Overview of Breastfeeding and Foremilk

Mother breastfeeding baby

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Foremilk is the breast milk your baby gets at the beginning of each feeding when your breasts are full. Foremilk is high in lactose (milk sugar) and low in fat and calories. It's thin, watery, and it looks white or bluish.

Overview

When you place your baby on your breast to start breastfeeding, they begin to drink foremilk. As your baby nurses, the low-fat foremilk slowly changes over to high-fat, high-calorie breast milk called hindmilk. Then, when your baby stops breastfeeding on the first side and you switch to the other breast, your baby once again starts drinking foremilk.

The amount of hindmilk your baby gets on the second side depends on how long your baby nurses on that side. If your baby drains both breasts each time they breastfeed, they will get both foremilk and hindmilk from both breasts.

Too Much Foremilk

If you have an overabundant supply of breast milk, you can have an excessive amount of foremilk. This is especially true if you offer both breasts each time you breastfeed because your baby will get mostly foremilk on the first side, then switch over to the other side and get even more foremilk.

Since your breast milk doesn't change into hindmilk until a few minutes into the feeding, if you have an oversupply of breast milk it's better to let your baby fully drain one breast to get some of the hindmilk before switching over to the other breast.

Why It's Problematic

Foremilk is thinner and may fill your baby up but not satisfy them for very long. Babies who drink only foremilk tend to nurse more often, and they can end up overeating

Too much foremilk is also believed to cause stomach and gastrointestinal (GI) issues in babies. The extra sugar from all that foremilk can cause symptoms such as gas, abdominal pain, irritability, crying, and loose, green bowel movements. You may even think that your baby has colic.

Solutions

If you have an overabundant milk supply and your baby is showing signs of too much foremilk, you want to attempt to get your baby to take more hindmilk at each feeding. Along with speaking to your baby's doctor, here's how you can try to correct this situation:

Pump

Pump or express some foremilk out of your breasts for a minute or two before you begin breastfeeding. By removing some of the foremilk in advance, you can help your baby get to your hindmilk during the feeding.

Pumping before breastfeeding also helps to soften the breasts and slow down a fast flow of breast milk. Hard breasts and a fast flow are other common issues that occur with overabundant milk supply.

Nurse on One Breast

Breastfeed from only one side during each feeding. When you nurse from only one side, your baby will get foremilk at the beginning of the feeding and continue on that same side to get the high-calorie, filling hindmilk at the end of the feeding.

Don't Limit Feedings

Let your baby stay on the first side for as long as they want. Don't set a time limit for your baby to breastfeed. Let your baby stay at the breast for as long as it takes for them to feel full and satisfied.

If, after a feeding, your baby begins to cry or show signs of hunger in a short period of time, place your baby back on the same breast that you just breastfed on. Your baby will get more hindmilk if you put your baby back on the breast that they just nursed on. If you switch to the other breast, your baby will get once again get foremilk.

If you have any questions or concerns about breastfeeding and foremilk, talk to your doctor, your baby's doctor, a lactation consultant or a local breastfeeding group for more information and assistance. 

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Article Sources
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  1. Van Sadelhoff JHJ, Mastorakou D, Weenen H, Stahl B, Garssen J, Hartog A. Short communication: differences in levels of free amino acids and total protein in human foremilk and hindmilk. Nutrients. 2018;10(12):1-8. doi:10.3390/nu10121828

  2. Trimeloni L, Spencer J. Diagnosis and management of breast milk oversupply. J Am Board Fam Med. 2016;29(1):139-142. doi:10.3122/jabfm.2016.01.150164

Additional Reading
  • American Academy of Pediatrics. New Mother’s Guide to Breastfeeding. Bantam Books; 2011.

  • Lawrence, RA, Lawrence RM. Breastfeeding: A Guide For The Medical Profession. 7th ed. Mosby; 2011.

  • Riordan J, Wambach K. Breastfeeding and Human Lactation. 4th ed. Jones and Bartlett Learning; 2014.

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