Foremilk, hindmilk and the different types of breastmilk

Foremilk, hindmilk and the different types of breastmilk

Have you heard of the ‘foremilk-hindmilk balance’ or the changing colours of breastmilk? Whoa, our bodies are amazing. 

To myth-bust this topic we’ve spoken to Tanya Maschio (Founder of Thrive Lactation and Parenting Support), International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, Midwife, Maternal Child Health Nurse and Sleep and Settling Specialist.

When we become parents, there can be stacks of information and opinions to navigate. And if you’re feeling overwhelmed about your options, always remember this: you know what’s right for you and your family, mama. 

In this blog, Tanya shares her expert insights about the difference between foremilk and hindmilk, how fat levels shift in our breastmilk and why our breastmilk may change colour over time. 

What is the difference between foremilk and hindmilk?

Let’s start with a few definitions. Foremilk is the name for breastmilk that is expressed at the start of the feed or pumping session. On the flip side, hindmilk is breastmilk that is expressed at the end of a feed or pumping session. 

Tanya points out there can be a lot of confusion about these two types of breastmilk, specifically because of the differences in fat content.

"What we are really focusing on are the fat levels in the milk,” says Tanya. “The fat content is closely related to the degree of breast fullness and the concentration of fat gradually increases as the feed progresses.” 

Tanya explains that if our babies aren’t draining our breasts well, they can receive a large amount of foremilk. While they may seem full and well-fed, they may not be receiving enough fat (with higher quantities found in hindmilk) and may not be meeting their expected weight gain milestone for their age. 

A helpful indicator can be our baby's nappies. If you’re finding lots of wet nappies but infrequent stools or dirty nappies, this could be a sign of a higher intake of foremilk. 

Plus, because foremilk is higher in lactose (and passes through the gut quickly) you may notice stools that are frothy and green. 

Studies have shown that breast massage helps to provide more of the fatty hindmilk. Check out how Lactamo  may help with breast massage.

Should we worry about foremilk vs hindmilk?

In short, Tanya explains that all milk is good milk. 

Rather than getting caught up in the foremilk-hindmilk ratio, it’s more important to let your baby lead and feed whenever they’re looking for the breast as they instinctively know how to get the right level of calories. 

Why does our breastmilk change colour?

Tanya shares that it’s very normal for our breastmilk to change colour over time. You might notice this if you express your breastmilk and store it. 

You might notice this colour change in the first few weeks after delivery as our breastmilk changes from colostrum (a thick, yellow liquid) to thinner mature milk. 

A lot of factors can cause our milk to change in colour. Certain coloured foods, edible food dyes and nutritional substances can change the colour of breastmilk (but don’t worry, this is totally safe for bub to drink).

If you notice a pink or distinct red tone, this may happen if you’re experiencing cracked or bleeding nipples. Plus, rust-colour breast milk might occur in the early days of feeding (as increased blood flow during this time can leak in our milk ducts). In both cases, this milk is totally safe for your baby.

If you’re even in doubt about the colour of your milk, be sure to speak with your Lactation Consultant, Midwife or Doctor.

Tanya’s practical tips for breastfeeding 

All of us will have a different experience when breastfeeding or pumping (if we decide that’s the right approach for us). That’s why Tanya encourages mamas not to try to time their feeds and focus instead on good positioning and a deep latch to encourage effective breast drainage. 

Breastfeeding challenges can crop up when our breasts aren’t draining well (such as blocked ducts and mastitis). Lactamo is here to help with common breastfeeding problems, such as helping to clear blocked ducts.

Tanya’s tip? “Always well drain the first breast before offering the second side. Often we may hear we need to “empty” the breast, but this actually means well-drained! A breast is never totally ‘empty’,” reveals Tanya.

Plus, Tanya encourages mamas to chat with a lactation consultant if you’re looking for extra support. These experts can help you find the optimal position for a deep latch and effective milk transfer. 

If in doubt, please always consult your healthcare professional.