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5 Amazing Ways Breast Milk Changes to Adapt Your Baby's Needs

*By Lactation Consultant Katie Mugan

You often hear the benefits breastfeeding provide for babies and mums but are not fully aware of how incredible breast milk can be. Breast milk is a living, ever-changing liquid that has the ability to adapt to meet infants’ needs as they grow. After reading this article, you may be astonished at what breast milk can do to nurture and protect your baby.

Let’s dive into five magical ways your breast milk changes.

A baby peacefully nursing and drinking breast milk directly from its mother's breast

1. Breast milk changes as your baby grows

From the moment our babies made it to the world, our breast milk has been adapting to their needs. Depending on the gestation a baby is born, our breast milk is individualised to meet the nutritional demand of the baby at that particular moment. As our baby grows, our breast milk changes with them, which makes it a thing of beauty!

Colostrum: The first few days

Many parents don’t realise that colostrum is the first milk they produce immediately after birth. It is the potent liquid - the powerhouse of nutrition, you may say! Colostrum is often referred to as ‘liquid Gold’ in the lactation world due to its rich yellow colour and the fantastic benefits it has to offer.

It’s low in volume to allow your baby to learn to suck, swallow and breathe. Despite being the little amount, it is perfect for their tiny tummies!. Your newborn baby’s stomach is small, so 5-7.5ml (approximately 1-2 teaspoons) is all that’s needed on day 1 per feed. Colostrum is nutrient-dense, rich in protein, vitamins, and antibodies, which is perfect for their immature digestive system while also giving them a jump start on their immune system.

Transitional milk: From day 3 right up until 2 weeks

You may notice your breasts are fuller, particularly around day 3-5; your breast milk is changing in colour, thinning out and you hear lots more audible swallows from baby - Yeh!

Mature milk: Up to a month until its considered fully mature

Mature milk is lower in protein but higher in fat and carbohydrates. It also contains about 90% water to meet babies’ fluid needs. Once it has accommodated to baby’s demand, your breasts may not feel as full.

Your mature milk still has all the nutritional requirements that your baby needs to grow and thrive, and will continue to vary feed-to-feed following the development of the baby. If exposed to harmful viruses and bacterial infections, mature breast milk is full of antibodies to protect your little ones.

2. Breast milk changes according to the environment

A fact is that you and your baby are constantly exposed to viruses and bacteria circulating in the environment. Your body will produce antibodies accordingly and deliver them to your baby through your milk.

A baby drinking breast milk, a rich source of important immunities that support the baby's immune system

Breast milk also contains immunities that your body has spent your whole life developing. Therefore, your baby can have an immune system as nearly sturdy as you! A great thing you can do if you or your little one feels unwell is to keep feeding through it if possible, so that the antibodies will pass through your breast milk to fight the sickness.

Studies show that breastmilk can protect babies against a host of common childhood illness along with obesity, diabetes and many more. Researchers also find that if the baby is exposed to sickness, her saliva can send signals to the mother’s body to produce more milk with illness-specific antibodies.

3. Breast milk changes depending on the time of the day

Breastmilk is a dynamic and constantly changing liquid. This is very evident when it comes to the energetic milk we produce in the morning as opposed to the sleep inducing milk produced in the evenings.

The hormone Cortisol which promotes alertness, can be up to 3 times higher in the morning – think of it like an energy drink. Meanwhile, milk produced at night contains higher concentrations of Melatonin-your very own sleeping potion!

A mother breastfeeding her baby on the bed in the morning, benefiting from the higher levels of the hormone cortisol

Did you know that a Breastfeeding mom actually gets up to 45 minutes more sleep in the first few months postpartum? A win for all our hard work.

Babies are born with no established circadian rhythm and this takes up to 3-4 months to develop. However, thanks to the amazing sleep-inducing hormone- ‘Melatonin’, which is in abundance in our night-time milk - it helps babies develop their circadian rhythm, eventually sleeping longer stretches at night.

4. Breast milk changes in Colour

So what colour is considered normal when we talk about breastmilk? Many think it’s white or bluish/white but there’s no right or wrong here. As breast milk is constantly changing, so may the colour. The type of milk you are producing at the time will affect the shade.

A mother experiencing milk leakage from her breast

Yellow milk – Colostrum - is a yellow, thick sticky liquid. Besides, consuming a lot of foods with beta carotene such as carrots and sweet potatoes can also cause the milk to have this shade.

White/bluish in colour- often referred to as the mature milk, but again, this may change depending on what the mother eats. Milk at the start of a feed - also known as foremilk, may be thinner with a bluish tinge and less white than hindmilk (milk at the end of a feed) due to low-fat level.

Green milk- if the mum is consuming lots dark green vegetables like kale and spinach

Learn more: Can Your Diet Affect The Quality of Breast Milk?

Orange or pink milk - sometimes referred to as ‘Strawberry Milk’ - occurs when there’s blood in it. This may happen for several reasons - nipple trauma, infection, rusty pipe syndrome.

Red-tinged milk can be caused by Rusty Pipe Syndrome, which is old blood being left inside the milk ducts after breast changes during pregnancy. Fortunately, this syndrome is harmless and generally clears itself in a few days. If the signs do not subside or you experience other symptoms - you should talk to a Healthcare Provider.

5. Breast milk may changes in flavour

Much like wine has subtle flavour’s and aromas, so can our breast milk. The change of taste depends on what a mother has eaten. It is thought that the early exposure to a variety of flavours might lead to a less fussy eater, and the child will be more likely to accept different foods during the weaning and solid phase later on.

Whether you just kicked off nursing or you have been breastfeeding for a year, you have given your infant the best possible start in life. Remember, the benefits don’t stop after age one, so as long as it's working for both of you, then keep on going.

Check out the Lola&Lykke® award-winning Smart Electric Breast Pump - parent-voted as Best Breast Pump of 2024.

Learn more: How to Combine Pumping and Breastfeeding: A Comprehensive Guide

Lola&Lykke Smart Electric Breast Pump prominently displayed with a mother and baby playing in the background