Why Does Breastmilk Separate?

Why Does Breastmilk Separate?

Your breastmilk is a remarkable natural substance.

It provides your baby with everything she needs for the first 6 months of life and continues to be her main source of nutrition throughout the first year.

Breastmilk remains a valuable source of nutrition and immune protection for as long as a child breastfeeds.

Women and babies who don’t breastfeed have an increased risk of various health problems.

For example, not breastfeeding increases a woman’s risk of breast and ovarian cancer, and babies who don’t breastfeed have an increased risk of infection – for example, gastrointestinal, respiratory and ear infection.

Why Does Breastmilk Separate?

Access to modern innovations such as quality breast pumps and refrigeration means mothers can express their breastmilk, store it, and use it later, when needed.

Women who do this, however, sometimes have questions about the quality of the expressed breastmilk.

For example, some mothers might be concerned when they see their breastmilk has separated into different layers after it has been stored in the fridge.

If you’ve noticed this, and you are worried about it, this article will help put your mind at ease.

What Causes Breastmilk To Separate?

Back in the days when the household milk was delivered in bottles, you would've noticed there was a layer of cream at the top. This was a normal process of separation which occurred before milk was pasteurised and homogenised, which it mostly is today.

Human breastmilk goes through the same separation process. When expressed breastmilk is stored, the fat (or ‘cream’) in the breastmilk rises to the top.

Does The Thickness Of The Fat Layer Mean Anything?

Sometimes the fat layer that rises to the top in stored breastmilk will be thick; other times you will notice a thinner layer. This variation is completely normal and doesn’t mean your breastmilk is ‘too watery'.

The fat concentration of breastmilk is largely determined by the degree of breast fullness. The fuller the breast, the lower the fat concentration. The emptier the breast, the higher the fat concentration.

What Do I Do If Breastmilk Has Separated?

When you’re ready to feed your baby with your expressed breastmilk, gently swirl the container; this will help the layers to mix together.

Any thicker parts of the breastmilk that might have stuck to the sides of the storage container will come away more easily if you run some warm water over the outside of the container.

For more handy tips about storing your expressed breastmilk, you might be interested in reading Breast Milk Storage – 14 Facts And Tips.

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Renee Kam IBCLC CONTRIBUTOR

Renee Kam is mother to Jessica and Lara, an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), a physiotherapist, author of ‘The Newborn Baby Manual’ and an Australian Breastfeeding Association Counsellor. In her spare time, Renee enjoys spending time with family and friends, horse riding, running and reading.


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