Stages of Breast Milk

Stages of Breast Milk

When you stop and think about it, breast milk is one of the most fascinating substances on earth. It is so dense in nutrients it can exclusively sustain your infant’s life for at least six months and it changes to meet the exact needs of your baby at different points in development. There are three distinct stages of breast milk that differ in nutritional value to help your baby thrive and grow. Come explore the stages of breast milk with us!

Stage 1: Colostrum

It may not look like milk to you but colostrum is the thick, sticky, yellowish “pre-milk” you produce for the first few days of your newborn’s life. It is packed with carbohydrates (sugars), protein, vitamins and minerals to help your baby’s body stabilize outside the womb. Perhaps most importantly, colostrum contains immunoglobulins, which are antibodies that protect your infant from getting sick since she has little to no immune system on her own. Your baby’s main goal at this point is survival so colostrum doesn’t have much fat.

Newborns have tiny stomachs so they cannot hold much food. They may only take less than 2 teaspoons of colostrum per feeding for the first couple of days.

Stage 2: Transitional Milk

Between two and five days, your milk will gradually change from colostrum to transitional milk. You may not notice the changes at first but slowly you’ll notice a change in color and consistency to a thinner (but still creamy), whiter substance. Your baby is preparing for her first growth spurt so transitional milk has more fat, lactose and soluble vitamins that facilitate growth.

If you’ve ever heard someone say “when your milk comes in” they are referring to transitional milk. Your breasts may feel full, firm and heavy and you may even experience engorgement. It’s important to feed your baby often to drain your breasts so you’ll continue to produce more milk and to try to avoid a plugged duct or infection. Transitional milk usually lasts 10 to 14 days. By the end of two weeks, your baby may be drinking between 15 and 20 oz. of transitional milk a day.

Stage 3: Mature Milk

Mature milk is the final stage and is made up of 90% water and the rest fats, protein, vitamins, minerals and a wealth of other baby-loving nutrients. Your mature milk will continue to evolve to meet the needs of your baby at each stage of development and to protect her as well. For example, your breast milk can cool or warm your baby’s body temperature and your breast milk contains antibodies to specific pathogens that you and your baby may have come in contact with, which helps your baby not get sick.

Mature milk has two parts: fore-milk and hind-milk. Fore-milk is the thinner milk that is readily available at the beginning of a feeding. It contains mostly water, vitamins and protein. That is followed by thicker, fattier, high-calorie hind-milk, which helps your infant grow. Your baby needs a balance of both fore-milk and hind-milk so it’s important to let her nurse long enough on one breast to get an adequate amount of hind-milk. This may mean she only nurses on one side per feeding. Since hind milk is thicker, it can get stuck to the walls of milk ducts. By massaging your breast during a feeding, you can encourage the fat to loosen and enter the milk stream.

Your baby will probably drink between 25 and 35 oz. of mature milk daily for the first six months.

Sources: Healthy Children, KellyMom, Dr. Paul and American Pregnancy


Loving Moments believes moms should have the knowledge, resources and power to make the healthiest choices for their babies, starting with breastfeeding. In celebration of World Breastfeeding Week and National Breastfeeding Month in August, we are sharing Breastfeeding Basics, our educational blog series that we hope will empower you with information, encouragement and inspiration to meet your breastfeeding goals.