She Says… Yucky Milk

Yesterday I defrosted some breastmilk I had in the freezer. Breastmilk is good for about three months in the conditions of my freezer (stored on the middle shelf of a freezer attached to my refrigerator, which gets opened quite a few times a day), and since I started putting milk away back in September, I have some bags that are nearing their “use by” date. I figured I would defrost a few and use them so they wouldn’t go bad and then put my extra fresh milk in the freezer to be used in another few months. I have used frozen milk before with no problem, but this time something was different. I defrosted the bag in the refrigerator overnight and when I went to use it, it smelled GROSS. Not like spoiled milk, really, just… gross. Kind of plastic-y. And VERY strong. I could smell it from across the room. I store the milk in Lansinoh bags, which ARE plastic, but they are made for milk storage and are BPA free, so I figure that the plastic smell isn’t harmful.

Since it smelled so weird I didn’t want to give it to Owen. I dumped it down the drain, assuming it had not been frozen properly or was past its due date. Sadness! I worked so hard for that milk! I thought maybe the issue was with defrosting overnight, so I thawed another frozen bag in warm water. It smelled awful too. This time I tasted it, thinking that maybe it was just the smell of the plastic, but the milk was fine. Strangely enough, it was not spoiled. It tasted… off… but was not the smell of curdled or rotten milk. It tasted kind of salty, but generally like my milk normally tastes.

Then I remembered reading something about lipase in the past. Lipase is an enzyme that breaks down milkfat when the milk is stored, and some women find that their milk takes on a soapy or metallic taste when it is frozen when they have an excess of lipase. Apparently the milk is perfectly fine to feed your baby, but some babies reject it because of the funny taste. I am not sure if this is the issue with my frozen milk, though, because I’ve used other frozen milk without any issues. Has anyone out there experienced this issue in milk that’s been frozen for a long time, but not a short time? I’m thinking of defrosting some other milk today, spot checking to see when the strange smell happens (after 1 month? 2 months? only near the “end” of the storage time?).

Since I tasted the milk and it didn’t seem spoiled to me, I gave it to Owen as some of his milk before bedtime (3 ounces out of the 6 or so he usually eats). He was a bit fussy while eating and didn’t eat quite as much as usual, but he did take it and then promptly fell asleep like normal. No weird spitting up or poop or gas issues to speak of, so I think I can assume that the milk was ok. “They” say that babies won’t drink spoiled milk, so I figured if he didn’t take it, I should toss everything that smells that way. So I’m operating under the assumption that the issue is lipase.

Seriously, though, how many strange breastfeeding issues do I have to deal with? I think I’ve had my fair share. If Owen will accept small amounts of the smelly stuff, I can mix it in with my fresh milk and then freeze some more now for future use. I’ve read that if you scald your milk before freezing that it reduces the amount of lipase and helps with the funny smell.

Part of me wants to just give up on freezing if it is that complicated because I have a good groove going with exclusively pumping right now and I’m just about keeping up with Owen’s intake (since we started solid foods he’s eating a more normal amount of milk, like 28 ounces a day, which is just about what I can pump). I have a system that works well with pumping and giving him only fresh milk, and supplementing with formula when I can’t keep up on a given day. Since he takes the formula happily, we could always use that if I needed to travel or be away from him.

I don’t know, though, I still have visions of breastfeeding until he is a year old. Maybe that’s crazy. Benjamin certainly thinks it’s crazy. He’s ready for me to wean ASAP. And maybe he’s right. Owen will be 6 months in January and maybe I should pat myself on the back for breastfeeding this long and stop pumping. Decisions, decisions!

Any advice on lipase? Or another theory on why my milk smells so weird after being in the freezer for so long? Some websites suggest freezing in glass instead of plastic… maybe that would help? Anyone done this?

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8 responses to “She Says… Yucky Milk

  1. I’m so glad you posted this, because I noticed the same thing when I defrosted milk to make bottles for my daughter on Sunday night (yesterday was her first day of daycare). The milk was from late September, and like you say, it smelled really nasty. But I had defrosted four bags, and they all smelled like that, so I figured it couldn’t be that the milk had gone bad–and plus, again like you say, it didn’t really smell SPOILED. Just plastic-y. I ended up giving it to my daughter and she drank it fine, so last night, I again defrosted more and prepared more bottles with frozen milk. The milk was not much “newer” than the bags I defrosted on Sunday, but I didn’t notice as strong of a smell with that batch.

