Understanding Mother's Milk - baby feet

From colostrum to hindmilk and everything in between, here is what you need to know about your breastmilk

Women are absolutely incredible for a lot of reasons, but nothing demonstrates this quite as dramatically as the birth of a child. During the transition from pregnancy to motherhood, our bodies are conditioned to provide nourishment for our little ones through breast milk and colostrum. Here is what you need to know about breast milk composition.

The first milk you produce, colostrum, is the perfect first nutrition for your newborn. In composition, it is similar to the amniotic fluid your baby has been used to swallowing in the womb. It is more like an incredible immune booster than a food, meant more to protect the baby than grow the baby. Though it is very high in protein and low in calories and fat, it contains growth factors meant to finish the maturation of your newborn’s immature gastrointestinal tract. The colostrum is so precious, it changes the way your baby will digest foods over his or her entire lifespan. It is important that your baby receives every drop!

Colostrum is available in tiny amounts, milliliters in a 24-hour period. Your newborn may want to nurse very frequently the first several days to access the colostrum. This is fine, as it is not only helping your baby, but is also “programming” your breasts with critical changes allowing them to make milk short term and long term. In fact, low nipple stimulation and emptying in the first two weeks is associated with low milk supply. Therefore, if your newborn is awake and showing any feeding cues (link to earlier blog when we discussed feeding cues) that is a great time to breastfeed.

Colostrum has been forming in your breasts even before you gave birth. It is available typically for three to five days. At that time, a new mother’s milk “comes in” and changes from milliliters of colostrum to ounces of breastmilk in a very short period of time. Your baby needs the protection colostrum provides now.

As the placenta is delivered, the pregnancy hormones begin to plummet allowing the milk-making hormones to go into action. These dramatic changes can’t happen instantly, it takes several days. For first-time mothers, it takes a bit longer than for mothers who have had breastfed before.

You may not even be aware that your colostrum is changing over until it already has. As your colostrum changes to transitional milk, your breasts will begin feeling fuller and heavier. The colostrum your baby ingested in a whole 24-hour period becomes mature milk available in many ounces.

Once your milk “comes in,” it can be thought of as coming out in layers. The first layer is fast-flowing, low-calorie, thirst-quenching foremilk. Think of it as skim milk. It is meant to provide for the hungry baby quickly.

The end of a nursing or pumping session brings the high-fat, calorie-dense hindmilk. Think of it as heavy cream. It is meant to provide fat and calories, give your baby a satisfied and full feeling. Newborns typically fall asleep when satisfied after breastfeeding.

The change from foremilk to hindmilk during milk expression is more evident for the pumping mother who can witness the difference in her milk appearance comparing the first minutes of pumping to the last. As you provide your breast milk by nursing or pumping, your baby receives the perfect combination of both.

Pregnant?  Nursing? Pumping? If you have specific questions about lactation or would like to schedule a visit with one of our in-house IBCLCs, contact Ashland Women’s Health today.