Transitional Breast Milk Stage

Mother breastfeeding newborn
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Transitional breast milk is the second stage of breast milk production. It's a combination of colostrum (the first stage of breast milk), and mature breast milk (the third and last stage of breast milk). When the mature breast milk begins to come in and mixes with colostrum, it's called transitional breast milk.

When the Transitional Breast Milk Stage Begins

Your breast milk will change from colostrum to transitional breast milk anywhere from two to five days after the birth of your baby. It may take a little longer for the transitional milk stage to begin in first-time mothers. But, for women who have had a baby and breastfed before, the transitional stage could start earlier.

The transitional breast milk phase is the time that is often referred to as your milk "coming in." During this time, you may notice that your breasts are filling up with breast milk. They may become large, heavy, and swollen.

If you do not notice your breasts filling with transitional breast milk by the 5th day after your baby is born, you should call your doctor. A delay in the production of breast milk can be dangerous for your baby. It can quickly lead to dehydration and weight loss. If your breast milk is not coming in, you need to find out what's causing the delay and correct it as soon as possible.

How Long It Lasts

The transitional stage of breast milk starts at approximately the 3rd day after the birth of your baby and continues until your mature breast milk is completely in at about two to three weeks postpartum. The entire transitional milk stage lasts between 10 and 14 days.

What Transitional Breast Milk Looks Like

Breast milk can be a variety of colors and tints. Colostrum is typically yellow or orange and thick in consistency. Mature breast milk is thinner than colostrum, and it's usually white, light yellow, or blue-tinged. Since transitional milk is a mixture of both of these types of breast milk, it can be any combination of these consistencies and colors. At first, it will appear more yellow and creamy. But, as the days go on and more mature milk is produced and mixed in, the transitional milk will begin to take on the appearance of the thinner, and whiter, mature milk.

How Much You Will Make

Compared to colostrum, which is only produced in very small amounts, the supply of transitional breast milk is much greater. You will go from making approximately two ounces of colostrum a day on the 2nd or 3rd day after your baby is born to making somewhere around 20 ounces of transitional breast milk a day by about a week later.

What It Is Made From

Transitional breast milk is a combination of all the nutrients and health properties that make up colostrum and mature breast milk. It contains all the nutrition that your baby needs.

As it changes from colostrum to mature milk, the amount of protein and antibodies in transitional breast milk begins to go down a little bit. But, the amount of fat, sugar, and calories increase. These higher levels of fat, sugar, and calories help your baby to gain back some of the weight that was lost in the first few days after birth.

Breast Engorgement During the Transitional Milk Phase

Breast engorgement is a normal and common experience during the transitional breast milk stage. It usually starts during the first week or so after childbirth, and it's the result of the sudden increase in the amount of breast milk that you're making. Here are some tips to help you get through breast engorgement during the transitional milk stage.

  • If you breastfeed very often during the first two days after your baby is born, the symptoms of breast engorgement may not be as bad.
  • It may be harder for your baby to latch on and breastfeed if your breasts are very engorged. Large swollen breasts can flatten the nipples and tighten the skin on the breast. To make it easier for your baby to latch on, remove a small amount of breast milk before you breastfeed to soften your breasts.
  • To relieve the pain and pressure of breast engorgement, you can try to use a cold compress or cold cabbage leaves. You can also pump or hand express a small amount of breast milk. If you are still in too much pain, talk to your doctor about taking a pain reliever such as Tylenol or Motrin.
  • Breast engorgement can cause a fever. If you get a fever, but you do not have any other symptoms or any other reason for a fever, it could be the engorgement. This type of fever is sometimes called a milk fever.
  • Try to remember that the breast engorgement experienced during the transitional milk stage should not last that long. You should begin to feel better within a few days or a week as your breast milk supply adjusts to your baby's needs.

    Encouraging a Healthy Breast Milk Supply

    Your body will make transitional breast milk, and your milk will "come in" whether you choose to breastfeed or not. But, even though your body will make breast milk automatically during the first few weeks, it will slow down, and production will eventually stop if you don't put your baby to the breast or pump. Therefore, to establish and maintain a healthy breast milk supply, you should breastfeed your newborn every two to three hours throughout the day and night (eight to twelve times a day). 

    View Article Sources
    • American Academy of Pediatrics. New Mother’s Guide To Breastfeeding. Bantam Books. New York. 2011.
    • Hassiotou F, Geddes D. Anatomy of the human mammary gland: Current status of knowledge. Clinical Anatomy. 2013 January 1;26(1):29-48.
    • Lawrence, Ruth A., MD, Lawrence, Robert M., MD.  Breastfeeding A Guide For The Medical Profession Eighth Edition. Elsevier Health Sciences. 2015.
    • Riordan, J., and Wambach, K. Breastfeeding and Human Lactation Fourth Edition. Jones and Bartlett Learning. 2014.