We're often curious to know what breast milk tastes like but not curious enough to go as far as actually tasting it!
In this article we try to answer all the questions you might have around the taste and smell of breast milk. Feel free to jump to the question that concerns you most or read through each one:
- What does breast milk taste like?
- What does breast milk smell like?
- How does my diet influence the taste of my breast milk?
- What other factors influence the composition and taste of breast milk?
- How can I tell if my breast milk is spoiled?
- Is breast milk healthy for adults?
What does breast milk taste like?
Q: I've always wanted to taste my breast milk but somehow I just can't go through with it. What does it actually taste like?
A: To assuage your curiosity, we'll attempt to describe breast milk's taste by comparing it with cow milk.
It's definitely much sweeter than cow milk because it has about 50% more lactose in it, which is a form of sugar.
It's also thinner in texture than cow's milk given the lesser amount of protein. Proteins is what determines the density of a milk's curd. Casein, a form of protein, is the base material for cheese and there is 7 times more of it in cow milk than human milk!
It's creamier than cow's milk thanks to its higher fat level. The fat in human milk is also more separated from the rest of the liquid, probably due to the lower amount of proteins. You can see this is the case when you store human milk for a little while in the fridge or freezer: the cream will separate from the water and float on top. Cow milk doesn't do that, everything remains mixed together.
It's also less salty than cow milk as it contains 5 times less sodium.
At the end taste is a very subjective feeling. Some people who've tried human breast milk describe it as slightly fishy and sour. Others describe it as earthy, mineral, and nutty.
It's not static either. Breast milk's taste evolves based on the mother's diet and daily activities. If you start to eat only carrots, soon enough your milk will have a yellow tint and will taste like carrots!
What does breast milk smell like?
Q: How would you describe the smell of breast milk?
A: Human breast milk smells somewhat similar to cow milk, only sweeter and creamier.
It may occur that breast milk smells soapy. This is due to the breakdown of an enzyme called lipase. Under some conditions breast milk can contain enough lipase to give out a slightly soapy smell. Such a smell is normal and doesn't make the milk unsafe to drink.
How does my diet influence the taste of my breast milk?
Q: I know that what I eat eventually makes it into my breast milk but does it also change its taste? Like if I eat fish will my breast milk taste like fish?
A: At the end of the day your milk is made from what you eat. So it makes sense that what you eat influences what milk tastes like.
You can get a clue that this is happening when you see your milk color change based on what you eat. Eat a lot of carrots and your milk may become yellow, eat a lot of spinach and it may be slightly green.
It's also a way to introduce your little one to the taste of solids. By having your milk's taste change based on what you eat, your baby gets familiar with your household's cuisine.
The reverse of the medal is that if you eat something that your baby really doesn't like, it can cause a sudden "nursing strike" or "breastfeeding strike". It sometimes happen when you eat something unusual (e.g. spicier than your usual diet, especially sour, etc.). The strike typically just lasts for a couple of feedings.
Intake of alcohol, smoke or medicine may also change your milk's flavor. The first two are of course strictly discouraged when breastfeeding. As for medicine, do make sure to check that anything you take is compatible with your nursing.
What other factors influence the composition and taste of breast milk?
Q: I know that my breast milk's taste can change based on what I eat. Is that anything else I do that changes my milk's taste?
A: Besides the mother's diet, there are quite a few factors that have an influence on the composition and taste of your milk.
This can be a sign of ovulation while breastfeeding. If your baby suddenly doesn't want your milk anymore and you can't trace it back to any other reason, it might just be because you're becoming fertile again!
2) Emotional stress
It might seem hard to believe but your level of psychological distress directly affects the composition of your breast milk. Several scientific studies1 have shown that postpartum depression and anxiety in general negatively affect the concentration of antibodies such as immunoglobulins in breast milk.
Not only does this mean that your mental state may affect the taste of your milk but also its immune properties. In other words if you're unhappy, your milk's doesn't do as good a job at protecting your baby's health. Your happiness literally makes your baby healthy!
