Breast milk composition
Milk production starts around week 16 of pregnancy, but only in very small amounts, because production is suppressed until the baby is born. After delivery, there are three main stages the milk goes through: colostrum, transitional milk and mature milk. Furthermore, the constituents of human breast milk adapt to the needs of your baby over time.
First stage: colostrum
From delivery onwards, for about three to five or six days, your body prepares milk with a unique combination of ingredients that will give your baby the best start in terms of development. Colostrum looks thick and sticky and varies in colour. It is highly concentrated, easily digested and contains everything your newborn needs to build a strong immune system. It is available only in very small amounts, which is just right for your baby's tiny stomach.
Colostrum has a laxative effect, which helps the baby to pass the meconium (the first stool) and helps prevent neonatal jaundice by clearing the bilirubin from the gut.
The sooner your baby gets a taste of breast milk, the better – not only for the baby but also for your milk production.
Second stage: transitional milk
In the first week after delivery, your breasts may start to feel full and hard, and they may even look red. This normal physiological engorgement of your breasts is sometimes referred to as the ‘coming-in’ of the milk and can be alleviated by frequent feeds. During the next two weeks, the milk increases in quantity and changes in appearance as well as in composition: the immunoglobulin and protein content decreases, while the fat and sugar content increases.
Third stage: mature milk
Mature milk does not look as creamy as cow's milk, which might seem strange at first. Human milk, especially at the beginning of a feed or pumping session, looks thinner and more watery, but it contains all the nutrients needed for your baby’s heathy development. Breast milk is never ‘too thin’.
Mature milk changes over the length of a single feed, as well as over weeks and months, in order to meet your baby’s specific needs. The milk that flows at the beginning of a feed is low in fat and high in lactose, sugar, protein, vitamins, minerals and water. As the feed progresses, the milk changes and contains more fat and less sugar.
Give your baby the best possible start in life with breast milk. All in all, breast milk is the perfect food for your baby. Your breasts provide the right amount of milk with just the right ingredients, at the right temperature. This milk offers extra protection that no other milk can provide.