If you’re a breastfeeding mother, you might have heard about foremilk and hindmilk.
Maybe you’ve heard other mothers feeling concerned about whether their babies are getting too much foremilk and not enough hindmilk, or about having a foremilk hindmilk imbalance.
This article will answer some common questions about foremilk and hindmilk.
Foremilk, hindmilk – what is the difference?
Foremilk is the abundant, low fat milk that is available to your baby at the start of a breastfeed. Foremilk has a lower fat content than hindmilk because it has a higher water content.
Hindmilk is the milk available to your baby towards the end of a breastfeed. It has a higher fat content than foremilk and lower in volume but more highly concentrated.
In most cases, a mother needn’t worry about how much foremilk and hindmilk her baby is getting at any nursing session.
As long as she breastfeeds her baby regularly and does not limit the amount of time her baby nurses, her baby will usually get the right balance of foremilk and hindmilk.
Why does my milk look watery?
If you’re a mother who sometimes expresses her breast milk, you will have seen exactly what your milk looks like.
Many mothers are surprised to discover what looks like watery milk at the start of a pumping session.
This is completely normal.
Human milk looks different from the pasteurized cow’s milk we are used to seeing on supermarket shelves.
The first milk your baby receives when he begins to breastfeed, or the watery part you notice when you are expressing breast milk is called foremilk.
Can your breast milk be too watery?
There is no such thing as ‘bad’ breast milk. Foremilk is higher in water content and lower in calories than hindmilk. Hindmilk is lower in volume but has a higher fat content than foremilk.
The composition of your breast milk changes from the beginning to the end of a breastfeed; it also changes throughout the course of the day.
When you breastfeed your baby on demand, your baby will receive the right balance of both foremilk and hindmilk.
How long does it take to reach hindmilk?
There is no exact point during a feed when breast milk changes from foremilk to hindmilk.
The fuller your breast is at the start of a feed, the more foremilk there will be.
As feeding progresses and the breast empties, your baby begins to reach the hindmilk.
If your baby has been breastfeeding very often, or cluster feeding, then he will receive more hindmilk.
Cluster feeding is normal for babies.
You can read more about it in BellyBelly’s article 3 Reasons Why Your Baby Needs To Feed So Often.
How do I know my baby has reached hindmilk?
The best way to ensure that your baby gets the right balance of foremilk and hindmilk is to feed your baby according to his hunger cues. When it comes to breastfeeding, watch your baby, not the clock. This is called feeding ‘on demand’.
When breastfeeding on demand, you should:
- Offer your baby a breastfeed every time he shows signs of hunger, regardless of how long ago the last feed ended
- Allow your baby to finish feeding on the first breast before offering the other breast. This ensures your baby has enough time to reach the fatty milk towards the end of a feed
You can be satisfied your baby is getting enough milk if your baby is:
- Gaining weight appropriately
- Having enough wet and dirty diapers.
Some people mistakenly believe that green stools are an indication of a foremilk hindmilk imbalance. Usually, green poop is normal.
If your baby’s bowel movements are very forceful, explosive, excessively watery, or foamy, its best to seek advice from a lactation consultant or other health care provider.
If your baby has insufficient weight gain, it is more likely he needs more milk overall, rather than milk with more fat.
How do I get more high fat milk in a pumping session?
Some mothers ask how they can get higher fat milk when they are expressing their breast milk. The good news is, even though it looks like you express lots of watery foremilk in your pumping sessions, it’s unlikely that it means your baby is not getting enough high fat milk.
When you are directly breastfeeding your baby, you aren’t able to see the fat content of your breast milk and, in most cases, there is no reason you need to.
The same goes for pumping. Your lactose-rich foremilk is just as important for your baby as your high calorie hindmilk. In the vast majority of cases, there is nothing else you need to do to get more fat in your breast milk.
What happens when a baby gets too much foremilk?
Occasionally, when a mother has an oversupply of breast milk, her baby drinks too much foremilk. When this happens, it can appear as though the baby has a digestive disorder.
The baby might have trouble gaining weight, or have colic-like symptoms, such as gas, wind pains or excessive crying. This can be due to undigested lactose, or lactose overload.
Some mothers with an oversupply of breast milk also have an over active let down.
If you think this could apply to you, you can read more about it in BellyBelly’s article Overactive Letdown – 6 Tips To Manage It.
When this is the case, it is sometimes suggested that the mother tries block feeding. This can help regulate her breast milk supply and ensure her baby gets enough hindmilk at each feed.
Block feeding involves feeding from only one breast for an allocated time (e.g. 4 hours) and not switching breasts until the allocated time period has ended.
If they are feeding from the same breast for a number of feeds in a row, some mothers might need to express a small amount of milk from the other side, to avoid engorgement and blocked ducts.
As breastfeeding works on the principle of supply and demand, it’s important not to completely drain the breast you are expressing milk from. Completely draining the breast sends a message to your body to replace the breast milk that has been taken. By expressing only a little bit, until your breast feels comfortable again, you are helping to avoid overstimulating your milk production.
It’s important to talk to your lactation consultant before attempting block feeding. Many lactation consultants agree that it’s uncommon for a mother to have a foremilk hindmilk imbalance, so it’s worth investigating the root cause of any symptoms your baby is displaying.
If your baby is not gaining enough weight, it’s important to seek professional medical advice.