Foremilk vs. Hindmilk
Occasionally a breastfeeding mom will hear about foremilk and hindmilk, and wonder if they are causing a problem for her baby.
It’s important to note that foremilk and hindmilk are just names for stages of breast milk. Breast milk always has some foremilk and some hindmilk in it. Generally, babies will eat exactly the amount of breast milk they need while breastfeeding.
That’s true whether a mom uses one breast per feeding or offers both. At the end of the day, most babies get exactly the amount and type of milk they need for healthy growth.
But sometimes there is a problem and it’s usually associated with oversupply.
Not to worry, we will talk about foremilk, hindmilk, fat in breast milk, what is normal, and when you should worry.
Fat In Breast Milk
Before we talk specifically about foremilk and hindmilk, let’s discuss fat in breast milk.
All breast milk has fat in it. During the day, over the baby’s life, and even throughout a feeding the fat content changes. This is normal and expected!
When your body makes milk, it also makes fat. As milk is produced, some of the fat globules tend to stick near the milk ducts. When your baby feeds, milk is pulled towards your nipple bringing fat with it. Because the fat globules form near the milk ducts, it takes some time for your baby to start eating higher-fat milk. The first milk in a feeding is generally lower in fat than the later milk.
Keep in mind that there’s fat throughout breastmilk always, just in different concentrations.
If there is a long time between feedings, the first milk becomes lower in fat.
That’s because fat rises.
As time goes on, the fat rises in the breasts leaving less fat at the nipple. The next time the baby feeds, the milk will have less fat than if there was less time between feedings.
As the baby suckles, the fat will start to be pulled through the breast towards the nipple. The fat content in the milk will rise as the feeding continues.
Generally, fat content increases later in the day. That’s because the first-morning feed usually happens after a long stretch without eating. Longer stretches result in less fat in the milk. Then throughout the day as the baby feeds more frequently, the fat is better mixed in and the baby gets more fat in each feeding. That’s why foremilk and hindmilk are usually not a problem for most babies – because the baby will get the right amount of fat spread throughout the day.
What are foremilk and hindmilk?
Now that we’ve covered fat in breast milk, let’s talk about foremilk and hindmilk.
Remember that all breast milk has fat in it. Additionally, most babies will receive the same amount of fat throughout the entire day- getting more fat in some feedings and less than others.
There isn’t a magical time that breast milk changes from foremilk to hindmilk. Those are just terms used to describe milk at the beginning of a feeding versus the end.
What is foremilk?
Foremilk is the word that describes milk at the beginning of a feeding. It is usually bluer in color and has less fat in it.
Foremilk gradually changes as the feeding progresses into having a higher fat content.
The foremilk has less fat because it is the milk closer to the nipple. Fat pools farther back in the ducts as a result of the process of making milk and fat rising with time.
What is hindmilk?
Hindmilk is the word used to describe high-fat milk at the end of a breastfeeding session. It is usually more yellow in color than foremilk.
You could call hindmilk the “cream” and foremilk the “skim milk” of breast milk. Hind milk is higher in calories and richer in fat, but neither foremilk nor hindmilk is necessarily better for your baby. Breast milk is breast milk and it all contains a relatively high amount of fat compared to other kinds of milk.
Foremilk Hindmilk Imbalance
A foremilk hindmilk imbalance occurs when a baby eats too much foremilk and not enough hindmilk. In other words, they aren’t consuming enough fat for a given feeding.
The reason an imbalance happens is because of the sugar, lactose, found in breast milk. The enzyme, lactase, is in a baby’s intestine and breaks down the lactose.
When a baby doesn’t get enough fat in a feeding, they have difficulty digesting the lactose.
Fat takes longer to digest breast milk, which helps the baby’s body (and the lactase enzyme) have enough time to break down the lactose. But with less fat, the milk goes too fast through the baby’s body.
The result is that the sugar starts to ferment. It can cause gas, and doesn’t digest as efficiently.
If this is happening to your baby, you might notice certain signs.
Signs of Foremilk Hindmilk Imbalance
- Excessively gassy and colicky baby.
- Frothy, green, mucousy poops.
- Fussing as the breast during feedings.
- Oversupply (full breasts, baby gulps or pulls off breast often).
- Fast, overactive let-down.
If your baby has mustard-yellow poop, your breasts feel soft after a feeding, and your baby seems otherwise satisfied then you probably don’t have a problem.
Additionally, your baby could have an allergy or intolerance with many of these signs. Check out this article for information on baby allergies if you think this applies to you.
But in general, if you could feed the whole village because you’re oversupplied, then you might have foremilk/hindmilk imbalance. The way to fix a foremilk/hindmilk imbalance is to reduce your supply.
How To Increase Hindmilk
When you’re oversupplied, your baby may be eating too much foremilk. Your breasts will feel full, and your baby will probably be very fussy or pull off the breast during feeding. To your baby, it’s like drinking from a firehose.
To fix the problem, your baby needs more fat (hindmilk) during feedings. You will need to decrease your supply so your baby can eat enough to get to the fat-rich hindmilk.
Here’s how to increase hindmilk:
- Nurse on one breast at a time.
- Block feeding.
- Use laid-back nursing positions.
- Try adding sage to foods or drinking sage tea.
Nurse on one breast at a time. If you are experiencing oversupply, your baby will be able to get to the hindmilk easier if you feed one breast at a time. This will allow your baby to drink enough of the foremilk in the same breast to get more of the fat-rich hindmilk. Switching breasts each time works for many women.
