Is It Possible To Make Your Breast Milk More Fatty?
Written by: Sabrina Granniss, IBCLC
Time to read 4 min
What’s In breastmilk anyway?
Breast milk is made up of protein, carbohydrate, fat (lipids) and lots of other components including vitamins, minerals, enzymes, immune factors and hormones. Fat makes up about 3% - 5% of breast milk (Wambach and Spencer, 2021), but about half the calories of breast milk.(1) Fats in breast milk are super important for all areas of growth for your baby including their brain development, nervous system and gaining weight.
Most of the components of breastmilk stay pretty 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 fat contents in your breast milk are influenced by the foods you eat including the types of fat you eat.(4) Increasing the healthy fats in your diet will boost the fat quality of your breast milk, but not really 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.
Add some nuts, like walnuts high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, to your grocery list and have them handy to snack on during the day. Avocados are high in healthy monounsaturated fat and you can eat them as is with a spoon right out of their skin or add them to a big salad made with lots of fresh leafy greens and chopped veggies. Chia seeds are high in ALA (omega-3 alpha linolenic acid) and protein. There are some great recipes for chia pudding that make a great 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 lend a nice flavor boost and a dose of healthy fat. Butter is a healthy fat, but dairy can cause issues for some parents and/or babies so proceed with caution with that one.
Put down the sweets! Nibble on some protein instead. Lean meats, eggs and hemp seeds are all high in protein. A diet that is higher in healthy fats and proteins gives us more energy than high carbs, especially the empty carbs like pasta and bread. Healthy carbs are on the yes list. 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
Fat in breast milk is different from morning to night and also varies during each individual feeding.(2) Have you ever woken up and your breasts feel super full? What about later in the day when your breasts don’t feel as full?
Earlier in the day, our milk has more water than fat flowing first. As our baby nurses or we pump, more of the fat is removed.(5) There is still fat in your milk through 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, our breasts tend to be a little less full and your baby gets some of the fat in your milk sooner than the nursings earlier in the day when your breasts were more full. The fat takes it’s 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 means your baby gets fat in your milk faster.(6) Snuggle up and dream feed.
Be hands on!
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 will be able to remove. Are you a pumping mom? Doing gentle massage before and during your pumping sessions can get the fat in your milk moving along, too.
An added boost
Sunflower lecithin is often used for the treatment of stubborn plugged ducts. It is an emulsifier meaning it helps the water and fat of the milk 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 of your breast milk to your baby.(7)
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.
Kent et al, Volume and Frequency of Breastfeedings and Fat Content of Breast Milk Throughout the Day, PEDIATRICS Volume 117, Number 3, March 2006
Drugs and Lactation Database (LactMed) [Internet]. Bethesda (MD): National Library of Medicine (US); 2006-. Lecithin. [Updated 2019 Oct 23]. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK501772/