Did you know there are alternatives to single-use plastic bags for storing breastmilk? Because consumers are aware of the harmful effects of single-use plastic, more options exist than traditional plastic breastmilk storage bags. Yes, choosing a plastic-free breastmilk storage method can be more involved and require more freezer space. Yes, storing all your breastmilk without plastic might not be feasible. And yes, something else might work better for you and your needs. But, if you’re looking for plastic-free, non-toxic options, you’re in the right place. There are many!
Why avoid plastic storage containers?
Before we get into plastic-free alternatives, let’s discuss why you might want to consider them. Plastics contain thousands of chemicals that can leach or migrate into the food or drink stored in them. We then ingest those chemicals upon consumption. It’s not just bisphenol-A (BPA), a known and well-studied endocrine disruptor, that we want to avoid. Plastic containers can also be made of other bisphenols, phthalates, perfluoroalkyl chemicals, nonpersistent pesticides, and perchlorate, all of which are known to be hazardous. The leaching of chemicals from the plastic to the food/beverage intensifies when the plastic is heated. So, if we put warm breastmilk into plastic containers or bags, freeze them, and then heat the milk in the plastic bag/container, we increase the risk of exposing those chemicals to our babies.
Aside from the health risks, plastic breastmilk storage bags are examples of single-use plastic that are not recyclable. They end up in our landfills, polluting our environment and exposing us and wildlife to harmful chemicals.
To reduce exposure to these chemicals and to avoid contributing to plastic pollution, it’s best to avoid storing food and beverages in plastic containers. Fortunately, there are great options for breastmilk storage that avoid plastic!
Plastic-Free Breastmilk Storage Options
There are three categories of plastic-free storage containers for breastmilk: glass jars, silicone bags, and silicone ice cube trays.
Glass is preferred for storing breastmilk (and all food and beverages). It is durable and inert, meaning it doesn’t leach chemicals. Small mason jars are perfect for breastmilk storage, but any glass jar works. Ensure to get BPA-free lids (traditional mason jar lids are lined with BPA). Mason Bottle makes glass jars for breastmilk storage. With a few different top options, you can turn a small mason jar into a breastmilk storage container, a bottle, and a food storage container. When freezing, leave room at the top of the jar to allow for expansion so the jar doesn’t break. To thaw safely, place the jar in lukewarm water for about 20 minutes, leave it on the counter for 1-2 hours, or put it in the refrigerator. You can sterilize the jars by running them through the dishwasher or boiling them in water for 20 minutes.
A downside to glass storage is that the jars take up a lot of room. Depending on how big a stash you want and need, it is not feasible to only use glass.
Silicone bags specifically for breastmilk storage have emerged in the past few years. Silicone is made from naturally-occurring silica, and silicone bags are lightweight, BPA-free, easy to clean, and more compact than glass jars. Zip Top makes a set of silicone breastmilk storage bags with a stand to hold them. Haakaa, Junobie, Momcozy, Purifyou, and Nuliie are other options. Just make sure to store them upright. Using a container in the freezer to keep the upright is advised.
Place the bag upright in warm water or store it in the refrigerator to thaw.
A downside to silicone bags is that they are expensive and aren’t readily recyclable (though you can use them for toddler snacks and other food storage!). Depending on how many bags you need, using only silicone bags might be prohibitively expensive.
Breastmilk Storage Trays
Finally, you can use breastmilk storage trays. These are ice trays made of silicone with removable covers to protect the milk. You pour the breastmilk into the tray and carefully place it in the freezer to freeze. Once frozen, you can transfer the cubes to a larger silicone bag or glass jar for longer-term storage. To thaw, remove the cube from the tray or the bag, place it in the bottle in the fridge, or leave it at room temperature for 1-2 hours. You can also set the cube in the bottle and then place the bottle in warm water for 10 minutes. Tiny Tot Innovations, WeeSprout, and HIWOOD make great trays to use for breastmilk. You can also use them for homemade baby purees or flavored ice cubes.
The trays enable you to store smaller quantities of milk, which helps reduce wasting milk. But, as you transfer the entire tray to the freezer, you might spill a bit, so it’s essential to be careful in that transfer.
You can safely store your milk sans plastic by choosing one of these three options. And remember, you can always use a combination of plastic and these storage methods. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good!
Abby K. Cannon is an attorney turned dietitian who lives a very eco-friendly lifestyle. She created Abby’s Food Court to make a healthy, low-waste life approachable, doable, and FUN. Mama to two boys, Abby is passionate about helping you upgrade your health (and life) with hacks that are low-impact on your lifestyle and high-impact on the planet!