Disclaimer: while all recommendations in this blog post are considered to be safe and effective, pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers should consult with their healthcare providers and/or a lactation consultant before implementing any of these practices in their daily routine.
Breastfeeding is an incredible -- actually, miraculous -- thing. Not only do you have the ability to feed your baby with your body, but your body intuitively knows what to do, even if you've never done it before.
"It" being everything related to growing and nourishing baby and all of postpartum.
But, despite how good your body is at knowing what to do, that doesn't stop you from wondering, Googling, or stressing about every little thing, right?
I mean, this is your baby we're talking about! Baby's needs are basic but complex, and you (and your breast milk) are the middle man for all of it.
So when baby isn't gaining enough weight like you expected them to, it's easy to assume it has something to do with your milk supply!
Is baby getting enough milk? Do I have a hindmilk imbalance? Should I cut dairy products out of my diet? Do I have a low milk supply? Does my milk have a lower fat content than it should?
Don't worry my friend, these questions are all completely normal. You care about your baby and you want to make sure everything is how it should be.
In this blog post, I will explain:
Most babies triple their birth weight and double their height within the first 12 months of life.
In order to sustain that kind of growth rate, infants need nutrient dense milk and calorie dense milk. Milk that is high in nutrients and calories has more fat than milk that doesn't.
Furthermore, dietary fat is important for cell function, metabolic energy, nervous system development, and brain development, all critical things in growing babies.
Having enough fat in your breastmilk ensures baby is getting all the nutrients and benefits they need to grow healthy and strong in their first year of life.
According to this article from the National Library of Medicine, milk has a "general composition of 87% water, 3.8% fat, 1.0% protein, and 7% lactose."
That being said, the fat composition of breast milk varies from woman to woman, and can even vary depending on the health and nutrition of the mother, too.
Since there are so many different variables that contribute to an infant's growth, the only way to know how much fat is in your breast milk is to pump out one feeding's worth of milk and let the milk settle overnight in the fridge.
Once the milk has settled, you should notice that some fat globules (fatty acids) have separated from the milk and floated to the top. If there's a good amount of fat, the fatty milk should appear as a layer rather than individual bubbles of fat.
The best thing to do is compare your milk to your milk over time because the average amount of fat in breastmilk varies daily and weekly. You can collect milk once a week over 4 weeks and take a picture of each bottle to compare.
Then, see if your milk production and fat levels are consistent over time. If they are, that'll give you a good idea of about how much fat is in your milk.
The most important thing to remember is that eyeballing your fattier milk is just that: eyeballing. It's a non-accurate estimate. What's more indicative of the quality of your milk is how satisfied baby is after a feeding, during the day, and their growth rate (no matter how slow!).
If you have a chance to pump some of your own breastmilk, after a few hours in the fridge, you'll notice the fatty hindmilk separate and float to the top.
The fat is thicker, creamier, and more yellow than the rest of the milk. If you let it sit, it'll form a thin layer; if you shake the milk, the fat globules will separate and disperse throughout the milk.
Nope! Breast size is determined by both genetics and the amount of fatty tissue surrounding the breast. The amount of fat in breastmilk is determined by the mother's diet, how frequently baby nurses, and how well baby empties the breast each time.
The best foods for increasing fat in breastmilk are:
Eating a combination of these foods consistently will establish a well-rounded diet that can support high quality breastmilk. Your body needs fats, protein, and carbs to have enough fat in your breastmilk.
In my professional opinion as a pre/postnatal nutritionist, I would start by evaluating what YOU are eating before changing how much baby eats.
Babies are really good at intuitive eating and they will tell you if they are hungry or not. You can also clearly tell if baby begins to cluster feed.
Because of this, your first plan of action should be to increase the QUALITY of your milk because baby already has a say in the quantity.
On average, human breast milk contains about 15-45 calories per ounce, or 45-115 calories per 100mL.
As always, mama knows best. If your intuition tells you something is off, don't wait. Take baby to their pediatrician or see a lactation specialist so you can have peace of mind.
That being said, here are a few signs that indicate it is a good idea to see a healthcare professional about your milk and/or baby's growth:
Did you know that your breast milk changes in fat composition throughout a feeding session?