If you're struggling with postpartum depression or anxiety, it might be due to the fact your body hasn't properly recovered from birth-giving. When delivering, you suffer a massive loss of blood and spend a tremendous amount of energy. If you don't properly recover from this, low energy and blood levels might make you more susceptible to emotional stress.
Milk Boost Tea helps some women with these issues. It's an ancestral recipe of 13 natural herbs that's been used for centuries by nursing mums in Asia. It's normally used to improve your milk's nutritional value but it does so by boosting your energy levels and nourishing your blood.
3) Engorged breasts, clogged ducts and mastitis
Besides the incredible pain that can be caused by engorged breasts, clogged duct or mastitis, those issues can also affect the taste of your milk. It typically makes your milk taste more salty than usual.
If you ever face those issues we highly recommend Unblock Nursing Tea. It's an herbal tea made of 12 natural herbs that's designed to help fight off engorged breasts and clogged ducts.
4) Frozen breast milk
Freezing breast milk can sometimes affect its smell and taste. It might make it slightly soapy, likely due to the presence of lipase enzyme. It's still safe to give to your child, but he may not like the flavor and refuse it.
5) Body products that you apply on your breasts
Products such as lotions, creams, perfumes or ointments can break the skin barrier and affect the taste of your breast milk.
You should ensure you use baby-safe products on your breasts. Also in order to avoid foreign flavors, it's always a good idea to wash your breasts before nursing.
How can I tell if my breast milk is spoiled?
Q: I've left a bottle of breast milk for quite a few days in the fridge. How do I know if it's spoiled or not?
A: Human milk isn't that different from other milks. When truly spoiled, it gives out a very offensive sour smell. If that's the case it should of course be immediately discarded as it's unsafe to drink.
In general the rule is that breast milk is safe up to 4 hours at room temperature, 4 days in the fridge and 12 months in the freezer.
Is breast milk healthy for adults?
Q: My husband was curious to taste my milk but I actually don't know if it's safe or not for him to drink?
A: Not only is breast milk safe for adults to drink, it might even have previously unknown health benefits.
One of the main functions of breast milk is to develop a baby's immune system. To do so it is full of antibodies and white blood cells that help your little one fight off bacteria and diseases. Scientists have found instances when, if the baby is fighting a bacterial or viral attack, white blood cells numbers can increase up to 94% out of total cells in breast milk2!
This high concentration in antibodies and white blood cells is why it might be helpful to immunosuppressed individuals such as cancer patients, organ transplant recipients, the elderly or anyone fighting an infectious disease.
Some scientific studies3 also suggest that breast milk might help those suffering from ulcerative colitis, Crohn disease and other digestive issues. It makes sense, not only does breast milk build a baby's immune system, it also builds their digestive system. It therefore stands to reason it might help fix adults' digestive problems.
Of course always make sure to drink breast milk from a source you trust. Some diseases can be transmitted via breast milk such as HIV so if you get breast milk from a third party you want to make sure they have a clean bill of health.
1. Kawano A, Emori Y. The relationship between maternal postpartum psychological state and breast milk secretory immunoglobulin A level. J Am Psychiatr Nurses Assoc. 2015 Jan-Feb;21(1):23-30. doi: 10.1177/1078390314566882. Epub 2015 Jan 14. PMID: 25589451.
2. Hassiotou F, Hepworth AR, Metzger P, et al. Maternal and infant infections stimulate a rapid leukocyte response in breastmilk. Clin Transl Immunology. 2013;2(4):e3. Published 2013 Apr 12. doi:10.1038/cti.2013.1
3. Eyal Klement, Regev V Cohen, Jonathan Boxman, Aviva Joseph, Shimon Reif, Breastfeeding and risk of inflammatory bowel disease: a systematic review with meta-analysis, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 80, Issue 5, November 2004, Pages 1342–1352, https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/80.5.1342
Article tags: Breastfeeding and maternity