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There’s a reason why breast milk is referred to as liquid gold: It has immune-boosting components that are dynamic in responding to your baby’s needs, making it a pretty amazing first food for your little one. Read on to discover the mind-blowing ways that breast milk changes, from composition to colour to taste.
1. Breast milk changes as your baby grows
In the beginning, breasts produce thick, honey-textured colostrum packed with immunological components that protect your newborn. “It’s basically like a baby’s first vaccination,” explains Taya Griffin, an international board-certified lactation consultant. She explains that one of the major immune boosters is called secretory immunoglobulin A (SIgA), which coats the internal organs and lining of the digestive, respiratory and reproductive tracts. “SIgA doesn’t let bacteria and pathogens get in through the gut, so it protects your baby from the inside out,” says Griffin. Colostrum, which Griffin says is lower in some nutrients (such as lactose and fat) than mature milk and higher in others (such as protein and potassium), is designed to suit your newborn’s growing body.
After giving your baby an initial immune-system supercharge (and clearing the intestines of meconium) in the first two or three days, your breast milk changes again and increases in volume, says Griffin. Known as transitional milk, it lasts roughly three to seven days and gradually transforms into mature milk by the two-week mark. This mature milk that the baby gets for the first year isn’t radically different from colostrum—it still has all of the same properties but is more diluted for a higher volume of milk, says Ashley Pickett, an international board-certified lactation consultant.
The next major change begins when your child hits the toddler years. The volume of milk you produce declines, which concentrates the immunological components. “The milk starts to decrease because babies are eating and drinking other foods, so it develops more antibodies and higher fat content,” says Attie Sandink, a board-certified lactation consultant and registered nurse. It’s definitely worth nursing a child into the second year and beyond, adds Pickett, explaining that breast milk, alongside a wide variety of solid foods, can boost a child’s immune system and help meet his nutritional and emotional needs. In fact, both the Canadian Paediatric Society and World Health Organization recommend nursing for up to two years and beyond.
2. Breast milk changes during growth spurts and illnesses
While mature milk remains fairly consistent in terms of its proteins, fat and sugar content during that first year, it can be quite responsive to micro-level changes due to factors like the mother’s diet, bacteria and viruses in the environment, and the baby’s feeding behaviours. Teresa Pitman, a La Leche League leader and co-author of The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, notes that a baby will nurse frequently for several days during a growth spurt which helps to increase the fat content in the milk. Breast milk can also change when your baby is sick or you are exposed to illness. In fact, researchers believe that when a baby is sick, she passes on a cue through her saliva that sends a signal to her mother’s body to produce more milk with illness-specific antibodies. Magical, right? Similarly, if the breastfeeding mother is exposed to a virus, she will produce antibodies that get passed on to the baby for protection, says Pickett. And during the COVID pandemic, studies showed that previously infected or vaccinated moms were able to pass active, protective antibodies to their babies through breastmilk.
3. Breast milk changes from day to night
According to experts, breast milk changes throughout the day and night. Many nursing women notice greater volume and faster flow in their breast milk in the early hours of the day, which Pickett says may be due to higher levels of prolactin, a hormone that helps produce milk, at that time. The breast milk that’s produced at the end of the day is also designed to help your little one get rest. “Evening milk contains more serotonin and other elements to help the baby sleep,” says Sandink.
4. Breast milk changes during a feeding
You may have heard that the milk at the beginning of a feed, called foremilk, is more watery while the milk at the end, called hindmilk, is fattier. It’s true that the fat in breast milk increases gradually during a feeding, but that doesn’t mean that hindmilk is better than foremilk. Griffin says that keeping a baby on one side for too long to ensure that she gets that fat without making sure that the baby is actively drinking is counterproductive because she may just hang out there, only sucking, and not get enough milk. For this reason, it’s important to know what drinking looks like and to switch back and forth between breasts whenever you think your baby has stopped. “If the mom is feeding her baby when she asks to be fed and keeps her drinking so that she is not falling asleep at the breast, then she will get the right composition of milk,” explains Griffin.
