How your breast milk changes

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Colostrum

The very first milk you produce, just after birth, is called colostrum. It is a warm golden milk that is concentrated with everything a newborn baby needs for their nutrition and immune system.  Newborn babies have little tummies and they need their milk delivered in small quantities. This is why colostrum has evolved to be so rich in nutrients.

Mature breast milk

The more you feed your baby the more signals you will give to your body to make milk. As you do this, your milk will change from colostrum to mature breast milk, which is more diluted and greater in volume.

How will I know my milk is coming in?

The change from colostrum to mature milk is gradual. New mums will notice that around the third day following the birth of their baby, their breasts start to feel heavier, look bigger and feel fuller. These are the tell-tale signs that milk production has begun.

Sometimes it takes a little bit longer, especially if you’ve delivered early or if you had a Caesarean section. Try not to worry, but it is important to check out with your midwife how things are going.

The baby having lots of feeds is what tells the body to make milk. Some babies are a bit sleepy or born a little bit early and they need a bit more encouragement to get going with breastfeeding. So it is important that the babies get frequent feeds early to get everything going.

Foremilk and hindmilk

Breast milk even changes through a feed. At the beginning of the feed the milk – called ‘foremilk’ – is more like a drink. It has got lots of goodness in it but it’s lower in fat than towards the end of the feed. This is to do with the way breastfeeding works. As the feed goes on, the muscles in the breast that are pushing the milk down towards the baby squeeze tighter and the feed gets richer and richer in fat toward the end. This richer milk is called ‘hindmilk’ – it’s like the pudding!

For this reason it’s really important to make sure you follow your baby and let the feed last for as long as the baby wants because if you decide that after 20 minutes the baby has had enough he might miss that rich milk at the end of the feed. The hindmilk is highest in fat, which is good for your baby’s nutrition and development and will keep the baby fuller for longer. Try not to worry about your baby getting your hindmilk, as long as the baby is feeding effectively then you can trust that the baby is getting it.

How do I know if my baby is getting hindmilk?

The rhythm of a baby’s sucking changes slightly throughout a feed. At the beginning of the feed, the sucking of the baby is quick until the milk starts to flow.  At this point the baby goes into a lovely sucking rhythm that is quite long and slow, then you’ll have little pauses, and then off it’ll go again, a nice slow, deep sucking rhythm.

However, towards the end of the feed the baby does tiny little sucks that are quite fluttery. Sometimes mums will misinterpret and think the baby is just messing around. But those little fluttery sucks are very efficient at getting the really thick milk at the end.

Should my baby feed from both breasts during every feed?

There are no hard and fast rules about whether your baby should be feeding from one or two breasts during a single breastfeed. It really depends on your baby’s hunger during that feed. It’s a good idea to let them empty the first breast before they start on the second breast, since that way they get the rich creamy hind milk from the first breast. After a good feed from the first breast you can offer your baby the second breast.

If you are really concerned that your baby is snacking, getting lots of foremilk from both breasts and seems unsettled (with green explosive poos), you could speak to your local drop-in breastfeeding councillor about making sure your baby is latched on properly and emptying your breasts of milk, and so getting the hindmilk.