I’m sure you’ve heard that breast milk tastes different for everyone. It’s a common misconception that breast milk is supposed to taste salty, or sweet, or spicy, as if it were some kind of food product.
It’s one of those taboo-like subjects – from a societal point of view we are conditioned to accept milk from other animals, but when milk from our own species is put on the table our first reaction is to reject it.
So while human breast milk is made for humans, and there have been a number of studies that look at the taste and smell of human breastmilk, there aren’t that many adults who have actually tasted it for themselves. Here’s some information about what breast milk tastes like, in case you are interested!
What does breast milk taste like?
Breast milk tastes like milk with a hint of what each woman eats. The most likely descriptors you’ll hear are “heavily sweetened almond milk” and “tastes like the inside of your mouth after you eat something with sugar.” Another popular one is “melted ice cream”, so basically it mostly commonly tastes sweet!
What gives breast milk its taste?
There are lots of things that impact what a mother’s breast milk tastes like. While some things impact it more than others, the overall flavor is impacted by them all. This means that even if your milk doesn’t taste great in its current state, there are a lot of things you can try to change it if baby is fussy. (Fun fact: A baby’s first taste of food may actually be in the womb since the mother’s diet could affect how the amniotic fluid tastes! Get them used to those veggies early!)
- Food. Experts note that strongly flavored foods such as garlic, and foods high in sulfur compounds like onions, may change the breast milk’s taste and smell.
- Hormones. Given that hormones are still changing as you breastfeed your little one, the flavor of your milk may shift. Hormonal changes can lead to temporary inconsistency in taste and thickness. For example, when a woman ovulates, the salt (sodium) and chloride levels increase in her breast milk while the lactose and potassium levels drop off.
- Medications. Medicines that a mother might be taking may affect the taste and smell of her breast milk. Talk to your doctor about how medicine will affect your baby’s health in general – you may find your overall milk production reduces which could affect how your baby is feeding.
- Alcohol. Studies show that infants who are being breastfed may drink less milk when the mother has consumed alcohol in the last 3-4 hours, by an average factor of 20 percent. The studied odor of the milk peaked in intensity 30 minutes to 1 hour after the mother had an alcoholic drink. The composition of the breast milk actually changes after mom has a drink, and alcohol can negatively affect your ‘let down’ – making it harder for baby to get what they need.
- Smoking. Nicotine actually passes on to a baby through breastmilk in a higher amount than environmental exposure from cigarette smoke! Apart from the appetite suppressing effect which nicotine has, (which absolutely also affects baby) it also has a peppery or bitter taste that comes through in the milk.
- Freezing / other storage. When stored properly, breast milk can have a sweet taste. Improperly stored milk could produce a metallic or fishy odor and be unsafe for consumption. Expressed milk that has been chilled in the fridge or frozen, may be affected by lipase. Higher levels of lipase, the enzyme that breaks down the fat in the milk into fatty acids, will affect the taste and smell of breast milk.
- Exercise. The build-up of lactic acid in your breast milk can make it taste more bitter than usual. This is only for high-intensity exercise though, not for moderate exercise. (So no skipping out on that yoga session!)
- Breast infection: Breastfeeding moms often battle issues such as breast inflammation, which can lead to a breast infection. Studies on breast inflammation have shown that infections usually make breast milk salty.
What does breast milk taste like when pregnant?
From about 16 weeks into pregnancy, a woman will start to produce colostrum – the high sodium, high protein milk that is packed with antibodies. This milk is full of what a newborn baby needs in those first few days. The composition of that first milk actually makes it a whole lot less sweet than milk produced by a mother of a six-week-old, for example. It’s a lot saltier.
If you’re already feeding a child when you become pregnant again, you may find your breastfeeding baby will notice the change in taste of your breast milk.
What if my breast milk tastes or smells soapy?
Some mothers have encountered a smell or taste that they associate with soap when they refrigerate or freeze their milk. One of the theories as to why breast milk tastes so different from one woman to another is that some women have more lipase, the enzyme found in human bodily fluids that breaks down fat, than others. This will make their milk taste sweeter or saltier than average. Little ones are generally not too picky about the taste of their mother’s milk, but many moms notice that their baby refuses to drink it if it has a strong flavor.
What if my breast milk takes or smells sour, or off?
One explanation for sour, rancid-smelling milk is that a chemical reaction has occurred in the milk. Lipid oxidation or proteolysis (which is a breakdown of the proteins in the milk) which can result in an unpleasant flavor or smell. This is generally associated with older expressed milk, particularly milk which has been frozen.
Provided the breast milk has been expressed and stored safely and appropriately, has not gone past the safe storage times for expressed milk, and baby isn’t rejecting the milk, sour tasting and smelling milk is still safe for baby to consume.
All breast milk tastes different!
It is important to consider how the flavor of your breast milk can change depending on what you eat, whether or not there are any medications in your system, and even from mother-to-mother. Learning a bit more about these changes could make it easier for you to predict when baby might need an extra snack or drink. (if they’re ready for that!) You’ll also want to be conscious of how smoking cigarettes will affect the taste of your milk—especially if that’s something you struggle with!
However, provided you’re following safe storage guidelines for expressed breastmilk and your little one isn’t rejecting the milk because of its odor or taste, your breastmilk should still be safe for them to consume.