Foremilk and hindmilk are terms used to describe the two stages of breastmilk, rather than two types of human breast milk.
The foremilk is the milk at the beginning of the feeding. It is thinner and has a higher concentration of lactose to hydrate baby.
Hindmilk is the milk towards the end of the feeding; it is thicker, creamier, and has a higher fat content to nourish baby.
It's important to note that the ratio between the total amount of hindmilk and foremilk changes with baby's age and the mother's diet. Because of this, baby needs both the watery foremilk AND the fattier hindmilk at each feeding for optimal nutrition and growth.
Aim to have an empty breast after each feeding to ensure baby gets both the hydrating foremilk and the fat-rich hindmilk.
You might not realize it, but most of your body is on autopilot most of the time. This includes the production, timing, and secretion of all your important hormones.
Since your body relies on hormones to produce milk, it's important to establish a feeding routine (whether you are nursing or pumping) to keep your postpartum hormones as regulated as possible.
The more regulated your prolactin and oxytocin hormone levels are, the more likely you are to have a higher fat content in your milk.
In other words, because your body doesn't have to think too hard about regulating your milk-producing hormones, it can use that energy elsewhere, like pulling the fats and nutrients out of your diet into your milk for baby.
In addition, YOU have peace of mind because nursing your baby is familiar and comfortable, which means you are relaxed mentally, which stimulates a better milk supply.
Now, obviously you can't sit in the same place with the same blanket with the same noise level every single time you feed baby, but some things you can normalize are:
Find a feeding routine that is comfortable for you and baby and stick to it. You'll be surprised how much this impacts the quality of your milk!
Oxytocin, known as the "love hormone," is required to initiate breastfeeding in lactating women. It stimulates the "let-down reflex," which releases stored milk to help baby get milk quickly and easily.
Stress and anxiety inhibit your body's ability to produce and release oxytocin. If you are feeling stressed or anxious about breastfeeding, you won't have as much oxytocin to help with milk production or let-down, which means the quality and quantity of your milk will decrease.
Create a list of 2-3 affirmations that you can repeat to yourself before and during a feeding to help cope with any stress you might have. You can also confide in your partner or keep a journal.
Most importantly, remind yourself that your body knows what to do, your baby knows what they need, and women have been breastfeeding for thousands of years. You got this mama!
I CAN'T SAY THIS ENOUGH.
One of the most common problems I see with breastfeeding women is that they aren't eating enough food.
To put it simply, you need an extra 400-500 calories during lactation! This means that in addition to the food you need for your body each day, you'll need an extra meal or some extra snacks to feed baby. This is GOOD!
If baby is eating your calories, your body won't have enough energy to make quality milk, and both of you will be hungry.
Here's an example: you need 1800 calories a day and baby needs 500 calories (aka the extra calories for making milk). That means you should be eating at least 2300 calories a day to take care of both of you.
If it would help you to count calories or macros, click here to get a rough calculation of what your body needs.
If you would rather focus on intuitive eating, just ask yourself each day, "Have I had two extra snacks to feed baby? Have I honored my hunger cues? Did I have larger portions at every meal?"
Either way, the most important thing is eating enough. The "baby weight" will disappear eventually, but the most important thing is your baby's growth.
(If you want personalized nutrition advice for your individual needs, I'd love to work with you! Click here to sign up for 1:1 coaching with me.)
It is possible to have a great milk supply from a healthy diet alone, but trust me when I say it is much less stressful when you intentionally incorporate lactogenic foods!
Your body needs a combination of enough calories, nutrients, and water to have nutrient-dense breastmilk, and breast milk that is nutrient dense is naturally more calorie dense, which means there's more fat.
Foods that have been shown to increase milk supply are also the same foods that have a positive impact on the amount of fat in your milk supply.
Some of these foods include:
For more than 50 amazing and nourishing lactation recipes, check out my lactation cookbook!
Protein is essential for breastfeeding moms. Not only does it help your body heal from childbirth, but it is the foundation of many of the nutrients baby needs to grow and develop properly.
Protein is made up of amino acids, which are the building blocks of bones, ligaments, hair, skin, and lungs. These amino acids also affect your metabolism, immune system, and hormones.
