The Secret to Understanding Foremilk & Hindmilk

May 28, 2020

Understanding foremilk and hindmilk can be a bit confusing because they are called two different names. When learning about the beauty of breastmilk, the most important “secret” to understand is that it is the combination of both foremilk and hindmilk that make up each and every feeding. Breastmilk is Breastmilk! There are not two different kinds of breastmilk. If you are only breastfeeding and your baby is pooping (yellow stools) and peeing fine and growing fine, you would have not even give this topic a second thought! 


Still confused? Read on…

In the first few months babies eat A LOT! In fact, every 1.5- 3 hours. It is really not until a mom starts pumping and can see the fat layer when her pumped milk is refrigerated or if she notices that the baby’s poop starts to look a funny, pea soup green color that is foamy or extremely watery that the thought of foremilk/hindmilk imbalance comes into play. 


So….lets shed some factual light on what FOREMILK and HINDMILK is. 


FOREMILK is the first bit of milk that the baby gets. It more watery. It is lower in fat and higher in lactose, the type of sugar in breastmilk. Think of it like skim milk. 


As the baby feeds and the milk lets down (see the previous post on letdown and breastfeeding), the milk making glands, called alveoli,  make and release more milk. There are fat globules that stick to those milk making glands and they are gradually released into the milk. Let’s just stop for a minute and recognize just how truly amazing the lactating body is! WOW!


HINDMILK refers to the milk that comes after the foremilk. There is not a certain time frame on when foremilk becomes hindmilk. What we know is that breastmilk becomes fattier over time as the feeding/pumping goes on and the breast drains. The fat content in hindmilk is higher and it is creamier in appearance. You can see the fat layer when you refrigerate your milk. The fat separates and goes to the top. Measuring this fat layer is not a good way to judge how fatty your milk is. Mama-do not compare fat layers with your bestie breastfeeding friend! 


A good analogy to help you understand foremilk and hindmilk is similar to when we turn on the hot water at our kitchen sink. When we first turn it on, the water feels cool. Similar to foremilk, when you start feeding or pumping the milk is more watery. As the water runs and comes through the pipes from your hot water tank, it starts to become warm and then eventually hot. With breastmilk, as the feeding/pumping goes longer, the fattier milk flows down through the ducts in the breast and nipple and then to the baby. The water coming out of the faucet is now hot water, the breastmilk coming out of the breast is fattier breastmilk. 


So how does all of this impact breastfeeding babies? It is helpful to massage the breasts and express a few drops of milk before nursing or pumping. Knowing that the fat content builds the longer the feeding, it is important to let the baby finish the first breast and not take them off the breast too soon before switching to the other side. 


Overall, the most important thing is to look at the big picture with breastfeeding. As a whole, how is breastfeeding going? Look at your baby’s total milk volume for the whole day. Ask yourself “How many times a day is my baby eating? How long does my baby breastfeed? Does my baby nurse on both sides? When my baby is breastfeeding, is she being efficient with lots of sucks and swallows? Is my baby pooping yellow stools and peeing enough? The most important question is “Is my baby growing appropriately?” 


If all of these add up to a big “YES”, then yay! This is successful breastfeeding! If you are concerned and any of the answers are “NO” then be sure to reach out for help from a trained IBCLC. Baby’s Best Beginning is available for virtual and in person consultations to help support and give breastfeeding and pumping guidance. 


We were never meant to do this alone! Reach out for help early and we would be happy to help!


If you liked what you read and would like to learn more, I would love for you to join the Baby’s Best Beginning community! 


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With love & gratitude,


Let’s be (.)(.) Breast Pen Pals!

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