Breastfeeding—what should breast milk look like?
“My breast milk did look like cow’s milk but now appears watery. Is this normal?”
Your milk is perfect. Breast milk does not look like the homogenised, pasteurized, artificially treated/stored/cooled/warmed/vitamised milk sold in stores.
Breast milk is natural, untreated and full of healthy living cells which nurture and protect babies from infections as well as providing the perfect nourishment for the brain, neural cells, eyes and all other essential parts of our babies. It is the perfect combination of vitamins, minerals, fats, carbohydrates and sugars; all at the perfect temperature.
The first milk you may have seen is called colostrum; a sticky fluid ranging in colour from clear to deep yellow. It is the ideal first food for your baby’s untested digestive system. Colostrum contains antibodies that protect your baby against any infections to which you have been exposed (e.g. Whooping Cough or Chicken Pox). It also has a laxative effect that clears out the sticky black meconium (baby’s first bowel motion) and prepares their digestive system for the coming food. It has a very high sodium content which draws fluid back into your baby’s cells, preventing dehydration.
After the colostral phase your milk transitions, becoming more like mature milk and less like colostrum. Your breast milk is perfect for your baby’s requirements at this stage; your baby now needs more fluid and the balance of proteins, fats and carbohydrates changes. At this time your milk may appear quite yellow or white in colour and the volume will have increased dramatically. It may even change from yellow to white as the days pass by.
Amazingly, your milk also changes from the beginning to the end of a feed. The first milk (foremilk) is more watery and higher in lactose which satisfies your baby’s thirst and provides energy for the breastfeed. As the feed progresses, the fat and protein content rise to satisfy your baby’s hunger.
By about the third to fourth week, your milk has matured. You will notice that your milk changes again from white to a thin, bluish colour; similar to skim milk. Your milk is still perfect for your baby. Mothers expressing and storing milk will also notice that after breast milk has sat a while, it separates with the fat rising to the top and the milk below looking even thinner. Before feeding your baby, shake or swirl the milk to remix it and it will return to its normal appearance.
As your baby gets older, your milk will continue to change so that it meets all of your baby's requirements. This is also the case if your baby becomes unwell. Even a child older than one year and still breastfeeding, but eating a variety of other foods, will benefit from the antibodies contained within breast milk.
The later weaning milk becomes more like colostrum in appearance.
Contact Mater Mothers’ Parenting Support Centre on 07 3163 2229 or speak to a lactation consultant or your doctor if you have any concerns about breastfeeding your baby.
Mater acknowledges consumer consultation in the development of this patient information.
Last modified 24/11/2016.