Since baby's growth is exponential during the first year of life, amino acids are essential to breastmilk.
The cool thing is that by focusing on protein intake, you are not only giving baby all those essential amino acids in your milk, but you are giving your body the energy it needs to produce more milk!
To put it simply, more protein equals more milk, which equals full breasts, which, if emptied regularly, means more fat in your milk.
To help you get an idea of how much protein you need each day, I put together a FREE 2 week meal plan with delicious, high protein recipes that are also easy to make and lactation-friendly.
It's a great way to get nourishing meals at home on a budget AND keep up your milk supply. Click here to get your copy FOR FREE!
Also, if you're interested in a lactation-safe protein supplement, I wrote an entire blog post about the best lactation protein powders for breastfeeding moms, so be sure to read that before choosing a supplement!
While it's a myth that "fat makes you fat," there is abundant conclusive evidence that choosing foods with healthy fats will directly impact the amount of fat in your breast milk.
The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published this article that summarized findings from over 10 different studies about maternal diet and fat composition in breast milk. It states that "fatty acids in human milk...vary widely depending on maternal lipid nutrition" and "maternal lipid nutrition is the single most important factor contributing to the variability in human milk fatty acids."
Another important fact about dietary fats is that your body cannot synthesize (or create) omega-3 fats and omega-6 fats, which means the only way you can get them is from your diet. This also means the only way baby is going to get those healthy fats is from your milk!
Lastly, high quality dietary fats stabilize blood sugar, promote heart health, regulate hormones, provide long-lasting energy, and support brain development.
When your body experiences these benefits from healthy dietary fats, the quality of your milk is higher, or in other words, you have more fat in your milk.
So which type of fat should you eat?
There are four types of fat - saturated, trans, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated - and you want to eat mostly the latter two.
Good sources of unsaturated fats are:
Although you should consume fewer saturated fats, there are a few sources of saturated fat that are considered healthy foods:
Avoid vegetable oils when possible and keep your consumption of processed foods to a minimum.
Your milk is basically just fatty water.
If you're not drinking enough water, you can't make enough milk. If you can't make enough milk, you definitely won't have enough fat in your milk.
Therefore, drinking water is essential to having fatty breastmilk!
In addition to boosting fat content in breastmilk, water is essential for absorbing and transporting water-soluble vitamins like vitamin C and the entire vitamin B complex. The B vitamins are especially important for baby's brain and cellular health.
Lastly, you are constantly losing vitamins, minerals, and salts because you are breastfeeding. Water helps you replenish what you're losing and keeps your body healthy and strong so you can produce more milk for your little one.
Added or refined sugars spike your blood sugar much higher and much faster than other foods, so you either end up eating more of them or feeling fuller faster than you should.
Because of this, you can conclude that more added sugar in your diet probably means you're not getting as much protein or healthy fats as you need, which decreases the overall amount of fat in your milk.
They also have minimal nutritional value, so while they taste great, they're not doing much for you or your baby other than providing quick energy for your body.
If you experience sugar cravings, it's usually a sign that you're low in protein. Fixing your cravings with sugar only makes the feedback loop worse, so try adding more protein to your diet! Not only will you have less sugar cravings, but the fat content of your milk will improve as well.
Because lactation is driven by hormones and not automatic processes, there needs to be a trigger to make milk.
That trigger is baby nursing.
If baby doesn't nurse often or well, your body doesn't see a need to use lots of your calories and nutrients to produce fatty milk to help baby grow. So, therefore, it won't make very fatty milk.
On the other hand, if you feed on demand, your body will be so in tune with baby's needs and how often you need to make milk. And the more milk you make, the fattier the milk is!
If you breastfeed and pump or exclusively pump, this principle still applies. Don't worry about scheduling feedings at a certain time of day; just honor baby's hunger cues and feed on demand.
How much milk is extracted during each feeding plays an important role in how much fat is in your milk.
Because the fattier milk is in the latter half of the feeding, it's the first nutrient to be affected (supply) as the [demand] changes. An emptier breast tells your body to continue to make more fat for your breast milk.
Inversely, if baby doesn't finish the entire supply of milk, it will signal to your body that you a) don't need as much milk next time, and b) you don't need as much fat because baby didn't finish the feeding.
