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I stared in confusion at the three bottles of breastmilk sitting in my refrigerator. They all came from me. In the last 72 hours. How could they be so different?!?! The breastmilk changes displayed in my fridge made it look like those bottles had been filled by 3 different species of mammals. They were all different colors.
Isn’t milk just supposed to be white? Should I be worried?
I probably wouldn’t have thought much about it if all the milk was the same color. But one was off-white, one was a gold color, and one was a bluish-white. What gives?
Most people (myself included) don’t put just a whole lot of thought into breastmilk at first. It’s milk, right? It comes in a cuter package than what you find in the grocery store, but it’s the same basic substance – right? WRONG.
The biggest single difference between the milk you drink and breastmilk is that store-bought milk is dead. It’s not going to change. It is what it is – be that whole, skim, or soy. The fat content and the nutrients will stay the same. Also, due to the pasteurization process, it has very little bacteria – not necessarily a bad thing, considering the source.
Breastmilk, on the other hand, is dynamic and alive.
It’s just brimming with good bacteria (and some bad). It never stays the same! It changes in several ways. All in response to cues that the mom’s body notices!
Breastmilk changes based on baby’s age
You probably know all about colostrum. But just in case, lemme give you a recap: Colostrum is a superfood made especially for newborns. It’s the first milk to come from the breast with each pregnancy. It ranges in color from yellow to gold to orange.
It’s such a nutritional powerhouse that only a few drops is enough to sustain a baby until the next feeding.
Colostrum is super-concentrated nutrition that’s rich in calories, proteins, nutrients, and antibodies. It helps protect babies against infection, fight early stages of any infection that may be present, and strengthens a baby’s digestive system. Plus, it’s heavily loaded with carbohydrates to give your baby the energy she needs as quickly as possible.
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Even if you’re struggling to get your baby latched, you can squeeze colostrum into her mouth, put it on your (clean!!!) finger or a pacifier and sneak it to her that way. Any way you can get colostrum in your baby, DO IT!!
stmilk changes mid-feeding
When you first start any feeding, the milk she gets from you is different than the milk she’ll get at the end of the same nursing session. I promise. Try this experiment! Express milk before you start a feeding or pumping session. Now after the session, express some more. The first milk sample you got is called foremilk. It’s watery and probably looks a little bluish. The foremilk is higher in sugar and
Hindmilk is thicker and more white (or yellowish-white) than foremilk. It’s got more fat, less sugar, and is generally considered to be more nutritious than foremilk.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Foremilk and hindmilk aren’t two different species of milk from the same breast. Foremilk is what hindmilk becomes as fat clings to cells in the mammary glands. According to La Leche League, the longer milk is in your breast, the more its fat sticks in place and it becomes watery foremilk as it moves down toward the exit 🙂 Foremilk is not the enemy, hindmilk is not the goal.
A well-fed baby will have a good balance of both!
Morning milk is different from night milk
You know that feeling when someone wakes you up way too early, and you’re not sure what’s going on? You’re confused and so sleepy that you’re almost dizzy. The reason you’re so fuzzy headed and confused when you wake up too early is that your body didn’t have a chance to prepare you for waking up.
Your body begins preparing you to fall asleep or wake up a couple of hours before your normal sleep and wake times. It does this by increasing or suppressing hormones. And those hormones go straight into your milk. Freaky, right?
Morning milk is pretty amazing stuff! It’s heavy on the foremilk and usually has that watery, blue tint. But the really cool thing about morning milk is that it has small amounts of your adrenaline and cortisol in it. K
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Getting those hormones in the morning helps your baby’s body learn that this is the time of day to be awake. It’s one of the ways her circadian rhythm develops.
In the evening, your body begins to suppress adrenaline and starts to make a small amount of melatonin and tryptophan. These hormones help your baby in a few ways. In the short term, they assist you in getting that little one to fall asleep. Over the long term, they help regulate a baby’s circadian rhythm as well as aid in brain development.d According to Psychology Today:
Parents should know that breastmilk in the evening contains(Source)
more tryptophan(a sleep-inducing amino acid). Tryptophan is a precursor to serotonin, a vital hormone forbrain function and development. In early life, tryptophan ingestion leads to more serotonin receptor development (Hibberd, Brooke, Carter, Haug, & Harzer, 1981). Nighttime breastmilk also has amino acids thatpromote serotonin synthesis (Delgado, 2006; Goldman, 1983; Lien, 2003). Serotonin makes the brain work better, keeps one in a good mood, and helps with sleep-wake cycles (Somer, 2009). So it may be especiallyimportant for children to have evening or night breastmilk becauseit has tryptophan in it, for reasons beyond getting them to sleep.