5. Breast milk changes colour
There’s a wide range of normal when it comes to the colour of breast milk, says Sandink. Bluish, yellow, cream and orange are some of the possibilities, and they’re all fine for your baby. Pickett notes that medicine can affect the colour of your breast milk—an antibiotic called minocycline can even turn it black (don’t worry, it’s safe to drink, but you should alert your healthcare provider nonetheless).
The only change to take note of is when breast milk is pink, red or rusty, which could indicate blood in your milk from damaged nipples or other issues deeper in the breast. It’s totally fine for your baby, but it’s a good idea to get checked out, says Pickett. At the very least, a lactation consultant can help sort out and fix what’s causing the nipple trauma. It’s especially important to see a lactation consultant or doctor if there’s blood in your milk but your nipples are OK. “If there isn’t any nipple pain or damage but mom’s milk has blood in it, I might be worried about other things happening in the mother’s breast,” explains Pickett. “I’d want her to see a doctor and be sent for an ultrasound because sometimes cancers and other things can cause blood to come through the milk.” Most of the time, blood is nothing to worry about, but getting checked will give you peace of mind and help you keep nursing.
6. Breast milk changes flavour
The food you eat can change the flavour of your breast milk, though some tastes last longer than others. A 2008 study in the journal Physiology and Behaviour noted that the flavour of menthol lasted longest, while the taste of banana was only found up to an hour after it was eaten. A 2001 study published in Pediatrics showed that babies whose mothers drank carrot juice over the time they were nursing seemed to prefer carrot-flavoured cereal over plain cereal. The effect of food on breast milk can impact other senses, too. A 2016 study in the journal Metabolites found that eating raw garlic changed the smell of breast milk in some participants.
The composition of breast milk affects flavours as well. The higher sodium content in colostrum means that it tastes salty, says Griffin. This is something she learned first-hand when her eldest child, then three, was nursing while Griffin was pregnant and her milk was transitioning back to colostrum. “She started to tell me that the taste of the milk was changing, from what she always described as tasting like honey. She started saying that the milk tasted like Marmite, which is very salty.” Meanwhile, some moms have excess lipase, an enzyme that breaks down fat in the milk, which can cause pumped milk to taste soapy. It’s fine for your little one to drink, but if your baby is bothered by the taste, you can heat it to a scalding temperature before storing it in the fridge or freezer to help correct the flavour.
The post 6 magical ways that breast milk changes to meet your baby’s needs appeared first on Today's Parent.
There’s no reason to cry over spilled milk, but there are plenty of reasons to cry over breast milk that wasn’t stored properly. Not only did you work hard to pump that liquid gold but sour milk can also make your baby sick. Here are the basic breast milk storage guidelines that all parents should keep in mind.
How long can breast milk sit out at room temperature?
The rule of thumb is that untouched, freshly-pumped breast milk can stay out at room temperature for four hours or less, says Deborah Campbell, a neonatologist at The Children’s Hospital at Montefiore in the Bronx, N.Y. If it’s been longer than four hours, you need to throw it out (sorry!). If you know you’re not going to use the milk during that timeframe and your baby hasn’t sipped from it yet, just stick it in the fridge.
How long does breast milk last in the fridge?
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics’ breast milk storage guidelines, once you’ve put breast milk in the refrigerator, it can stay there for up to four days. It’s during this window the milk’s fat, digestive enzyme activity and anti-infection benefits are at their peak, adds Campbell. To keep the milk cold, be sure to store it on the bottom shelf at the back of the fridge, not in the door.
How long will breast milk keep in an insulated cooler?
If you are hitting the road and need to bring along a bottle or bag of breast milk, you can pack it in an insulated cooler with an ice pack and it should be safe for up to 24 hours.
