Breastfeeding is one of the most discussed topics connected with birth and bringing up a baby. The world has lived through different periods: from the times when breastfeeding was the only option to feed the baby to the times it was considered old-fashioned and unnecessary.
In the 1960s only 25-30% of mothers in the USA supported breastfeeding, while today more than 70% of babies under 6 months are exclusively fed by breastfeeding. For these years a lot of research was conducted and the results were amazing: nothing else can bring so much nutritional value and so many benefits as breast milk.
Many pregnant women tend to learn more about breast milk before they deliver a baby and start their baby care. One of the most surprising things they learn is that there are two types of breast milk: foremilk and hindmilk.
In this article we are going to provide more information on the exclusive qualities of each of them, the way they are different and alike, for you to get comprehensive information on breast milk types.
Foremilk – is the milk the baby receives at the start of breastfeeding. It is very liquid, may be of a transparent white color, is high in lactose and carbohydrates and low in fats. Its primary function is to quench the baby’s thirst first and provide it with quickly-acting carbs that soothe the baby and make it feel comfortable.
As the nursing continues, the baby triggers the mother’s milk ejection reflex. This reflex squeezes milk and makes fat cells come out into the ducts. During this process the color, consistency and quality of the milk gradually changes and the fat percentage increases.
Hindmilk – is the milk baby receives closer to the end of a breastfeeding session. It is quite thick, of a dense creamy color and taste. Hindmilk is lower in lactose and higher in fats. It is more a dessert for a baby as it provides a sense of fullness and warmth. Hindmilk also contains digestion ferments that help digest lactose from the foremilk.
High-fat hindmilk is mixed with the high-lactose foremilk and the baby gets a perfectly balanced food that supplies the organism with all the micro- and macronutrients, including fat, carbs, proteins and water. Breastmilk also supplies enzymes, hormones, growth factors and immunologic substances to maintain the baby’s growth and normal development.
However, sometimes milk is overproduced. As a result, the baby feels full with foremilk only without a chance to get the hindmilk to balance it. Such a situation is known as foremilk/hindmilk imbalance or breast milk oversupply.
Hindmilk vs Foremilk
What is the difference between hindmilk and foremilk? In terms of nutritional and energetic value it is significant.
At this point it is important to understand that human breasts don’t produce two types of milk apart from each other. They produce only one type of breast milk as all other mammals do. There is no “switch-time” to start producing hindmilk instead of foremilk.
To make this process more obvious, think of turning on a hot water faucet. You won’t be able to get the hot water immediately; it starts quite cold but gradually becomes warmer. The same goes for breast milk. Its fat content and key ingredients slightly change as your baby receives its meal. There is no sharp distinction between the two types of milk, as the change is very gradual.
As the milk is produced in the alveoli (milk making cells in the breasts), the fat globules usually stick to each other and collect closer to the alveoli walls. Therefore some time is required to get fat out there. The more time that passes between feeding or expression, the lower the milk fat content is at the beginning of the next feeding.
So, the fat percentage of hindmilk is always higher than in foremilk for this particular feeding. The overall fat content of the breast milk during one particular feeding depends on the amount of milk in the breast. The less milk there is, the fatter it is. It is an explainable phenomenon: nature created it so to make the baby full and keep its calories balanced to the maximum, even if little milk is consumed.
The same works for colostrum – first after-birth milk. A few drops of it are enough for a newborn to feel satisfied due to its exclusive properties.
Perhaps the most popular question nursing moms may ask is “for how long should I feed the baby to provide him or her with enough hindmilk?” There is no clear answer. In some sources you may read that at least 15 minutes are required, but it’s not the case to count minutes. Some babies are able to get milk fat immediately; for some of them it’s a matter of a half an hour or so. It depends on your overall milk supply, the time of the day or night, the time passed from the previous nursing and dozens of other factors you will never know.
But this is not something you should be really concerned about. What counts is the total milk consumed throughout the day. This amount influences the baby’s growth and development. Some babies eat longer, but less frequently; with some of them it is vice versa, but both types can get enough milk and all nutrients in it necessary for their health.
The most important thing to know about foremilk and hindmilk is that the baby is the best expert and it feels perfectly what is enough during any feed. Therefore it is important not to switch breasts during one nursing session and to give baby an opportunity to finish the meal without interrupting it. Otherwise the baby will get more foremilk than hindmilk and it may lead to digestion problems.
|Appears at the beginning of a breastfeeding session
|Appears closer to the end of a breastfeeding session
|Is higher in water and carbs
|Is higher in fats
|Lessens thirst, provides lactose
|Provides the feeling of fullness and the major amount of calories