Breast milk is widely considered to be the best food for newborn babies. Mothers' milk production starts in the breast glands during pregnancy, and through each stage of a baby's development, it transforms itself to meet the child's needs. During the first days of a baby's life, the supply of milk is low but the nutrient content is high. As breastfeeding is established and the baby grows and changes, the amount and composition of breast milk adapts.
Colostrum is the first stage of breast milk. The mother's body begins producing it even before the baby is born. If your breasts leak while you're pregnant, they're leaking colostrum. Colostrum is orange or yellow in color. It is thicker and stickier than later breast milk and is produced in small quantities. The milk is high in antibodies, carbohydrates and protein and low in fat. This stage of breast milk normally lasts for the first few days after birth.
Following after colostrum, breasts produce "transitional milk." As the name implies, this stage of breast milk is a transition between the early colostrum stage and the later "mature milk" stage. Transitional milk lasts for about two weeks. The volume of milk produced increases in line with the capacity of a newborn baby's stomach. While the amount of antibodies in the milk is reduced, antibodies are still produced in sufficient quantities to protect the baby from numerous viruses and bacteria.
The "mature milk" stage is the last stage of breast milk production and lasts until the mother stops breastfeeding. This milk comes in about two to three weeks after breastfeeding was begun. It is composed mainly of water, which keeps the baby hydrated, and also includes fats, proteins, carbohydrates and antibodies. This milk is the perfect food for babies during the first six months of life and gives them immunological advantages.
Foremilk and Hindmilk
Once the mother's mature milk has come in, the supply should adjust itself along with the baby's feeding requirements. Within a breastfeeding session, there are differences in the mature breast milk. The first milk that the baby gets is called "foremilk." It is thinner and has lower fat content than the "hindmilk." Experts recommend emptying one breast fully before switching the baby to the other breast to ensure that she drinks the more filling, higher-fat and higher-calorie hindmilk.
- "What to Expect When You're Expecting"; Heidi Murkoff, et al; 2002
- Medscape Reference: Human Milk and Lactation; Carol L. Wagner, M.D.; December 2010
- La Leche League International: What Is Colostrum?; October 2006
- American Pregnancy Association: Breastfeeding Overview; November 2004
- KellyMom: I'm Confused About Foremilk and Hindmilk; Kelly Bonyata; May 2001
- Photo Credit Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com/Getty Images
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