What is in the Breast Milk & why is it Important for your Baby?

To understand the significance of breastfeeding, one should first perceive the composition and stages of breast milk. Learn more about this from our expert.

Hello Twins and Me Readers, Greetings to everyone! I am very glad to interact with you all through Twins and Me. Today, I will be discussing the stages of breast milk and there is a reason why I chose this to be my first article.

The Significance of Breast Milk

To understand the significance of breastfeeding, one should first perceive the composition and stages of breast milk. Learn more about this from our expert.

Mother’s milk is liquid love.

Breast Milk not only quenches your baby’s hunger but also serves as an incredible tool which celebrates and enhances love. Sadly in this corporate world, we are easily convinced to move to other alternatives to feed our baby due to one or the other reason. Do you know that no one is ever able to find a perfect alternative for this natural food?

According to the World Health Organization, breast milk should be the only source of nutrition for the baby for the first 6 months, with continued breastfeeding along with suitable supportive foods up to two years of age or beyond. Often mothers have numerous queries and bewilderment towards the concept of exclusive breastfeeding and extended breastfeeding.

  • How breastfeeding alone can be sufficient for my baby?
  • Will my baby gain immunity and all the required nutrients only through breast milk?
  • How can this thin liquid alone nourish my baby until six months?
  • Is breastfeeding after six months really beneficial to my baby? and many such queries.

The main queries before you are, What makes breast milk so special? How it can cater to the growing needs of your little one? Unless you know the composition or the stages of breast milk or what breast milk can offer to your baby, you wouldn’t apprehend its significance. 

This is why I wanted to elucidate the different stages of breast milk before getting into other wider topics. So let’s first explore the stages of breast milk first.

The Stages of Breast Milk

There are three basic phases of breast milk. After discussing them, let’s try to perceive what are foremilk and hindmilk, a concept which is not clearly understood by many mothers. Next, Is breastfeeding after six months really effective? – This article wouldn’t be complete unless I answer this important query. Let’s explore all these pointers one by one.

Here are the three basic stages of breast milk.

  • First few days: Colostrum
  • Next couple of weeks: Transitional milk
  • Fourth week onwards: Mature milk

Colostrum (Liquid Gold / Natural Vaccination)

The early milk your breasts produce after your baby’s birth is called Colostrum. This thick, sticky breast milk is often called ‘Liquid Gold’. This special name is not because of its yellow or orange color, but to emphasize Colostrum is so important for nourishing and protecting your vulnerable newborn.

At first, you’ll produce very small amounts of breast milk– just 40 to 50 ml over 24 hours. But as your baby’s stomach is only the size of a marble, that’s all your tiny tot will need. Colostrum is also very easy to digest. Babies are born with a permeable gut lining, which colostrum coats and seals. This is particularly important if your baby is premature, as preemies will be more at risk from the dangerous gut condition Necrotizing Enterocolitis (NEC).

Colostrum is sometimes referred to as a natural vaccination because its levels of antibodies and white blood cells are so high. Your first milk contains these so it can protect your baby from infections and diseases after she leaves the safety of your womb.

Colostrum is also rich in minerals and vitamins, with higher concentrations of vitamins A, E, and K than mature breast milk. The percentage of protein in colostrum is higher too. Colostrum also acts like a laxative that helps your baby pass her first poo, meconium.

Transitional Milk

During the first week of your baby’s life, around 2 to 4 days after delivery, your breast milk changes in quantity. You may feel your breasts become fuller and firmer – a change known as your milk ‘coming in’. On the third day, your baby will consume 300 to 400 ml of breast milk per 24 hours. By the fifth day, this increases to 500 to 800 ml. So it’s not surprising if your breasts feel bigger by now!

From day 5 to 14, your milk is called transitional milk. As the name suggests, it’s changing from colostrum to mature milk. It becomes creamier in color and texture, and also higher in fat, calories, and lactose, making it the ideal food for your rapidly growing newborn.

But rest assured it’s still full of protective antibodies, live cells, ‘good’ bacteria and other bioactive ingredients to help keep your child healthy.

Mature Milk

By the time your baby is four weeks old, your breast milk will be fully mature. It’s rich in protein, sugar, vitamins, and minerals, plus numerous bioactive components – such as hormones, growth factors, enzymes, and live cells. All these will support your baby’s healthy growth and development.

From four weeks, the nutritional content and levels of ingredients in mature milk generally remain fairly consistent. But the composition of your breast milk can still change from day to day and feed to feed.

For example, if you or your baby are ill, your body will make antibodies to fight that particular illness, which becomes part of your milk. And, remarkably, as your baby begins exploring the world and putting toys in her mouth, the level of protective bacteria-fighting enzymes in your milk rises. This variation in breast milk composition shows how it adapts to your baby’s changing needs.

What are Foremilk and Hindmilk?

You may notice your milk seems thicker and creamier towards the end of a feed. This is because, as the feed progresses, the fat composition gradually increases due to the mechanics of milk moving through the breast. It’s often referred to as hindmilk, while the first more ‘watery’ milk is known as foremilk.

These two names might lead you to think there’s a switch where foremilk becomes hindmilk, but there isn’t. The change is a gradual process. Both are essential parts of a complete feed, and rich in vitamins, minerals, protein, and sugars.

Your milk’s fat content relates to how drained your breast is. Your breasts will be fuller at the start of some feeds (milk lower in fat) and more drained at the start of other feeds (milk higher in fat). So don’t worry too much about foremilk and hindmilk. Over 24 hours your baby will end up consuming a similar amount of fat in total each day.

Is Breastfeeding Effective after Six Months?

To understand the significance of breastfeeding, one should first perceive the composition and stages of breast milk. Learn more about this from our expert.

You may be wondering what happens to your milk if you continue breastfeeding long-term. Can your body really keep producing such high-quality mature milk for months and months, or even years? The answer is, don’t underestimate your breasts!

While it’s true you’ll need to start introducing solids at six months to bolster your baby’s stores of certain nutrients, such as iron, your milk will still make up a large part of your baby’s diet.

For example, when your baby is seven months old he or she will still be getting 93% of her calories from breast milk. Even between 11 and 16 months, around half of your baby’s daily calorie intake will be from milk. So with this knowledge, you both can relax and continue to enjoy the benefits of breastfeeding for many months to come.

By now, I hope you will have a good understanding of the various stages of breast milk, it’s composition and what makes it so important for your baby.

If you have any thoughts or queries you can share them in the comments section. I will try to respond as early as possible.

Also, you will be helping another mom to perceive the significance of breastfeeding by sharing this knowledge.

Breastfeeding is a mother’s gift to herself, her baby and the Earth!

– Pamela K. Wiggins

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To understand the significance of breastfeeding, one should first perceive the composition and stages of breast milk. Learn more about this from our expert.

Image Credits: Main Image by Leandro Cesar Santana on Unsplash ; Significance of Breast Milk by Julie Johnson on Unsplash

About Dr Hema Malathi Aravind

Dr. Hema Malathi Aravind received her medical degree from Vitebsk State Medical University, Belarus. She did her Masters in Medicine (Family Medicine) from Christian Medical College, Vellore, India. She is currently pursuing her specialization in Internal Medicine/Nephrology in Berlin, Germany as well as doing her Doctorate at the Charite' University of Medicine, Berlin. Besides her wide expertise in medicine, she is a doting mother of two beautiful girls.

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