What's in your breast milk?


So, it happened again. My breasts were engorged. This is the second time in a two-week period that this has happened, with each episode lasting a few days. Dealing with the pain, I turned to my own post, but also started to think about the formulation of breast milk since Baby Mermy wasn’t drinking properly from either breast. My concern was whether he was actually consuming the hind milk, often also referred to as the fatty milk. And then I did some research and learned some interesting facts about breast milk. So, what’s in your breast milk?

Before I start on this topic, I would like to note that although I believe that breast milk is the best source of nutrition for a baby, you are a hundred percent entitled to feed your baby however you choose. As I have mentioned before, this is a no-judgment zone. You know what’s best for your baby and what works for you and your family. I will not purport to tell you otherwise nor give you snooty attitude for the decisions you make. This here just happens to be a discussion of breast milk because that is what I have experience with.


Composition of breast milk


So, what exactly is breast milk made of? In short, the American Pregnancy Association notes that breast milk is made of 60% whey and 40% casein proteins. These two proteins provide many of the infection-fighting properties breast milk is known for, including inhibition of yeast growth, protection from dangerous bacteria and viruses, promotion of healthy gut flora against E.Coli and salmonella, among many others.


Fat, an important component of breast milk is responsible for brain development, fulfilling the baby’s caloric needs, and allowing for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins. It is also claimed that moms will produce fattier milk for their boys than for their girls (see Nicholas Day’s piece here for more on this interesting supposition). Breast milk also consists of the following fat and water-soluble vitamins: A, D, E, K, C, riboflavin, niacin, and pantothenic acid. That’s why pregnant and nursing mothers are asked to eat a nutritious diet so as to ensure that they are getting and passing on these nutrients to their babies. Although, it has been noted that even in a mother experiencing near-starvation, breast milk has remained a remarkably nutritious meal for the baby. I must add that you should not take this as an approval to go on crash-diets, which pose more harm than good, while breastfeeding and in general.


Research also suggests that a baby has a lot to say on the type of milk he or she is receiving. As Day writes, “the composition of milk is a constant negotiation, subject to tiny variables”. For instance, if a baby is fighting a virus, the properties of breast milk will change to provide more of the virus-fighting properties to the baby to help him or her recover.


Fore and hind milk


So now we come to the crux of the matter: if my baby does not finish drinking from one breast, does that mean he is not getting enough of the fattier milk? According to Kelly Bonyata, an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, over at KellyMom, the absolute best resource that I have found for all things breast milk related, that’s not how it works. She goes into depth in this matter but what it boils down to is this: fore milk is the milk that comes at the start of a feeding session and hind milk is the milk that comes at the end of a feed. Because fattier milk is released after the thinner milk is consumed (as it is easier for it to pass through the alveoli where the milk is made), hind milk is often claimed to be the fattier milk.


“Because of the mechanics of milk release, the amount of fat in the milk available to baby gradually changes as a feed progresses. As milk is produced in the breast, the fat globules in the milk tend to stick to each other and to the walls of the alveoli. Between feedings, milk collects in the breasts and gradually moves out toward the nipple, leaving more and more of the fat “stuck” further back in the milk ducts. The more time between milk removal (feeding or expression), the lower the fat content of the milk available to baby at the beginning of the feeding.” (Ibid)


In other words, the more frequently you nurse and the emptier your breasts are, the more of the fatty milk the baby is receiving. To ensure that your baby fills up on the fattier milk, it’s important that you don’t switch your baby to the other breast while he or she is actively nursing.


Knowing all that I now know, I have a sense of relief knowing that as long as I keep nursing him, even if it’s from the not-as-full breast, Baby Mermy will get the fattier milk so essential to him. I hope this has helped you too.


United in diapering,

Mama Mermy




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