We already know the immense benefits of breastfeeding not only for the baby but also for the mother, but it’s surprising how many are unaware of the fact that milk composition changes at different stages of feeding – referred to as foremilk and hindmilk – what the difference between them is and which is better for the baby?
The norm (& recommendation) is to exclusively breastfeed for the first six months of the babies life, and continue to breastfeed for upto 2 years to ensure the baby receives the optimal amount of nutrients, growth factors, immunity boosting agents and calories in their early years.
So I feel it makes sense for you to know more about the two different formulations of milk you release so that you can make informed decisions if you are faced with a fussy baby, a baby who wakes multiple times through the night or even a little one that seems extremely hungry all the time.
Now maybe you are having a whale of a time with breastfeeding and this may be something you don’t feel it necessary to know. Nevertheless, knowledge is power and I still feel you should have an awareness of the main differences in fore milk and hind milk. Purely because you want your baby to get a good amount of hindmilk, rather than fill up solely on foremilk, and you should know why this is the case.
This article explains the differences between hind and fore milk, and gives tips on how to keep your baby fuller for longer, especially if your baby is not going more than a few hours between feeds. You will also learn practical, actionable tips you can implement straight away if you are dealing with an oversupply of breast milk, all of which will help you to enjoy one of the most irreplaceable experiences you can share with your baby.
Foremilk and Hindmilk – Differing Composition
First, the basic thing to understand is that your breasts release two types of milk – foremilk (which comes out first in the first five or so minutes) and hindmilk. (Your breasts produce milk and as the time of the feed increases, more fat is released in the milk as well as more energy, so the composition of the milk released changes. Hence the foremilk is distinctly different to hindmilk).
Foremilk is watery and consists of less calories. You may have noticed your baby starts off by taking shorter, faster sucks when you begin to feeding them. This is most likely fore milk – you tend to produce this in plentiful quantities.
In most cases, the foremilk will fill up the baby rapidly but you might find that the baby tends to get hungrier faster, so you have to feed them again sometimes an hour or two after the last feed. This is because the babies little stomach is getting filled with the abundant fore milk, but because it digested rapidly, it is cleared from the stomach relatively quickly, leaving the baby hungry once again.
Hindmilk on the other hand is noticeable thicker, much more creamy, and calorie & fatty rich. The baby tends to take longer, slower sucks when feeding on fore milk. The long and short of it is, this is the best type of milk for your baby to drink & fill up on. Once they drink enough of it, you will notice they tend to stay fuller for longer, meaning you can often go at least three or more hours in between feeds.
The Journal of Human Lactation conducted a study involving mothers of preterm infants, which showed hind milk to have (at the very least) more than double the levels of retinol, alpha-tocopherol, gamma-tocopherol, fat and energy.
Another study, carried out by the European Journal of Pediatrics, provides evidence for the essential roles that both types of milk play in forming babies feeding habits. Ghrelin (a hormone that promotes hunger) is present in higher levels in the foremilk (the thinner, watery milk), which makes sense as the foremilk is the start of the feeding session and you want it to stimulate your baby to drink.
Leptin is the hormone which is instrumental in signalling the feeling of fullness to the brain (which then encourages baby to stop drinking). The study demonstrates the decreased ghrelin levels in the hindmilk, and increased tryglyceride and leptin levels may improve self control during feeding in babies…which again makes sense. The hindmilk flows during the second part of the feeding session, at which point the baby should be getting fuller, ready to stop drinking. These two hormones, and their differing concentrations in the foremilk and hindmilk are influential in training the baby to feed with adequate self control, and prevent under or over eating. This promotes healthy eating habits in the long run too.
So, just remember, when the baby is taking those slower, longer sucks, they are getting creamier hindmilk, and it is topping up their feed whilst maintaining & promoting your milk supply. This is what you want. Obviously be sensible, I’m not endorsing you plant yourself on the couch and stay there indefinitely, I’m essentially saying don’t hurry to take the baby off the breast, give them a little time to continue feeding a little longer so your body gets the message loud and clear regarding how much milk you need to produce.
Watery Breast milk – Do You Have an Oversupply of Breastmilk?
If your baby is making a distinct clicking sound when feeding, coughs or is gulping down the milk, comes off the breast often, brings up watery milk often or generally is quite fussy during and in the hour or two after feeds, it is possible that you may have an oversupply of milk.
Depending on how often you feed, and how long the baby stays on the breast, you might find you have a oversupply of milk issue, but this is nothing to worry about. Believe me its better to have too much milk than not enough – you can always express and store in the freezer for later (i.e. if you are out need to feed mid trip or if you need to take medications that are unsuitable for breastfeeding mothers, etc.).
