Hindmilk & Foremilk…Is There An Important Difference?

At the start of your breastfeeding journey, you may hear a lot about foremilk and hindmilk; leading you to believe that you can produce more than one type of milk. However, that would not be entirely accurate. Women only produce one type of milk, but the fat content found in breastmilk changes as the baby nurses. You want your baby to have a balance of both high-fat and low-fat milk to stay hydrated and gaining weight.

The Mechanics of Breastfeeding

When your baby begins nursing milk quickly flows from the alveoli, through the milk ducts, and to the nipple. This milk has been accumulating since the baby last nursed. Fat particles have also been collecting, and as they tend to stick to one another and the alveoli walls, they are somewhat trapped.

The initial flow of milk will not have a high fat content, as most of the fat is lodged in the milk ducts. As the nursing session progresses, your milk picks up more and more of these fat globules and carries them to your baby. The greater the time between nursing or pumping, the more stuck the fat becomes, resulting in less of it being available at the beginning of the session.

What is Foremilk?

Foremilk is the milk produced at the beginning of a breastfeeding session. This milk differs from hindmilk in terms of appearance and nutrients. However, there is no concrete distinction or period of production between these kinds of milk. Nor are they two different types of milk. The shift occurs progressively over the course of the feeding.

When a let down occurs, your milk flow increases. Your breasts have been working hard to produce milk in between sessions and your baby’s suckling triggers this release.

The initial milk flow, your foremilk, is watery and whiter. It is usually very plentiful. It is important to clarify that this milk isn’t fat-free, but rather has a lower fat content than the milk towards the end of the feeding. Foremilk is an excellent source of hydration for your baby.

The longer the period of time between feedings, the lower the amount of fat initially present in your foremilk.

What is Hindmilk?

Hindmilk is the fattier milk that occurs towards the end of your breastfeeding session. There is no exact time in which foremilk changes to hindmilk, but rather it is a gradual progression.

Hindmilk is usually thicker and more yellowish. It also may come with a slower flow, as by that point your letdown has subsided and your baby should be sucking and swallowing rhythmically.

As the milk passes through the ducts, it picks up and transports more and more of those fat globules that had been backlogged. This high-fat milk is richer and creamier than your foremilk and helps your baby to pack on the pounds.

The Great Debate; Hindmilk vs. Foremilk

The Tricky First Few Weeks

Research is still ongoing, but phrases such as “foremilk/hindmilk imbalance” and “finish the first breast first” have long been used in practice. The thought is that if you switch a baby too early from the first breast, or the nursing session ends abruptly, that the baby will not receive enough rich hindmilk for proper growth and development.

Foremilk/hindmilk imbalance is a saying that may strike fear in the heart of new moms. Symptoms they are instructed to watch out for include gassiness, fussiness, and the despised green poop.

In the first few weeks to months of breastfeeding, most moms suffer from engorgement. The breasts produce more milk than the baby needs in an attempt to make sure there is an adequate supply.

Because of this milk surplus, a baby may fill up on foremilk before getting to the fattier hindmilk. Additionally, if the baby only nurses for a short time on one breast and then is switched to the other breast, they may only receive foremilk from each side.

Mothers were often instructed to finish the first breast first. Meaning that the baby should be kept on one side, or one breast until it is drained before switching to the other breast. The thought behind this is that by depleting a breast’s milk supply they would be sure to receive both foremilk and hindmilk.

Often though, new-to-nursing babies are not on board with this plan and fuss at the breast. Additionally, you do not want to be left with one empty breast and one engorged breast.

How It All Evens Out & Your Baby Gets the Hindmilk

The good news is that your supply will even out, and infant milk intake is cumulative. Your milk production will adjust to the needs of your baby. This means that as your breasts produce lesser quantities of milk, your baby will have to nurse longer to become full, giving him time to reach the hindmilk.

Furthermore, your baby’s fat gain and nutrient intake happen with each nursing session. If a baby breastfeeds for a short period and only receives foremilk, it is probable that he will be hungry again quite soon. This shortened period of time between nursing sessions will give the fat less time to accumulate and your baby will receive fattier milk more quickly.

A baby that receives foremilk more often, as a result of short nursing sessions, will receive fattier foremilk. A baby that nurses longer and less often will receive greater quantities of hindmilk. In a twenty-four-hour period of feedings, this imbalance balances out.

As long as you are not switching breasts too frequently or cutting nursing sessions short, you should not have to worry about the foremilk/hindmilk imbalance.  

Moms Who Pump

Moms who pump will often realize the presence of foremilk and hindmilk sooner than those who exclusively nurse. The color and texture of these kinds of milk, when compared in bottles, is clear. Upon cooling in the bottle, the fat layer will build upon the surface of the milk.

Fortunately for pumping moms, they can dictate the length of the session and the frequency of sessions, therefore they have greater control over the fat content of the milk.

Often, you will not need to make any adjustments to your pumping schedule or carefully select which bottle should be fed to your baby. However, it is important to incorporate the solidified fat back into liquid milk. Warming your bottle before giving it to your baby should take care of this.

If your doctor suspects a problem with your baby’s weight gain, they may instruct you to make a few changes to your breastfeeding habits. They might suggest things such as pumping before feeding. This will allow your baby to reach the hindmilk quicker. They may also say to only feed off one breast per session to reduce supply. Before taking any of these steps, visit your pediatrician or lactation consultant.

A Balanced Breastfeeding Journey

Foremilk and hindmilk are both beneficial to your baby. They each serve an important role in your baby’s growth and development. As long as you keep nursing your baby on demand for as long and as frequently as he wants, he will receive both valuable kinds of milk.

Please reach out to our Facebook Group if you are having any struggles with breastfeeding! We are here to help and there is a whole tribe of mamas who have been where you are.

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