If you’re currently breastfeeding or are planning to breastfeed your baby, you might be feeling a little overwhelmed at all the information available on the topic.
While it’s important to be informed and to know where to go if you have breastfeeding questions or concerns, it’s also important to go with the flow, trust your body and your baby, and not overthink the process. (Sometimes easier said than done, we know!)
One thing that can be easy to overthink but that usually requires no special considerations or steps, is ensuring your baby gets enough hindmilk with each feed.
If you’ve been researching breastfeeding, you might have read or heard a little about foremilk and hindmilk. While it might seem like each is a distinct type of milk, in reality breasts only produce one type of milk. This milk can be categorized as foremilk at the start of a feeding and hindmilk for the remainder of the feeding.
In general, foremilk has a lower fat content while hindmilk has a higher fat content, and over the course of a full feeding a baby will ingest all the foremilk and hindmilk they need.
When a baby begins to feed, the milk they access first is the milk closest to your nipple. As your breasts produce milk, fat sticks to the sides of the milk-making cells while the watery part of the milk flows more easily towards your nipple, where it mixes with milk that’s been left there since the end of the last feed.
As the time between feedings increases, this milk becomes more diluted. This milk, which your baby accesses first when they begin to feed again, is called foremilk. The foremilk has a higher water content than the milk located deeper within the breast. Foremilk often appears visually thinner or more watery.
As your baby continues to nurse, they begin to pull milk from deeper within the breast where the fatty milk cells are stored. This milk, which is more fat-filled than the earlier milk, is called the hindmilk. Hindmilk often appears thick and creamy and is richer and more calorie dense than the foremilk.
There is no point in a feed where milk suddenly switches over from foremilk to hindmilk, instead the milk gradually transitions as the feed goes on.
The longer you go between feedings, the more watery milk will flow down to the front of the breast and the longer it may take for a baby to begin to access the fatty milk stored deeper in the breast.
Hindmilk is not very different from foremilk, and in reality the importance is that the baby is allowed to feed until they are finished in order to continue the demand messaging of the supply and demand process.
Babies will gain weight dependent on the overall volume of milk that they ingest. It is not dependent on the fat content of the milk itself.
While you want to give them ample opportunity to feed to satisfaction, the volume of breast milk as a whole, not the volume of foremilk or hindmilk, will contribute to their growth.
Luckily, this doesn’t need to be a concern. If your baby is gaining weight appropriately and having wet and dirty diapers, you don’t need to do anything to address foremilk and hindmilk.
All parents who breastfeed are able to provide their babies with both foremilk and hindmilk. An old study from 1988 raised concerns that too much foremilk could cause discomfort or issues with weight gain.
However, more recent research from 2006 has shown that fat content in milk is not tied to feeding frequency. In fact, if your baby is growing as expected you don’t need to worry about fat content at all!
Oversupply is sometimes seen as an issue for concern, with parents worrying their baby might not get the right balance of milk. The good news is that if you experience an oversupply your body will usually adjust in a just a few days. Continuing to breastfeed on demand ensures that your baby will get the balance of milk they need.
Some signs that have caused parents to worry that their baby is getting too much foremilk and not enough hindmilk include:
- gassiness that seems bothersome to the baby
- frequent crying or colic-like symptoms
- loose or green bowel movements
- a desire to breastfeed more frequently than is normal
It should be noted that this list also includes symptoms and behaviors that can be completely normal, or may have other causes or no cause at all. Again, continuing to feed on demand may help to resolve any underlying issues.
If you’re concerned that your baby is not getting enough milk, you should always reach out to your doctor or lactation consultant for advice. If your doctor or lactation consultant agrees that your baby could benefit from feeding changes, here are some steps they may suggest that you take.
Offer your breast more often
Offering your baby your breast more frequently can help your body to make more milk in general. Feeding on demand helps your body and your baby’s body work together to communicate and respond to supply needs.
Allow your baby to feed as long as they’d like from each breast
While it can feel funny to end a feed feeling “lopsided” with one breast fuller than the other, letting your baby empty your breast fully helps your body regulate supply.
You’ll know that their feed is complete when you no longer hear them gulping and swallowing. While they may continue to suck, this is known as comfort (or “non-nutritive”) nursing.
Pump until your breasts are empty
If you’re a pumping parent, you can increase your supply by ensuring you pump until your breasts are empty. Hand expression is also useful in fully emptying each breast during a pumping session.
While it’s certainly possible to make more milk, and thus increase your output of hindmilk, there’s no need to do so unless you have a low milk supply in general.
Foremilk and hindmilk are not separate types of milk and you can’t get your body to make more hindmilk, just more milk. You may try to increase your baby’s consumption of milk by following the suggestions above, though this is not usually helpful unless you have overall feeding or milk supply issues.
As a breastfeeding parent, your body produces the perfect food for your baby. Breast milk is dynamic and ever-changing and provides your baby with all the nutrients they need for a successful start in life.
While it’s important for your baby to consume enough breast milk to grow and thrive, most breastfeeding parents don’t have to do anything special to ensure this happens naturally.
If you are concerned that your baby has an issue or that they’re not gaining enough weight, talk to their doctor or a lactation consultant.
There are likely some simple steps you can take to ensure that your baby is getting the milk they need to feel full, sleep restfully, and thrive as they grow.