To help baby fully drain the breast, watch for fullness cues and try to maintain a calm and distraction-free environment during nursing. If you are pumping, let the pump run for an additional 10-20 seconds at the end of the session when you don't see any milk coming out to make sure you got every last drop!
Also known as breast compressions, hand expressing is a good way to increase the fat content in your milk supply.
Because fat has a different viscosity than the watery milk, some of it might adhere to the milk ducts and never make its way out. Over time, these fat globules will build up to create a natural barrier that makes nursing more difficult because baby has a hard time getting milk out. Less milk equals less fat.
To help prevent fat from getting trapped in your milk ducts, you can hand express milk during a feeding to help the milk move along or hand express with a manual breast pump at the end of a nursing session to make sure baby drank all their milk.
Hand expressing milk is simple: cup your breast in the palm of your hand, placing your pointer finger right under your nipple, and press your thumb in a downward motion towards your nipple as you squeeze with your hand. Do this slowly and rhythmically.
If you hand express while baby is nursing, just use the tips of your fingers to press your breast in a downward motion towards baby's mouth.
If you hand express while pumping, try to do it in rhythm with the pump.
Similar to hand expressing, breast massages stimulate the milk ducts to help remove any potential sticky fatty acids. However, breast massages are most effective before a feeding.
Massaging can also help prevent clogged ducts and mastitis if that is a common issue for you.
To make breast massages easier, try using a warm compress to relax your breast, then gently massage just before bringing baby to the nipple.
If you have some extra time on your hands (funny, I know) or your partner can take baby for at least an hour, power pumping might be a great option for you.
This is an intense 60 minutes of pumping that has been shown to increase total milk supply as well as fatty acids in the milk as soon as 8 hours later.
To start, find a quiet and comfortable spot in your home, away from other kids or responsibilities, and bring a snack and lots of water.
Sit down and pump for 10 minutes, then rest for 10 minutes. Switch sides, pump 10 minutes, then rest for 10 minutes. Repeat this process one more time and you're done!
Make sure you initiate your let down reflex before resting, and don't stop pumping if you don't see any milk. The goal is to teach your body to produce more!
If you regularly pump, one power pumping session will replace a regular pumping session.
I don't recommend doing more than one power pumping session per day, but you can do it every day if you want to.
If you're worried about how much fat is in your milk, check the clock and notice the time of day.
Because there are so many factors that affect your supply, the fat content of your breast milk won't be perfectly consistent throughout the day.
However, this article published by the National Library of Medicine in 2020 evaluated 19 different studies about the relationship between milk supply and the time of day and found that 15 of the 19 studies concluded there was statistically significant evidence that breast milk supply follows a circadian rhythm.
In the graph above, you'll notice that levels of fatty acids and triglycerides are highest in the late afternoon, around 4-6pm, then decrease continuously throughout the night and the early morning.
This is because baby needs to get enough calories in the evening to be able to sleep through the night. This rhythm of natural changes in fatty acids also helps baby develop their own circadian rhythm as early as 4 months old.
So if you pump first thing in the morning and compare that milk to milk that you pump right before dinner, the latter milk should naturally have more fat in it just because of the time of day!
This supplement is made from dehydrated sunflower seeds.
For years, women believed that sunflower lecithin helped increase the amount of polyunsaturated fats in the milk, which in turn prevented the fat globules (the fatty parts of breast milk) from sticking to the walls of the milk ducts.
Some women today swear by it too! I haven't personally tried it, but I saw this option on many other blogs.
Scientific studies have not come to a conclusion about whether or not sunflower lecithin actually improves milk supply. However, it has been deemed safe for breastfeeding women, so consult with your doctor and give it a shot if you want to try it.
Putting you body in "fight or flight" mode pulls the energy and calories it would have used to make fatty breast milk to help you "run away and survive" (metaphorically of course).
Remember that women have been doing this without machines or the internet for thousands of years, so by the law of Darwinism, your body knows what to do. Trust yourself (yes, even you, new moms!) and know that you can do this.
Believe it or not, it's actually very uncommon for something to be physically or anatomically wrong with your body when it comes to breast feeding.
Before you decide that your body can't sustain lactation, take a look at some of your lifestyle factors, your diet, and your stress to see if you can eliminate those things first.
