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The Flavor of Breast Milk

What Does Breast Milk Taste Like?

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Updated September 18, 2013

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Everyone experiences taste differently. Our tastes are developed over time depending on our genetics, our culture and the foods that we are exposed to. Breast milk is like any other food. It may taste different to different people. That being said, in general, most people who have tasted breast milk consider it to be sweet and creamy with a pleasant flavor.

Breast milk contains lactose, or milk sugar. Even though lactose is not the sweetest type of sugar, when there is a large amount of lactose present, the sweetness is much greater. Since lactose is a main ingredient in breast milk, the concentration of lactose is high giving breast milk it's sweet flavor. Breast milk also contains fat. The amount of fat in milk determines it's creaminess. When breast milk first starts to flow from the breast it has less fat so it may appear to be watery. As the milk continues to flow the amount of fat increases so it gets creamier.

Beyond sweet and creamy, breast milk is also flavored by the foods that you eat everyday. By eating a well-balanced diet full of fruits of vegetables, you are exposing your child to the tastes of these healthy foods. As your breastfed children grow and begin to eat solid foods, it is believed that they will more readily accept the foods that they were already exposed to through your breast milk. Your children can develop a taste for many of the foods that you enjoy, even garlic, spicy foods or other cultural dishes.

The flavor of breast milk can also be altered by things other than your diet such as:

Hormones: Changes in your body from the return of your period or a new pregnancy may affect the flavor of your milk. It is still safe to breastfeed if you have your period and it's usually safe to continue to breastfeed if you become pregnant again as long as you are not high risk. So, if you still want to breastfeed continue to offer your child the breast.

Exercise: The build up of lactic acid in your body along with the saltiness of perspiration on your breasts from strenous exercise can interfere with the taste of your breast milk. When you exercise, keep it at a light or moderate level and wash your breasts to remove any sweat before you feed your baby.

Medications: Certain medications can change the taste of your breast milk. If you start a new medication and notice your child is not breastfeeding as well, that might be the cause. Talk to your doctor if you think this is an issue.

Smoking: Studies show that the breast milk produced after a mother smokes cigarettes will take on the smell and flavor of the smoke. If you smoke, have your cigarette immediately after you finish feeding your child and try not to smoke for at least 2 hours before breastfeeding to keep the smell and flavor of the smoke at a minimum.

Alcohol: The consumption of alcohol is known to affect the flavor of breast milk. It takes about two hours per drink for alcohol to leave your body and your breast milk. The longer you wait after you have an alcoholic beverage, the less alcohol will be in your breast milk.

Frozen Breast Milk: Breast milk that has been collected and stored in the freezer will sometimes have a soapy odor and taste when it's defrosted. It is still safe to give this milk to your child; however, your child may not like the taste and refuse it.

Mastitis: A breast infection can cause the milk in your affected breast to have a strong, salty taste. And while it's still safe to breastfeed from both breasts during this time (both the affected and unaffected), if you think you may have mastitis, see your doctor for treatment.

Body Products: Lotions, creams, soaps, perfumes, oils or ointments that you put on your breasts can add different flavors to your milk as your baby nurses. If you use any body products on or near your breasts be sure to wash your breasts well before breastfeeding your baby.

A change in the taste of your breast milk for any of these reasons may affect your child. Some babies will not seem to notice or mind the variations of taste while other children will nurse less, go on a nursing strike or even appear to be self-weaning. By understanding some of the things that can change the flavor of your breast milk you may be able to keep your child nursing longer.

If you are concerned about the flavor of your breast milk or you just want to know how it will taste to you, you can try it. Breast milk is a natural, healthy food and it will not hurt you. There is nothing wrong or disgusting about trying your own breast milk. Sometimes husbands or partners are curious and want to try breast milk as well. This is also ok as long as they know the health history of their partner and understand the risk involved. Always be smart and use common sense because it can, of course, be dangerous to try the milk from another person's breast. Breast milk is a body fluid, therefore, it is possible to contract an infectious disease, including HIV, from ingesting someone else's breast milk.

Sources:

American Academy of Pediatrics. New Mother’s Guide To Breastfeeding. Bantam Books. New York. 2011.

Drayna, D. Human Taste Genetics. Annual Review of Genomics and Human Genetics. 2005; 6: 217-235.

Ho E., Collantes A., Kapur BM., Moretti M., Koren G. Alcohol and Breast Feeding: Calculation of Time to Zero Level in Milk. Neonatology. 2001; 80: 219-222.

Lawrence, Ruth A., MD, Lawrence, Robert M., MD. Breastfeeding A Guide For The Medical Profession Sixth Edition.  Mosby. Philadelphia. 2005.

Marth, EH. Lactose. Fundamentals of Dairy Chemistry. Aspen Publishers. 1999. p.307-309

Mennella JA. Mother's Milk: A Medium For Early Flavor Experiences. The Journal of Human Lactation. 1995; 11 (1): 39-45.

Mennella JA, Beauchamp GK. Smoking and the Flavor of Breast Milk. New England Journal of Medicine. 1998; 339: 1559-1560.

Spencer JP. Management of Mastitis In Breastfeeding Women. American Family Physician. 2008; 78 (6). 727-732.

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