How long does breast milk last in the freezer?
If you don’t plan on using the milk within the four days that it’s at its best in the fridge, you should freeze it within 24 hours of pumping. Breast milk is good for three to six months when stored in a freezer attached to a refrigerator. As with storing it in the fridge, the milk should be kept in the back of the freezer. If you have a deep freezer or chest freezer, you can freeze the milk for up to one year.
How to store breast milk
Breast milk storage bags are your best option. Choose two- or four-ounce storage bags and, if you plan on freezing the milk, be sure to leave a little room at the top of the bag because the milk will expand when it freezes.
Write the date you pumped on the bag so you’ll know when to throw it out. Don’t use disposable bottle liners or other types of plastic bags. If you’re afraid that the bags may tear, you can put them inside a plastic container with a lid. You should avoid any containers made with bisphenol A or S, but you can freeze breast milk in freezer-safe glass or BPA-free plastic containers. Wash all bottles with hot, soapy water beforehand (or in the dishwasher) and dry them well. Do not use chemical disinfectants.
How to thaw breast milk safely
Remember the mantra: First in, first out. Thaw the oldest breast milk first.
There are several ways to safely thaw your breast milk:
-Place it in the fridge overnight to thaw.
-Run the bottle under lukewarm water.
-Set the bottle in a container of warm or lukewarm water.
-Use a waterless bottle warmer.
If you thaw the breast milk in the fridge, use it within 24 hours, counting from when it’s completely thawed. Once milk is brought to room temperature, use it within two hours.
Whatever you do, do not thaw your breast milk in a microwave oven because it can thaw the milk unevenly and potentially burn your baby!
It’s also important to never refreeze breast milk after it’s been thawed.
Why does thawed breast milk smell and look different than fresh breast milk?
That’s normal. This happens when women produce breast milk that is high in an enzyme called lipase. While this enzyme helps digest the fat content in breast milk, it can also affect the smell and taste of both fresh and frozen milk (it usually makes it smell and taste metallic or soapy). Women often don’t realize that their breast milk is high in lipase until they freeze it because the changes to the milk take a few hours—or even a day—to take effect, so you probably wouldn’t notice the changes with fresh milk. If you’re concerned about your baby not wanting to drink the breast milk, talk to your doctor to find out about a process to help neutralize the enzyme and lessen the smell.
How do I know if my breast milk has gone bad?
Generally speaking, you’ll know that your breast milk has gone bad if it smells rancid or sour. You probably notice that your breast milk will separate naturally after you pump, with the fat rising to the top. “When milk is still good, it mixes back together easily with a gentle swirl of the bottle,” says Campbell. If your milk doesn’t do this or has chunks floating in it, throw out the milk, adds Campbell.
How do I warm a bottle of breast milk safely?
Warming breast milk that has already been thawed is best done in lukewarm water (usually 40°C/104°F) for about 20 minutes. Breast milk does not need to be warmed: Some babies prefer their milk cooler, while others like it fully warmed. As you get to know your baby’s preferences, you can adjust your warming times. As with thawing, never use a microwave oven to warm breast milk as it can heat the milk unevenly and scald your little one.
Be sure to test the milk’s temperature with a few drops on your wrist before feeding it to your baby.
Can I reheat a bottle of breast milk?
We all know how precious breast milk is, and the thought of wasting even a drop makes us cringe. But once a baby starts drinking a bottle of milk, some bacterial contamination occurs in the milk from the infant’s mouth, says Campbell. This means that you shouldn’t reheat the milk. A bottle that your baby has drank from is only good for about an hour, says Campbell. She recommends storing milk in smaller bottles so that your baby uses the full portion at each feeding and you don’t have to fret over throwing out your precious liquid gold.
About our expert: Deborah Campbell is a neonatologist at The Children’s Hospital at Montefiore in the Bronx, N.Y.
The post Everything you need to know about breast milk storage appeared first on Today's Parent.
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