Block feeding. Block feeding is only feeding on one breast for an extended period of time. It might be one or two feedings, or it could be half the day (just until your breast feels softened). The idea of block feeding is to try and decrease your supply naturally. The other breast will become full and have pressure telling your body to decrease your supply. Milk supply is dependent on demand so decreasing feedings on one breast will lower the supply in it.
You can switch between breasts until you feel your supply has settled down a bit. If the opposite breast becomes too uncomfortable, feed the baby a little or pump just enough to take the pain or discomfort away. The idea is to create pressure and decrease supply… but avoid mastitis and pain.
Use laid-back nursing positions. If you’re oversupplied, you most likely have a forceful let-down. That means your baby is getting a lot of milk, fast, all at once. Gravity tends to make this worse.
You’ll know this is an issue if your baby pulls off your breast, sputters or coughs. You may even see the milk shoot out fast after your baby unlatches.
If this is an issue for you, try leaning back to feed your baby. You can try sitting up straight which might help your baby swallow easier. Or you can try leaning far back to let gravity make your let-down more like a fountain than a firehose.
Try adding sage to foods or drinking sage tea. Sage is known to decrease breast milk supply. You can try adding sage to some of the foods you eat and see if it makes a difference. Some women swear by drinking sage tea to help decrease oversupply. Try a little bit at a time because it affects everyone a little bit differently and you don’t want to overdo it!
Commonly Asked Questions About Foremilk and Hindmilk
Is my baby getting enough hindmilk?
Babies generally get enough hindmilk in a feeding. But if your baby has green, frothy poop, acts extremely uncomfortable, and you feel oversupplied your baby may not be getting enough hindmilk.
If you are a pumping mom that gives a bottle, warm the milk before feeding your baby. Sometimes chilled milk fat sticks to the container. Warming the milk will help incorporate the fat into it and give your baby more hindmilk. You can also swirl the milk to pull the fat off the sides of the container – swirling it won’t add bubbles. Don’t shake it because that could make the milk bubbly and give your baby gas.
Is foremilk good for baby?
Foremilk is the same milk as hindmilk – all of it is breast milk! Breast milk is good for your baby so yes, foremilk is good for your baby.
Foremilk has less fat in it than hindmilk, but as far as milk goes it still has pretty high-fat content. Your foremilk might have more fat at the beginning of one feeding, and less fat at the beginning of the next feeding. Breast milk changes over time and throughout a feeding. Foremilk might be lower fat than hindmilk, but that doesn’t mean it’s low fat.
As long as your baby is happy and eating enough, you don’t need to worry. Read above for signs of a foremilk/hindmilk imbalance which is rare, but sometimes affects babies.
Is hindmilk better than foremilk?
No, hindmilk and foremilk are both breast milk! Sometimes babies can have a little bit of trouble digesting lactose in breast milk if there isn’t enough fat in it. Hindmilk isn’t better than foremilk, and most babies do just fine eating normally. If you suspect a problem though, it might help your baby to eat a little more hindmilk.
How do I know if my baby is getting hindmilk?
If your baby is eating enough, gaining weight, having dirty diapers, and acting satisfied they are getting enough hindmilk. Their poop should be mustard-yellow and seedy but sometimes poop is different colors and is still normal. You should also feel your breasts soften after each feeding.
Your baby may have a foremilk/hindmilk imbalance if they are extremely uncomfortable, they are gassy with green, frothy poop, and you are extremely oversupplied. In that case, you would most likely need to look into decreasing your supply to give your baby more hindmilk.
How long does it take to get hindmilk?
It can take just 4-5 minutes to get to hindmilk, or it could take 10-15 minutes.
The time it takes to get to the hindmilk depends on:
- How efficient your baby is in nursing.
- How old your baby is.
- Your milk supply.
Efficient babies, older babies, and lower milk supply will take less time to get to the hindmilk. Some very efficient babies can get a full feeding in 5-7 minutes. Other babies take up to 40 minutes to finish a feeding, so it will take longer for them to reach the hindmilk.
How do you know when to switch breasts when breastfeeding?
When breastfeeding, just feed according to you and your baby. Some babies only feed on one breast per feeding while others feed on both each time.
Sometimes when there is a foremilk/hindmilk imbalance, babies do better feeding on one breast per feeding.
Why does my baby have green, frothy poop?
When breastfed babies have green frothy poop it could be caused by:
- Allergies/intolerances to something mom is eating.
- Foremilk/hindmilk imbalance.
- It could be normal!
Sometimes allergies or intolerances can cause a baby to have green, frothy poop. Often it’s just a change in mom’s diet (like cutting out dairy) that solves the problem.
Some moms that are oversupplied will notice their baby has green, frothy poop. If their baby gets too much foremilk without fat and becomes full, their poop may look green and frothy.
Changes in poop color are totally normal for new babies! As long as your baby is happy, healthy, and gaining weight there isn’t a reason to worry. Some days babies have orange poop and some days it looks green.
Does too much foremilk cause colic?
Too much foremilk can cause colic. Foremilk is breast milk that doesn’t have high-fat levels, so the lactose ferments more easily. This can cause gas within a baby’s digestive system and make them uncomfortable. Often colic is caused by stomach discomfort in babies.
Kealy Hawk, BSN, RN, CLC
Kealy is a Registered Nurse, Lactation Counselor, and most importantly a mommy! Her own baby feeding struggles gave her a passion to help moms throughout their feeding journey. She specializes in breastfeeding support and evidence-based formula recommendations. To talk with Kealy or take one of her breastfeeding or formula classes, visit https://littlebearcare.com.
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