Let me just say now that this hormone boost isn’t strong enough to zonk out an alert baby, or be like an energy drink for a sleepy baby.
So unless your baby is sensitive and you notice it affects her – or she gets most of her nutrition from stored milk – it’s probably not a big deal if you just give her whatever milk you grab first.
Breastmilk responds to illness
Maybe the most amazing thing about breastmilk is its almost-magical ability to add antibodies to the mix whenever your tatas detect an illness.
When mom is sick
That was a cool discovery, but not all that amazing. I mean, after all, it’s her body. So of course, the antibodies she uses to fight off illness are in her milk.
It’s this newest discovery that’s mind-blowing…
baby is sick
When your baby isn’t well, your breasts are able to detect 1) that this child is sick and 2) what she needs to get better. Then your milk adjusts accordingly!
Up till recently, we didn’t know milk did this. And when we found out, we certainly didn’t know how on earth a mama’s boobies could be so smart. According to Katie Hinde, Ph.D., of Mammals suck
Ick, right? But then the magic happens.
Your boobs analyze that spit! Then they make all these long-name-having cells and proteins (leukocytes and lactoferrins for you nerds…you know who you are!) as well as custom-made antibodies.
Suddenly, your baby is drinking a disease-fighting cocktail made just for her!
Milk isn’t just milk. Unlike infant formula or cow’s milk, your breastmilk is alive! It’s just teeming with immune-building bacteria, and it remakes itself in so many ways to be exactly what your baby needs.
Whether it’s adjusting for your baby’s age, adding hormones to develop her circadian rhythm, or customizing cells and proteins to become an illness-fighting superfood, breastmilk is always awesome.
What’s your favorite thing about breastmilk? Please tell me in the comments below!
Becker, H.A. (n.d.). Amazing! Viral photo shows how breastmilk changes for baby’s needs. Retrieved from https://www.parents.com/baby/all-about-babies/amazing-viral-photo-shows-how-breastmilk-changes-for-babys-needs/
Foremilk and hindmilk. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.llli.org/breastfeeding-info/foremilk-and-hindmilk/
Hinde, K. (2016, January 29). Breast milk & baby spit. Retrieved from http://mammalssuck.blogspot.com/2016/01/breast-milk-baby-spit.html?q=spit
How sleep works – Neurological mechanisms of sleep. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.howsleepworks.com/how_neurological.html
Kakulas (Hassiotu), F. (2013, April). Protective cells in breast milk: For the infant and the mother? Retrieved from http://milkgenomics.org/article/protective-cells-in-breast-milk-for-the-infant-and-the-mother/
Kakulas (Hassiotu), F., Geddes, D., (2013, December). Breastmilk composition is dynamic: Infant feeds, mother responds. Retrieved from http://milkgenomics.org/article/breastmilk-composition-dynamic-infant-feeds-mother-responds/
Mlynek, A. (2017, December 5). 6 magical ways that breastmilk changes to meet your baby’s needs. Retrieved from https://www.todaysparent.com/baby/breastfeeding/magical-ways-breastmilk-changes-to-meet-your-babys-needs/
Narvaez, D. F., Ph.D. (2013, March 11). Normal infant sleep: Night nursing’s importance. Psychology Today. Retrieved fromhttps://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/moral-landscapes/201303/normal-infant-sleep-night-nursings-importance
Office on Women’s Health. (2018). Your Guide to Breastfeeding. [PDF file] Retrieved from https://www.womenshealth.gov/patient-materials/resource/guides
Providing breastmilk for premature and ill newborns. (2009, November 2). Retrieved from https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/breastfeeding/Pages/Providing-Breastmilk-for-Premature-and-Ill-Newborns.aspx