The milk a baby takes from the breast varies throughout a feed. The milk he gets when he first latches on is called foremilk, it is available straightaway and makes up about a third of the milk available at that time. It is thirst-quenching because it is not as fat rich as the hindmilk, which lets down as the baby continues to feed. It is rich in protective substances, particularly antibodies. The baby can stay at the first breast until he has had all the foremilk and then as much of the hindmilk as he needs at that time. Changing from one breast to the other needs to be led by the baby so that he gets the balance of nutrients that he needs. You will know when he wants the other one if he comes off one side and looks around hopefully for food still. If you put him back on the same breast he will probably shout at you.

Many babies fed this way will only want one breast per feed, especially when small. Don’t be surprised though if he wants to change this later. He can vary his feeding pattern, if there is a heatwave for example, to switching to the other breast quite soon because he is mostly thirsty. The breasts will make more foremilk if the weather is very hot and the baby needs to drink more. This explains why breastfed babies do not need to be given anything other than breast milk; indeed doing so can cause the system to be less effective. It is also much safer to give a baby breast milk in hot climates. I sometimes get a batch of calls during a spell of hot weather, when previously predictable and satisfied babies become frequent nursers. The mothers worry that something is terribly wrong until I point out that we all get thirstier in the summer and they are doing fine.

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