The article will cover the primary factors that affect the fat content in your breastmilk, as well as information on whether or not you can even impact the fat content for your baby’s needs. If you’re a concerned breastfeeding mother worrying about a lack of fat in your breast milk, this is the article for you!
A lot of new moms are concerned about the amount of fat in their breast milk – often due to seeing photos on social media of “fat plugs” in bottles of milk or from friends/family members making comments about their baby’s smaller (or larger) frame.
Breast milk changes throughout a breastfeeding session and throughout the day. Toward the beginning of a feeding session, there will be more watery breast milk while toward the end you may get to the more fatty parts of breast milk.
Chances are, you are creating the milk that your baby needs – but in this article, we will discuss everything you need to know about fat in a mother’s milk – and the right way to approach it! Remember – all babies are different!
Always work with your trusted medical provider and/or a lactation professional if there are any concerns about your baby’s weight gain or your milk quality.
How To Increase Fat in Breast Milk
According to Lily Nichols, RDN, “The macronutrient in breast milk most sensitive to maternal intake, by far, is fat. Both the quality (type of fat) & quantity reflect maternal intake. This is new information for a lot of people in the lactation community (especially the quantity part), but there are a number of studies, including clinical trials of different levels of dietary fat intake (and types of fat), that have shown the above to be true.”
There isn’t a ton of research on this topic, but what we do know is that the fat content can be impacted – though it’s primarily seen with two factors: frequency and duration of the feed. Here is some more information on that, along with some other things you could consider trying.
Don’t be discouraged if you’re concerned about the amount of fat in your breast milk. Instead, work with a lactation consultant to improve your infant’s weight gain and milk intake.
Increase Frequency of Nursing
The frequency of nursing has been shown to increase the fat content in human breast milk. According to one study, women who breastfed more often produced significantly fattier milk.
As with everything, each woman and her child are unique and some women may need to nurse more frequently than other women in order to see changes that bring up the fat content of their breast milk. If you’re concerned about a lack of fat in your breast milk, talk to your health care provider as it’s very likely that you simply need to nurse more often.
Drain the Breast
Allow your baby to have a full feed and fully drain the breast is one of the best things you can do to ensure they are getting fatty breast milk.
This study showed that, “Maximum fat and cell levels were obtained 30 minutes post-feed (P<0.01), with up to an 8-fold increase in fat and 12-fold increase in cell content compared to the pre-feed values, and then they gradually decreased.”
The longer that you breastfeed for the emptier the breast gets and the higher the fat content will be. “Empty” breasts = fattier breasts.
Eat More Healthy Fats
Eating quality fats can impact your breast milk fat and the quality of breast milk. While you can’t necessarily increase the fat in your milk by what you eat, you can impact the QUALITY of the fat by eating good quality fats.
According to this review of various studies done on breast milk composition, “A woman’s diet can influence her milk composition via several intertwined metabolic pathways that produce indirect effects (8). However, the literature suggests that some metabolic pathways modulate certain human-milk components directly through dietary intake (9). In particular, concentrations of fatty acids (FAs)7 and fat- and water-soluble vitamins—including vitamins A, C, B-6, and B-12—have been reported to reflect the respective dietary intakes of these nutrients in the maternal diet.”
It is important to focus on “good fats”, such as those that have Omega 3’s in them. Here are some foods that you might consider adding to your diet:
- Olive Oil
- Peanut Butter
Note: Depending on your personal dietary restrictions/needs you may or may not be able to consume any of the above foods. For example, people with nut allergies should avoid foods containing peanuts or tree nuts. If you have a food allergy or intolerance please contact
Express After Feedings
If your baby isn’t totally draining the breast, pumping after a feed may help you to drain the breast more effectively and encourage a higher fat content.
This Nutrition During Lactation by the Institute of Medicine, it is said, “In two separate studies, milk production increased by 15 to 40% when a breast pump was used to remove additional milk after feedings.” And since more milk removal is linked to higher fat content, it isn’t crazy to state that pumping/expressing after nursing to further empty the breast could lead to an increase in fattier breast milk.
After newborns have breastfed, it’s common for them to fall asleep on the breast. Once the baby has fallen asleep, lightly hold your breast and put pressure on the areola (the dark area around the nipple) to express any remaining milk. You can also use a warm cloth or towel to accomplish the same goal.
There is research that indicates that draining your breasts after feeding can help increase fat content in human breast milk. However, there are also studies that show no difference in fat content between breasts that were drained and those which were not. Unfortunately, conclusive evidence for this method has not yet been established.
Increase the Number of Times You Nurse on One Side
Toward the end of the feeding, you may want to consider switching back over to the other side. There are no rules that say you can’t nurse more than once per side per feed, and sometimes switch nursing can help make sure your breasts are “emptied”.
