Have you ever wondered exactly what is in breast milk, how it nourishes your baby, and whether you can increase the fat content of your milk? Breast milk is a complex mixture of protein, carbohydrates, and fats, along with a range of vitamins, minerals, enzymes, immune factors, and hormones. The fat content in breast milk is essential for your baby's brain development, nervous system, and overall growth. However, the types of fats in breast milk can vary from mother to mother, influenced by the foods you eat.
What’s In Breastmilk anyway?
Breast milk is made up of protein, carbohydrates, fat (lipids), and many other components, including vitamins, minerals, enzymes, immune factors, and hormones. Fats are super important for all areas of growth for your baby, including brain development, nervous system, and gaining weight.
Fat makes up about 3% - 5% of breast milk (Wambach and Spencer, 2021), but about half the calories of breast milk. (1)
Most of the breastmilk components stay relatively constant, but the lipid or fat profile can be quite different from mother to mother. (1) The amount of fat in each person’s milk is about the same, but the types of fats in your breast milk are influenced by the foods you eat, including the kinds of fat you eat. (4) Increasing the healthy fats in your diet will boost your breast milk's fat quality, not the quantity of overall fat in your breast milk. (4)
When babies are born preterm, the breast milk of the parent is higher in fat. (3) We are that perfect! Our milk knows just what our little one needs to thrive and grow in this special circumstance.
The foods we eat
As a new mom, it can be hard to find time to cook meals with tons of ingredients or that are time-consuming, but lucky for you, there are ways to add in lots of healthy fats without spending hours in the kitchen which means more time for cuddling your baby.
Put down the sweets! Nibble on some protein instead. A diet high in healthy fats and proteins gives you more energy than high carbs, especially empty carbs like pasta and bread. Healthy carbs are on the “yes” list.
Healthy fat & protein foods
Walnuts are high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.
Avocados are high in healthy monounsaturated fat. You can eat them with a spoon right out of their skin or add them to a big salad with lots of fresh leafy greens and chopped veggies.
Chia seeds are high in ALA (omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid) and protein. Some great recipes for chia pudding make a fast and easy breakfast, snack or dessert.
Choose extra virgin first cold pressed olive oil or unrefined coconut oil to cook your food.
A drizzle of cold-pressed sesame oil over your steamed veggies lends a nice flavor boost and a dose of healthy fat.
Butter is a healthy fat, but dairy can cause issues for some parents and babies, so proceed with caution with that one.
Lean meats, eggs, and hemp seeds are all high in protein.
Eat the colors of the rainbow in veggies. Drawing a rainbow of the colors of veggies you eat in a day or week is a fun way to get your toddlers and older kids involved in healthy eating.
A 24-hour snapshot of fat in breast milk
Fat in breast milk differs from morning to night and varies during each feeding. (2) Have you ever woken up and your breasts feel super full? What about when your breasts don’t feel as full later in the day?
Earlier in the day, breast milk has more water than fat flowing first. As your baby nurses or you pump, more fat is removed. (5) There is still fat in your milk throughout the whole feeding, but when your breasts are more full, there is more water as well.
The protein and fat molecules are big and sticky, while the carb and water molecules are smaller and can travel faster than the proteins and fats. When your baby nurses, they get more of the water and carbs first. Later in the day, your breasts tend to be a little less full, and your baby gets some of the fat in your milk sooner than the nursing sessions earlier in the day when your breasts were more full. The fat takes its time moving downstream through your ducts and can stick to the sides of the milk ducts as your baby is nursing.
Nursing your baby more often increases the amount of fat your baby gets. When you nurse more frequently, that fat is closer to the exit than when you space feeds out, and your breasts are more full again at the beginning of the next feeding. (6) One classic time we might think of is when your baby does some cluster feeding, often in the evening. They are loading up on the fattier milk. So, sit back, relax, and cluster feed away!
Middle-of-the-night nursing is critical for milk supply, but remember it also means you won’t go too long between emptying your breasts, and less full breasts mean your baby gets fat in your milk faster. (6) Snuggle up and dream feed.
Your hands can be great milk-moving tools. Using breast compressions during breastfeeding
helps move the fat in your milk down your milk ducts, which are like tunnels that carry your milk. Remember, those fat globules are sticky, so helping them along means more fat your baby can remove. Are you a pumping mom? Doing gentle massages before and during your pumping sessions can also get fat in your milk moving along.
An added boost
Sunflower lecithin is often used for the treatment of stubborn plugged ducts. It is an emulsifier that helps the milk's water and fat separate less. It can help make the fat less sticky, therefore helping it slide on through the milk ducts and release a plugged duct, but also deliver more fat from your breast milk to your baby. (7)
Understanding the composition of breast milk and how it nourishes your baby is truly fascinating. The fat content in breast milk plays a crucial role in your baby's growth and development. While the types of fats in breast milk can vary among mothers, incorporating healthy fats into your diet can improve the fat quality in your milk. Remember, nursing more frequently, using breast compressions and gentle massage can increase fat transfer during breastfeeding and pumping. And for added support, use of Legendairy Milk Sunflower Lecithin can be beneficial. Still, adopting long-term solutions is important by focusing on a healthy diet and overall well-being.
Wambach and Spencer, Breastfeeding and Human Lactation 6th edition, 2021;4:85-126
Jenness R. The composition of human milk. Semin Perinatol. 1979 Jul;3(3):225-39. PMID: 392766.
Lubetzky R, Littner Y, Mimouni FB, Dollberg S, Mandel D. Circadian variations in fat content of expressed breast milk from mothers of preterm infants. J Am Coll Nutr. 2006 Apr;25(2):151-4. doi: 10.1080/07315724.2006.10719526. PMID: 16582032.
Aumeistere L, Ciproviča I, Zavadska D, Andersons J, Volkovs V, Ceļmalniece K. Impact of Maternal Diet on Human Milk Composition Among Lactating Women in Latvia. Medicina (Kaunas). 2019 May 20;55(5):173. doi: 10.3390/medicina55050173. PMID: 31137596; PMCID: PMC6572110.