And guess what: if baby has a tongue tie, their body isn't broken either!
I speak from experience when I say this is one of the worst things you can do, especially if you exclusively pump.
I know that numbers can be empowering and relieving, especially when you have so many other things to worry about, but they can also put things out of proportion and overlook simple cues.
Remember how baby is really good at intuitive eating? Sometimes they'll need more milk and sometimes they won't. Since that's the case, it is not helpful to obsess over every feeding, especially the fat content in the milk.
Like I mentioned earlier, stress inhibits the production of milk, which directly impacts the fat content of your milk.
Chronic stress elevates your heart rate and cortisol levels, which put your body into overdrive. When your body is in overdrive, it isn't effective in producing milk with enough fat content.
Manage your stress through affirmations, journaling, sunshine, music, or anything that brings you joy. Most importantly, practice developing self-trust so you are confident in your abilities.
Both the foremilk (the thin watery stuff) and the hind milk (the fatty milk) are important for baby's nutrition and growth, so separating your milk and only feeding baby the hind milk is depriving them of proper hydration and certain key nutrients.
Think about it this way: you probably wouldn't feel good if all you ate were fatty foods, even if they were mostly good fats like avocados or nuts. Your body needs a variety of nutrients, and so does baby.
Furthermore, since there are essential fat-soluble vitamins and water-soluble vitamins, separating the milk only allows baby access to the fat-soluble vitamins and not the water-soluble viatmins.
Carbohydrates are your body's preferred source of energy. Not only are they quick energy, but they have lots of vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals to nourish you and baby. Carbs also transport protein throughout your body, which, as I mentioned previously, is crucial for milk supply.
Metabolically, your body requires tons of extra energy to produce milk in the first place, and if you're not eating enough carbs, it has to use the energy from the protein and fat you eat, which means less fat in your milk. And we don't want that.
Instead of fearing carbs and trying to minimize them, incorporate nutrient-rich carbohydrates throughout the day to fuel your body.
Healthy sources of carbohydrates are:
If you want some guidance on incorporating carbs into your diet or some recipes with healthy carbs, check out this FREE 2 week meal plan!
Now, I know this is much easier said than done, but it's worth the extra effort physically and mentally, I promise.
Eight times out of 10, when I'm working with a woman and her lactation journey, she admits to forgetting to eat or skipping meals or snacks because she's either too busy or "not hungry."
My dear friend, if you don't eat enough, you won't produce fatty milk. It's that simple.
If you forget to eat, set a timer; if you're too busy, meal prep some healthy snacks on Sunday; if you don't feel hungry, eat something small.
Not only does skipping meals or snacks leave you in the negative for caloric energy, it also throws off your blood sugar levels, which means your cortisol increases and your supply goes down. You don't want that.
If you find yourself skipping meals or snacks because you're worried about weight gain, take a deep breath. Reaffirm to yourself that your body is literally sustaining life for a little human, and it's a gift to be a part of that journey. I speak from experience when I say that the weight does come off, but you have to eat enough for that to happen.
I'd love to help you on your journey and guide you through this precious time in your life. Apply for my nutrition coaching program to learn more.
Like I mentioned earlier, your milk is primarily water.
If there's not enough water to make milk, you are less likely to have a good amount of fat in your milk.
Water also helps absorb and transport nutrients throughout the body, so if you're not drinking enough, you won't be able to fortify your milk with the essential nutrients baby needs to grow.
If you forget to drink water, set an alarm every hour on the hour.
If you don't really enjoy water like me, I share 8 alternative ways to stay hydrated (besides straight water) in my lactation cookbook!
Whether you're worried about your milk supply or baby's growth, it's normal to wonder if there's enough fat in your milk.
Remember that women successfully breastfed for thousands of years before we had research, technology, or the internet, so you can trust your body to know what to do even if you don't.
And lastly, there are so many different ways to increase the amount of fat in your milk without relying on supplements, machines, or formula milk. Try out a few and see what works best for you.
If you're worried about baby's growth or upset tummy, you might wonder if your breastmilk has the right amount of fat in it. This blog post teaches you all about fatty breast milk and 23 ways to increase the fat content of your breast milk quickly.
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