In almost every conversation I have with a mom about breastfeeding, the subject of foremilk and hindmilk comes up. Most moms have heard about it, and many moms are worried about making sure their baby “gets the hindmilk”. Is there really a need to be concerned? The short answer is no.
The term “foremilk” is commonly used to refer to the initial milk that a baby supposedly receives at the beginning of a feeding that is more watery and lower in fat content, while “hindmilk” refers to the milk towards the end of a feed that is supposedly higher in fat content. This description does not give the whole picture however, and can lead to a lot of unnecessary worry.
The fat content of breastmilk varies throughout a feeding, and throughout the day. What is important when thinking about fat intake is not how much fat your baby gets per feeding, but how much they get in 24 hours. The “emptier” your breasts are (for lack of a better term, because your breasts are never truly empty) the higher the fat content of your milk. Because of this, fat content tends to be lower early in the morning when most moms tend to feel the fullest, and is usually higher in the evening when most moms feel less full. Over the course of 24 hours, if you are nursing your baby on cue, he gets everything he needs.
Your breasts don’t contain two distinct types of milk (foremilk and hindmilk), it is all breastmilk, and it is all beneficial for your baby. The fat content of your breastmilk gradually changes during a feed, similar to water gradually getting hotter when you first turn on the hot water tap. If you are following your babies cues, and your baby is nursing frequently, the milk at the start of the next feed is still high in fat content (hindmilk), similar to the water from the hot water tap still being warm if it hasn’t been very long since you last turned it on.
True formilk-hindmilk imbalance is rare, and I have only seen it in cases of severe oversupply of milk, or strict timing of feeds. If you are nursing your baby on cue, then there is no need to worry about whether or not your baby is getting enough “hindmilk”. If your baby is gaining weight, content after feeding, meeting milestones etc, then everything is good.