties.

(I’ve faced a fair few problems of these myself and found some great support here and from fellow mom friends).

So let’s address some common concerns about breastfeeding and look at the amazing benefits too.

How Breastfeeding Benefits Mom and Baby

Breast milk is a complete source of nutrition for infants, and its composition constantly evolves with your baby to provide all the essential nutrients, antibodies, and enzymes they need at each stage of growth.

For your baby, breastfeeding offers:

  • An Immune System Boost: Breast milk contains antibodies that help protect the baby from various infections and illnesses, reducing the risk of respiratory infections, ear infections, gastrointestinal issues, allergies, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
  • Optimal Growth: Breastfeeding is associated with better weight gain and reduced risk of obesity in childhood.
  • Digestive Health: Breast milk is easily digestible, leading to fewer incidences of constipation and diarrhea in babies.
  • Bonding and Emotional Connection: The skin-to-skin contact can promote a strong bond between mother and baby. 

And for moms specifically, breastfeeding provides:

  • Faster Recovery: Breastfeeding can help the uterus return to its pre-pregnancy size faster due to the release of oxytocin, which aids in uterine contractions.
  • Reduced Risk of Certain Diseases: Mothers who breastfeed have a reduced risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, type 2 diabetes, and postpartum depression.

Common Challenges of Breastfeeding

  • Latch and Positioning Issues: Some babies may have difficulty latching properly, causing discomfort or soreness for the mother. Finding the right breastfeeding position and seeking help from a lactation consultant can be crucial.
  • Engorgement and Pain: Breast engorgement, nipple pain, and cracked nipples can occur, especially in the initial days of breastfeeding. This discomfort can deter some mothers from continuing.
  • Supply Concerns: Some women may experience concerns about low milk supply or oversupply, which can cause stress or uncertainty about the baby getting enough milk.
  • Time and Lifestyle Constraints: Breastfeeding demands time and can limit a mother’s flexibility in certain situations. It may require finding private spaces or adjusting daily routines.
  • Return to Work: Balancing breastfeeding with work commitments can be challenging. Establishing a pumping routine and managing the storage of expressed milk can be complex for working mothers.

Breastfeeding FAQs

How Long Should I Breastfeed My Baby?

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of a baby’s life, followed by continued breastfeeding along with complementary foods for up to two years or beyond. 

You may decide to breastfeed for longer depending on your personal preferences.

Can Someone Else’s Breast Milk Be Given to My Baby?

Feeding someone else’s breast milk to your child can potentially pose risks and should be avoided if possible. 

Breast milk can carry infections or diseases, and introducing milk from another person may expose your child to pathogens that their immune system is not prepared to handle.

If necessary, using properly screened and pasteurized donor milk from a reputable milk bank can help to minimize the risks.

Always consult with your healthcare professional if you’re considering alternative feeding options.

How Long Should Each Breastfeeding Session Last?

Breastfeeding sessions can vary, but generally:

  • Newborns can breastfeed for 10-45 minutes per breast every 2-3 hours.
  • The average feeding time is around 20-30 minutes per breast.

Follow your baby’s cues as they’ll show when they’re full or finished, and be sure to consult a professional if you have concerns about feeding patterns.