Pumping and bottle feeding the breastmilk also enables your partner to have an opportunity to take part in the feeding sessions and gives you a little bit of a break.
The real crux of the matter is if you have a foremilk hindmilk imbalance. That is, if you are making abundant quantities of foremilk and not enough hindmilk. This can mean that the baby gets a high quantity of foremilk and a relatively low amount of the more filling, more fatty hindmilk. Too much foremilk can make the baby gassy, and get hungry quicker, which means that you have a hungry, irritable baby on your hands – a situation that could be avoided by following these simple tips:
- Express a little foremilk before each feed. You can store for later (for topping up feeds) or discard if you dont think you will need it any time soon. This will ensure baby drinks the hindmilk, staying fuller for longer and nursing less often, which will eventually decrease your milk production. You can eventually reduce the amount you pump prior to feeds until you aren’t doing this anymore.
- Once you have expressed some out, ensure the baby stays on your breast for at least 10-15 minutes (on each side if necessary), actively sucking. This will ensure they stay fuller for longer, and consuming the hindmilk will lessen the chances of the baby feeling gassy.
- Burp the baby every 10 minutes or so. If you do this mid feed as well as when switching sides, you will find your baby is much calmer, has a chance to take a breath and will want to continue feeding without being gassy or fussy.
- Try to feed baby when baby is calm (i.e. act immediately on early hunger cues). This will ensure baby is calm and doesn’t furiously suck (stimulating more milk production). This will also prevent the baby from gulping the milk down, which can make the baby gassy and irritable.
- If you are leaking all day and night, then try to time the feeds a little further apart so that the active sucking phase (which stimulates milk production) occurs less often. This will reduce your milk production over time to tally with how much your baby needs to drink. Ensure the baby drinks for long enough each time though so they aren’t hungry in between.
- Try to ensure your baby drinks from both breasts during each feed. This will allow both breasts to be adequately emptied and will prevent leaking in between feeds.
- Defy gravity. Try to ensure baby is positioned so the milk is not flowing downwards into the mouth, but rather it is more of an uphill mechanism. This will help to prevent the choking, gasping and coming off the breast often, and the feeding session will go much smoother. You can refer here for more ideas on nursing positions.
Now you know how to manage an oversupply problem, keep in mind two things. Firstly, you are supposed to produce a lot of milk in the first month or two of the babies life – this is to ensure the baby regains their birth weight and puts on weight healthily. Trying to reduce milk supply in these first few months is not advisable, you just have to go with the flow. Secondly, if your baby is not gaining weight adequately any way, and is not back up to birth weight within a few months, then refrain from reducing your milk supply even if you think you are producing too much. Use cold compresses in between feeds to stem milk supply temporarily until your baby is ready to feed.
To summarise, for most mothers, the journey of breastfeeding is riddled with problems (sore nipples, feeling like they aren’t producing enough milk, decisions like whether they should feed on demand or schedule, the list goes on and on…) yet still, the light at the end of the tunnel keeps us going because the rewards are greater than the hardship along the way, without a doubt.
Studies suggest that not only do both components of breastmilk (foremilk and hindmilk) provide the perfect blend of macro and micro nutrients, growth factors, proteins & immunity enhancing components for your baby, it also possesses essential medicinal qualities that are intertwined with infant survival and great health both short and long term.
Not only that, the composition of the two different types of milk (foremilk and hindmilk) help your baby develop healthy self control so they don’t get into the habit of under or over feeding. This is one of the unexpected, less well known gifts that breastfeeding provides your baby – self control means your child is less likely to suffer from obesity (an issue that comes with its own set of health risks).
Oversupply can be a difficulty you may face, but this generally subsides within 3-4 months. If you need to manage it during this time, there are various techniques you can try in order to keep your baby fuller for longer so they suckle less often (thus reducing your milk supply a little).
Takeaway is this: Foremilk and hindmilk serve distinctly different purposes. The foremilk is lower in calories and contains ghrelin, a hormone which prompts hunger in the baby. If you don’t encourage the baby to drink until they reach the hindmilk (which contains leptin, a hormone which is important in telling the brain when the stomach is full), the baby might fall asleep but wake up soon, feeling hungry as they are not consuming the fatty, calorie rich hind milk. Encourage your baby to drink for longer than 10 minutes on each side so that they get to the hindmilk & stay fuller for longer. Express before feeds if your baby doesn’t feed for longer than 10 minutes at a time.
Latest posts by Hina Azille, MPharm. (see all)
- Cracked Nipples – How To Heal Cracked Nipples From Breastfeeding - November 21, 2016
- Self Help Techniques to Fight Postpartum Depression & Love Motherhood! - November 21, 2016
- Home Birth – How I Ended Up Giving Birth to My 8lb Baby. By Myself. With No Pain Relief. - November 19, 2016