What Breastmilk Tastes Like, Part 1

December 24th, 2009 by Dionna | 14 Comments
Posted in Breastfeeding/Lactivism, Compassionate Advocacy, Feed with Love and Respect, natural parenting

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“What Does a Boob Taste Like?”

One of my Tweeps* recently wondered why her site was getting traffic by a curious few who Googled “what does a boob taste like?” I can only imagine that the inquisitive searchers were actually referring to breastmilk, because, seriously – a boob itself tastes much like a forearm, stomach, or a left butt cheek might – like skin. Lick your own hand and voila! – you’ve just tasted a boob.

Now breastmilk, on the other hand, that is much different. Breastmilk is manna from heaven for the nursing set, and for good reason.

This is the first in a series of posts on the composition of breastmilk in which I’m going to attempt to explain what breastmilk tastes like: first from a scientific standpoint, and then from a more personal one.

The Composition of Breastmilk: An Overview

Breastmilk composition is constantly changing. Its makeup and taste depend on many factors, including how and when nurslings nurse, the time of year, where the mother lives, and what the mother eats. (1) Breastmilk contains “growth factors, hormones, enzymes, and other substances that are immune-protective and foster proper growth and nutrition . . . .” (2)

Recent scientific discoveries have revealed that breastmilk is the only adult tissue that has more than one type of stem cell present. The implications of this fact are being explored, but there is preliminary evidence that these stem cells specifically promote bone and muscle growth in nursing infants. Scientists also hypothesize that “a mother’s mammary glands tak[e] over from her placenta to guide infant development once her child is born.” (3)

Breastmilk really is the original super food.

One of the most obvious differences in composition depends on what type of breastmilk we are talking about. There are really four different kinds of breastmilk: colostrum, transitional milk, mature milk, and involutional milk.

Colostrum

Colostrum is the thick, yellowish milk that can start to appear during pregnancy. Colostrum will nourish your baby for up to a week after birth, and it is the only food (and the best!) that you need to give your baby. Your first milk is full of antibodies to protect your baby from illness, it has laxative properties to help baby pass meconium, it “seals” the newborn’s permeable intestines so that there is a barrier against foreign substances, and it is high in the vitamins and nutrients that will give your newborn the best start in life. (4)

Transitional Milk

You will produce colostrum for up to a week after your baby is born, then your mature milk will start to come in. Transitional milk is simply a combination of colostrum and mature milk, and it lasts for up to two weeks postpartum. Transitional milk is rich in “fat, lactose, and vitamins to help the baby regain any weight lost after birth.” (5)

Mature Milk

Mature human breastmilk contains nutrients and vitamins that are specifically designed to help infants grow and develop. (6) And not only does it have the perfect combination of the good stuff, it’s delivered in a liquid that is just right for infants to digest. (7)

What’s really cool about breastmilk is that the composition changes with your baby’s age, and it changes from feeding to feeding and within each feeding. The amount of fat, lactose, and vitamins vary from morning to night and from the beginning of a nursing session (in the foremilk) to the end (in the hindmilk). (8)

Involutional Milk

Once your child begins to wean, your milk changes yet again – this is called “involutional breastmilk.” “Involutional milk is characterized by low lactose content and high concentrations of protein, fat, and sodium.”(9) But what I find most extraordinary about breastmilk is that the amount of antibodies actually increases during the weaning process: your body helps give your child an extra immunological boost before your nursing relationship ends and your child stops getting maternal antibodies through breastmilk. (10)

Stay Tuned!

Today’s post was only a brief overview of each type of milk. In the remaining posts in this series, I will present more information on the different types of milk and their special properties. Stay tuned over the next several weeks, I will be posting more on breastmilk’s composition and taste.

*What do you think breastmilk tastes like? Leave feedback in the comments and I will post your thoughts (with a link to your site) in the last post of this series.
*I am also looking for breastfeeding pictures to include with each post. If you have one for possible inclusion, please email me (click on the “contact” link at the top of this page).

Breastfeeding Kieran when he was a wee 6 month old. (Photographer: Abby, www.blessedlifephotography.com)

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*(@TasteLikeCrazy) Also, omg I just used Twitter slang. Tom is going to make so much fun of me.

