We often discuss how to increase milk supply, which is absolutely important while breastfeeding. Just as important but typically less discussed is the quality of the milk - does your milk contain enough nutrients and fat? This article will review the importance of fat in breastmilk, how much to aim for, and how to increase it.
Why is Fat Important for Breastfeeding?
Breast milk provides all of the essential nutrients for your baby’s development as they grow during their first months of life. Naturally, the content of your milk is key to ensuring that the baby gets what they need.
You may already know that breast milk contains complex carbs, proteins, and healthy fat. It also has vitamins, minerals, and oligosaccharides, all of which are essential for the development of the baby. It’s also worth noting that the breasts produce colostrum, a yellow fluid, throughout the first several days after birth. This liquid strengthens the immune system via antibodies and supports the development and proper function of the baby's gastrointestinal system.
All of that is to say that fat is one of several essential components of breast milk, all of which are important. The fat, or lipids, in milk help with weight gain, as well as the development of the vision and brain. Plus, it can aid in maintaining and controlling the baby’s appetite.
How Much Fat Is Normal?
Interestingly, fat content varies throughout the day. When your breasts are fuller, it typically signifies waterier milk that is lower in fat. The initial milk that comes out is foremilk, which is meant to be protein-rich, watery, and hydrating for the baby. The hindmilk comes later, and has more fat content which satiates the baby. Other factors that impact the milk’s fat content include the time of day, how frequently you’re nursing, what position the baby is in, and what your diet looks like.
With this in mind, breast milk contains several types of fat: omega-3 fatty acids, saturated fats, polyunsaturated fats, and monounsaturated fats. It also contains 13 to 35 calories per ounce or 45 to 119 calories per milliliter. This translates to 0.6 to 1.6 grams of fat per ounce or 2 to 5 grams of fat per 100 milliliters. In general, breast milk should range from 1 to 10% fat.
How to Increase Milk Supply and Fat Content
- Adjust Your Diet
It’s important to note first that your diet may already supply the right amount of nutrients. Generally speaking, unless you follow an unusual diet, your breast milk will likely contain all the fats and nutrients your baby needs. Still, diet does impact the amounts of the different types of fat in breast milk.
While saturated fat tends to remain similar in women with all diets, DHA, a type of omega-3, can vary with what you eat. Vegetarian and vegan diets tend to be lower in DHA because they’re lacking fat from animal products, which then lowers DHA in breast milk. You may need to supplement, like with an algae oil DHA supplement.
Similarly, protein helps to synthesize breast milk. By consuming plenty of protein from sources like eggs, tofu, fish, and cheese, you can increase milk supply overall.
- Change Your Feeding Style
Since foremilk comes out first, switching between breasts too quickly could mean that the fatty hindmilk is left behind and the baby isn’t getting enough fat. Still, you want to allow the baby to decide how long they nurse, so emptying each breast could be a challenge. To combat this, you can pump one breast to remove the foremilk, ensuring that the baby then nurses and consumes the fatty hindmilk. Even if you just take up this practice a couple of times a day, it could help ensure that your baby gets enough fat.
- Massage the Breasts
Fat molecules in the milk flow toward the nipple and stick to each other as you’re breastfeeding. If the fat is left behind, it can cause painful clogs. You can combat this issue and improve the flow of your milk through the ducts by massaging the breasts. Simply hold your breast and compress it, squeezing gently. This stimulation moves fattier milk toward the nipples, opens the ducts, and allows for better flow.
- Feed More Often
While the duration of the feed doesn’t matter and should depend on how long the baby wants to nurse, feed intervals do impact fat content. The longer the gap between breastfeeding, the lower your initial fat content is at the beginning of the next feed. This means that breastfeeding more often leads to more fatty milk for the baby.
Trying to increase your milk supply? Check out Inner Health Pregnancy and Breastfeeding Support Probiotics and our Qbaby Lactation Drops. You can also check out my new course on breastfeeding which includes a 3-day dairy free diet to increase milk supply and boost fat.