February 27, 2016
If we had the power to eliminate just one misunderstood notion about breastfeeding, it would be the concept of foremilk and hindmilk!
Science has shown that the breast milk a baby receives toward the end of a feeding (hindmilk) is higher in fat than the milk at the beginning of a feeding (foremilk). That part is true!
This bit of science, however, has been taken out of context. Breastfeeding literature and well meaning friends or health professionals may advise to “make sure baby feeds long enough to get the hindmilk” (higher fat milk). This advice can lead to confusion and mismanagement of breastfeeding.
Women are left wondering:
- How long on a breast is “long enough” to get to the hind milk?
- Should I feed from only one breast each feed to help my baby gain weight?
Knowing these facts may help to answer those questions:
- The increased fat content of breastmilk during a feed is gradual; there is not an exact time when “foremilk” ends and “hindmilk” begins.
- Expressed breast milk does not look like the cow’s milk you are used to purchasing at the grocery store. Instead, it has a thin and watery appearance. This is normal!
- The length of a breastfeed varies between babies as well as from feed to feed.
- Some women have an abundant milk supply and only need to feed from one breast at a feed. Other women need to feed from both breasts every feed to satisfy their babies. One is not ‘better’ than the other. Both are normal.
Learn more about breastfeeding myths in our free online video breastfeeding course,“Getting Ready to Breastfeed.” Download it here.
If you are concerned about whether your baby gets enough hindmilk, please take note of how your baby is feeding at the breast rather than watching the time. Is your baby swallowing milk at the breast? Is your baby content and relaxed after feeds?
There are only a few situations where women may need to pay attention to foremilk and hindmilk. These are very specific situations, centered around a problem (e.g. a very low birth weight baby, a very fussy, gassy fast gaining infant.) Consult with your healthcare provider or Lactation Consultant if your baby is fussy or not gaining weight.
The concept of foremilk and hindmilk has caused breastfeeding women unnecessary worry. It is more important to watch your baby rather than the clock.
Relax, put your feet up and let your baby lead the way!
References and More Information:
- Aksit, Sadik, Nese Ozkayin, and Suat Caglayan. “Effect of Sucking Characteristics on Breast Milk Creamatocrit.” Paediatr Perinat Epidemiol Paediatric and Perinatal Epidemiology 16.4 (2002): 355-60.
- Bonyata, Kelly. “Foremilk and Hindmilk – What Does This Mean?” KellyMomcom. 29 Aug. 2011.
- Kent, J. C., L. R. Mitoulas, M. D. Cregan, D. T. Ramsay, D. A. Doherty, and P. E. Hartmann. “Volume and Frequency of Breastfeedings and Fat Content of Breast Milk Throughout the Day.” Pediatrics 117.3 (2006): E387-395.
- Mohrbacher, Nancy. “Worries About Foremilk and Hindmilk.” RSS. N.p., 27 June 2010.
Cindy and Jana are Registered Nurses and International Board Certified Lactation Consultants who have assisted over 20,000 families.