Foremilk and hindmilk

Many breastfeeding women believe that there are two different types of milk in the breast, and specifically want to know how many minutes of feeding it takes for a baby to reach the fattier milk, and when to swap to the second breast.

But it’s not quite as simple as that.

Studies reveal a slightly different picture regarding fat in breastmilk.

There isn’t, in fact, two different types of milk. We know that the volume of milk reduces as the feed progresses.

We also know that at the end of every let-down, there is also a reduction in volume.

Every time there is a reduction in the volume of milk, there will be more concentration of fat.

We also know that even between individual women and from feed to feed, the concentration of fat can be different, which means that your baby may take a different amount of time to fill up on higher fat each feed.

On average, babies generally spend between 10 to 30 minutes feeding on each breast, but this will also vary from baby to baby.

As your baby feeds on one side, he will ‘call down’ several let-downs of milk. The average number of let-downs in a feed from one breast is 3-5.

Close up of a baby breastfeeding

At the end of each let-down, the concentration of fat is higher.

As long as your baby is actively swallowing, (and it’s useful to listen for swallowing – it’s better to listen than to observe movements of his jaw), let him feed for as long as he is actively feeding before swapping to the other breast.

Sometimes your baby may fall asleep at the breast very quickly.

Very often, this occurs at the end of the first let-down, when the volume of milk is lower, and the fat concentration is higher.

Your baby may fall asleep still attached to the breast, but not be actively swallowing.

If your baby is doing this many times during many feeds, then the use of breast compressions can be a valuable tool.

This technique will cause some manual let-downs of milk, which in turn will help your baby to stay actively swallowing, and receive as much fat as needed.

If you are using breast compressions, ensure that you compress the breast at different parts all of the way around the clock face of the breast before going on to the other side.

In this way, you will ensure that your baby gets what he needs.

If you find that when your baby comes to the breast, (after the first let-down), he then pulls off the breast rather than falling asleep, this may be because he has lost interest because of the lack of flow – use breast compressions in this situation too. 

With your baby still well latched, compress your breast, enabling him to push milk down, which in turn will prompt him to continue actively swallow milk, and get more of the fattier milk as the feed progresses.

As the feed progresses, your baby will receive more fat.

Finally, consider the information relating to one breast or two. This will give you more detail on whether or not you need to offer both breasts at each feed.

Review dates, references & further resources

Review Dates

Version 1.1 published in March 2019. Next review date: Jan 2022


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