“Your baby isn’t gaining enough weight because you’re producing skim milk.” First of all, the idea of skim milk comes from cows who produce milk, which is then processed and turned into skim milk, allowing you to enjoy your cow’s milk with less fat. COWS DO NOT PRODUCE SKIM MILK. It is a drink only possible because humans processed that cow’s milk. Nobody is processing your milk; it’s coming out whole human milk.
There are a lot of reasons I cannot stand when someone tells a mother she is producing “skim milk,” but the biggest reason is that the person (who is clearly uneducated in lactation) can often invokes feelings of “not being enough” for a mother. This FALSE statement can lead to discontinuing breastfeeding before she is ready.
Some mothers will discontinue their journey earlier than they had hoped for and some others will fall prey to products marketed to increase fat content of their milk. It doesn’t even have to be products you find on Facebook or Pinterest. I’ve heard of medical professionals advising mothers to consume a lot of fat (good and bad!) or even to put coconut oil directly in a baby’s bottle (seriously, don’t do this).
Before you spend your hard-earned money on a product you found recommended online from someone who is NOT a lactation expert, let me explain to you how the fat content in breastmilk works and the couple of ways you can change it.
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First, your breastmilk does change throughout the day and based off of baby’s needs. It’s kind of magical that way. It can also change from the beginning of a feeding to the end. At the very beginning of nursing directly at the breast or a pumping session, you’re going to express milk that has “less fat.” As the session continues, the fat content will increase, being the highest at the very end. This is 100% normal and typical. When you express this milk and leave it sit for a while, you’ll see it separate.
When studying breastmilk, researchers decided having terms for different parts of each session would make things easier for them. They decided the first part of a nursing/pumping session would be called "foremilk" and the end part would be called "hindmilk." Somehow, foremilk got a really bad rep along the way as being the less nutritional portion of a nursing session. When there are significant differences between the two, foremilk is going to contain more water to hydrate your baby, vitamins your baby needs, and antibodies to help your baby's immune system. Your little one NEEDS the contents in the foremilk AND the hindmilk.
You can help express the fat with some hand compressions. The fatty pieces are thicker and stickier, making it a little more difficult to express. It's not literally "difficult," but hand expression and compressions are more efficient for moving the fat than your pump by it's self. This can also be really helpful to move your milk faster when you’re pumping, so you can pump more in less time! Check out this video to learn more about hands-on-pumping.
*Note: If your baby is not gaining weight or is having other medical problems, do not simply keep them nursing longer to get more fat or use hand compressions. You need medical help. At Successful Breastfeeding, we can be a part of that team to help you and your baby AND continue your breastfeeding relationship to meet your goals. Schedule your same day appointment now.
What about consuming more fat in your diet? Does it take fat to make fat?
There is not a special diet that will increase the fat content in your breastmilk, because that’s just not how it works. You could be on a low-fat diet and still produce enough fat for your baby, because your body can take from your stores even if you’re malnourished. While not recommended, you could also have a terribly unhealthy diet full of junk food and STILL produce wonderful, magic milk for your little one (with the same amount of fat). It’s a good thing, really. Our bodies are very forgiving of our diets, allowing us to not overly stress about every bite we take and still make nutritious breastmilk.
While you cannot change the amount of fat based off of your diet, you can change the TYPE of fat. If you consume a lot of fried fast food, you’re going to have milk with more trans-fat. If you consume healthier fats from foods like fish, avocado, chia seeds, etc. then you will transfer those healthier essential fatty acids into your breastmilk as well.
*Here’s a good example of a recipe you can make! These delicious energy bites with sunflower seeds, chia seeds, and flax seeds will provide you with some healthy fats and are a little too easy to go down, if you know what I mean.
If there is any concern at all with your milk content or supply, please seek help from a medical professional trained in lactation. We literally have a team here at Successful Breastfeeding offering same day virtual appointments to help you.
More about consuming healthy fats
Some more info on mother’s diet and breastfeeding
Kelly Maher, CLC, CLE
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