(1) Prentice, Ann, “Constituents of Human Milk,” http://www.unu.edu/unupress/food/8F174e/8F174E04.htm
(2) Hamosh, Margit, PhD, “Breastfeeding: Unraveling the Mysteries of Mother’s Milk,” http://www.asklenore.info/breastfeeding/additional_reading/mysteries.html
(3) “Stem cells could be the secret reason why breast is best,” http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/stem-cells-could-be-the-secret-reason-why-breast-is-best-1825558.html
(4) http://www.llli.org/FAQ/colostrum.html
(5) http://kids.emedtv.com/breast-milk/breast-milk-composition.html
(6) http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/976504-overview
(7) “The Qualities of Breastmilk,” http://www.nal.usda.gov/wicworks/Sharing_Center/CA/CAquality_breastmilk_E.pdf
(8) http://www.llli.org/FAQ/foremilk.html; see also Constituents of Human Milk
(9) Constituents of Human Milk
(10) http://www.kellymom.com/store/freehandouts/extended_bf_factsheet.pdf; see also http://jn.nutrition.org/cgi/content/full/135/1/1

14 Responses to:
"What Breastmilk Tastes Like, Part 1"

  1. Amber   AmberStrocel

    This is an excellent and thorough overview of breast milk and the various types. But you didn’t answer the question! ;)

    I know I am not the only mom who’s tasted her own breast milk. I can’t be. So I will say that in my experience breast milk tastes like warm cow’s milk with sugar added. It’s very sweet, I can see why kids strongly prefer it to other types of milk.

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      Thanks, Amber! I was planning on giving my personal answer in the last post of the series. I was also thinking about linking to other BF’ing moms with their answers – you can be first on the list! ;)

  2. Jen

    I love hearing older nurslings’ descriptions. My oldest always said it tasted like grapes, strawberries, or popsicles.

  3. Mom

    I can remember tasting my own breast milk too but that was so many years ago that memories fade!!! YOU were the one enjoying it….what did it taste like?? :-)

  4. I remember taking that photo!

  5. Mammapie   Rainbowsouffle

    Oh golly ladies. I’ve tasted my milk before too. In fact, I even persuaded dh to taste it. He was all freakish about it until I told him it tasted like grass (salad for lunch) and a little sweeter. It’s not sugary sweetness though. It’s more like it evokes the smell of something sweet and foodie all at once. Cause who wants sweet salad? Not me?
    I think it’s probably got a lot to do with the rapid metabolizing of food into milk protiens that leaves it with the “sweet”
    sensation.
    All I can say is my kiddo loves it and prefers it over cows milk anyway (17months) but…she’s a big fan of whole milk yogurt so I guess either I need to learn how to make yield yogurt or someday she will wean.
    Thanks fir the discussion!

  6. Heather   xakana

    I think it tastes like liquid hot sweet. No specific taste, really, to me. However, everyone else disagrees. Both agree that one side is fruity and the other is like a confection. I’ve been informed they taste like, banana, coconut, peaches, chocolate and probably some other stuff I can’t remember. Coffee seems to avoid permeating the flavor, as my preschooler would go ballistic with happiness if it tasted like coffee, lol.

  7. Janeen

    My daughter says that one side tastes like strawberry and the other side tastes like chocolate mint. I thought that was pretty interesting. Whenever I ask her why she wants to nurse she always tells me, “Oh, because it’s yummy!” I wonder if that will change now that I’m pregnant. So far it hasn’t but I’m only about 11 weeks right now.

  8. Tara @ Eco Living Tips   thewahm

    I am sitting here laughing as I read this!

    Last year I had pumped milk for the baby, so hubs and I could go out for a bit. I was actually pumping while surfing the net. I filled one bottle bag up and went on to try and fill another.

    Not paying attention, I reached over for my drink and up to my mouth the cup went. I took a huge gulp and after I swallowed realized I just gulped down 7 ounces of breast milk!

    It was not what I would have thought, that’s for sure. There was not really a real taste to me.

    To this day my hubby laughs and will ask me every now and then if I want a cup of hot boob.

  9. Abryana

    When I ask Azure (age 3 1/2), she tells me it tastes like “rainbows and butterflies.”

  10. Lorraine

    Yes, I’ll confess – I’ve tasted my milk too and so has hubby. In fact he loves it! I find it very rich and sweet. I am pregnant with #7 (10 weeks)and my 16-month-old has decided that my milk is now “yuck”. She asks often to nurse, but once she gets there, she makes a funny face and says “yuck”. It’s kind of funny, but it bothers me because I wasn’t ready for her to wean just yet. I had my husband check the taste and he said there was a very noticeable change – no longer sweet at all; just “blah”. I’m hoping she’ll change her mind and come back for more!!

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      Thank you for coming by, Lorraine! I’ve heard that breastmilk changes with pregnancy, but often babies/toddlers will come right back to it after it changes back to colostrum/regular milk. Have you read Adventures in Tandem Nursing? Although if you’re pg with #7, you probably have MUCH more experience with tandeming!! Congratulations by the way!

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