    Anyway, I’m just glad to know the cause of the smell. So again, thanks for posting this.

    As for your questions… I guess I need to read up more on lipase, but if Owen is taking the milk just fine, and it’s not going to harm him, why wouldn’t you just keep freezing? I don’t think it’s anything to give up breastfeeding over! I, too, hope to make it to a year for my daughter. Our situation is a little different because I don’t have to exclusively pump (I give you major credit!), but now that I’m back at work, I’m pumping like five times a day, and breastfeeding her only twice, so I understand the amount of work it takes! A freezer stash could definitely help you hit that year mark (or at least get you closer to it than just using fresh milk), so I say keep at it!

  2. I know how you feel about wanting to provide your little one with breastmilk as long as possible. I know you’re going back to work soon. I wanted to let you know about my experience with pumping and maintaining my milk supply once I returned to work…pumping during the workday was harder than I had anticipated and my supply decreased tremendously within the first 2 full time weeks. (I work in the medical field and I couldn’t take a break every 3 hours to pump when my patients needed me. Most days I’m lucky to get 5 minutes to eat!) Factor in my little guy’s growing appetite and my FULL freezer of breastmilk was gone within a month. It was heartbreaking. But I know this probably sounds weird (or maybe some mothers can relate…who knows?), I did feel a sense of relief that I did THE best I could and I didn’t MAKE the decision to quit. My body just couldn’t keep up.

    I tell you this not to discourage you about pumping at work, but only to give you some perspective. Your situation will be changing in a few weeks and the decision might be taken out of your hands. Try not to spend too much time worrying about pumping and freezing right now.

  3. It is funny you are mentioning this because we are running into this same issue with frozen milk! I don’t have a lot of advice but I just wanted to let you know you are not alone with the breastfeeding issues and I totally understand how discouraging it can be sometimes. You should feel so proud of how long you have stuck with giving him breast milk and don’t beat yourself up if you feel like it is getting to be too much.

  4. Hi, Kate! I left a comment for you yesterday about lipase but wanted to share another resource. If you go to the La Leche League website, you will find tons of helpful information about lipase (on the message boards…I think you will need to register). Here’s the address: http://www.llli.org/resources.html A few posters have even done some experiments with their breastmilk to see how long it lasts before getting the icky lipase smell/taste. For me, my milk lasts no longer than three days in the fridge without getting the icky taste. However, my baby drinks it just fine. I’m the one that has a problem with it because I feel like I’m giving her bad milk when it’s totally fine! And, quite honestly, I’ve had to supplement with formula on a few rare occasions and it doesn’t smell all that great either! 🙂 You are doing a great job! Definitely don’t give up. You have given Owen frozen milk without any trouble, yours just might not have as long as a freezer shelf life. I wish I had more personal advice and information to share on this issue but since I stay home, I really didn’t need to build a freezer stash. You’re so right though, this breastfeeding thing can be so hard! Much harder than I ever realized! Good luck!!

  5. My milk definitely has that funky taste after being in the fridge for 3-4 days and after being in the freezer for a few weeks. Eli has no problems drinking it, though. He’s been drinking ‘soapy’ milk for about 4 months now with no issues, so I wouldn’t worry about it too much 🙂 You are doing a fantastic job with pumping… whatever the outcome may be just remember that you have tried your hardest and you are a fantastic mother no matter what!

  6. I have the same smelly issue. It is frustrating to feel like you’re working so hard to provide baby with the best food you can, only to have it smell when you go to utilize it! But not a deal breaker in my book – I would say if Owen drinks it then you are fine. Certainly not a reason to throw in the towel – you said yourself that you’ve got a system working for you, stick with it! You’re doing great!

  7. I haven’t had experience with a smell or issue with defrosted milk, but I just wanted to give you kudos for pumping, and I think, if it is the best choice for you and your family and lifestyle, you should totally keep it up. I just read a Facebook post about a woman who EP’d for 13 months. I pump 2-3 times a day and nurse 2-3 times a day. I hate, hate, hate pumping, but I love the fact that I know my daughter is getting my milk and I’m supplying her nutrition, through breast or bottle. I’m hoping to make it to a year, and being back at work has made it harder, but I’m just taking it day by day. Good luck!

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