If you find that you aren’t producing enough milk, or if your baby is having a hard time taking in all of the milk at each feeding, giving breast compressions can help encourage your baby to take in more of the available milk. Breast compression works by pressing on the areola and compressing just enough so that it feels like there is a taut band around the areola. It can also help to get some of that fattier milk off the walls of the ducts.
Pumping works in much the same way since it’s applying pressure to help release milk.
If you find that you aren’t producing enough milk, or if your baby is having a hard time taking in all of the milk at each feeding, giving breast compressions and breast massage can help encourage your baby to take in.
While your hands are the best tool for this, we also like the Lavie heated massager for helping with milk flow.
Pay Attention to Time of day
Your breast milk’s fat content may vary depending on the time of day. According to the Institute of Medicine, the fat content can vary around 2g/L over the course of 24 hours.
Because breast milk tends to be higher in fat content when you’ve emptied the breast more frequently, it may be higher during the day – when you are nursing/pumping more – than first thing in the morning if you’ve gone many hours without pumping/nursing.
What is the average breast milk fat content?
Breast milk is consistently considered to be one of the most nutritious foods available. That’s no surprise, with all its fatty acids and other nutrients.
On average, breast milk is usually around 1.2 grams/ounce. This can vary greatly, though, according to The Institute of Medicine, which has shown milk fat content can range between 2 grams/100mL to 5g/100mL.
Why is Breast Milk Fat So Important for Babies?
For all humans, providing adequate amounts of essential nutrients is a prime concern. For babies and infants, breast milk may be the only source of nourishment at some points in their lives. It is therefore extremely important for the natural fat content of breast milk to be sufficient for proper infant development.
How can I know how much fat is in my breast milk?
As previously mentioned, there really isn’t an easy to determine how much fat your breast milk has.
A possible indicator of an issue in fat content in your breastmilk is if your baby is not gaining enough weight.
If you notice that your baby is not gaining an adequate amount of weight, there’s a chance they’re not getting enough fat from your milk. Babies need healthy fats to grow and develop properly. If they’re not getting enough, they may not be gaining weight at a rate that’s proportionate to their age. In this case, it is possible to work with a lactation consultant to increase the amount of fat in your breast milk and improve the baby’s growth
However, if your baby isn’t gaining weight, I wouldn’t automatically jump to it being an issue with your milk. The volume of milk can make a big difference – if you have low milk supply, your baby isn’t transferring milk well, etc., that may be the root cause of your baby’s low milk.
If you are curious about how much fat is in your milk, Lactation Lab allows you to test your milk and get a glimpse into the nutritional content. I don’t recommend this for everyone, but it can give you some useful insight. You can get 10% off with the code TBM10.
What does fatty breast milk look like?
Typically, fatty breast milk will be creamier than non-fatty breast milk. Keep in mind that not all fatty breast milk looks exactly the same and you really can’t determine the amount of fatty milk in your breast milk just by looking at it.
On a personal note, I never saw huge fat layers/fat plugs at the top of my breast milk, and my children grew fine with it!
Hind milk vs foremilk
A lot of people hear about hindmilk and foremilk and get really concerned that they aren’t getting enough fatty hindmilk. For the VAST majority of moms, it really shouldn’t be a cause for concern. There aren’t two different types of milk – more different stages of milk throughout a feeding. There isn’t a distinct time where you are getting foremilk or the fattier hindmilk – it’s more of a gradual change. Fattier breast milk tends to be more toward the end of a feed, while the earlier parts of the feed may have less fatty milk.
However, both types of milk are valuable and the most important thing you can do is focus on allowing your baby to have enough time at the breast to get all stages of the milk. It’s all-important!
A hindmilk imbalance is pretty uncommon (much more uncommon than social media would have you believe!). However, if your baby is having lots of frothy green diapers and super fussy all the time, it might be something to look into with a trained lactation specialist.
Does breast milk fat separation indicate how much fat is in my breast milk?
No, breast milk fat separation does not indicate how much fat you have in your breast milk.The amount of fat in your breast milk is not indicated by the level of separation. Some moms see more fat globules and notice that the fat content of the breast milk rises as the milk sits, but this can look different for all moms.
Does my baby need to eat more often if I have a low fat content in my breast milk?
It’s a good idea to increase the frequency of breastfeeding if you have a lower-than-average fat content in your breast milk. The more often you nurse, the higher the amount of fat in your breast milk will be.
If you have a lower-than-average fat content in your breast milk, you may want to consider increasing the frequency of breastfeeding.
It’s important to note that our bodies are all unique and what works for someone else might not work as well for you! Be sure to stay in touch with your health care provider!
Breastmilk is a natural, healthy food for babies and chances are, you are making the right amount of fat for your baby. If you’re concerned about the amount of fat in your breast milk or if baby is not gaining weight appropriately, there are measures you can take to ensure they get enough energy from their mother’s diet. The bottom line is that feeding on demand and emptying the breasts frequently is the best way to ensure your baby is the right amount of milk fat for baby’s needs.