Have you ever questioned the taste or smell of your breast milk? Does it sometimes smell just a little “off” and you’re not sure why? Many moms experience this, so don’t worry, you’re not alone. And, nothing’s wrong with you! Human milk varies in taste, smell and appearance depending on your diet, medications and storage techniques. Remember: regardless of these differences, your milk is always the best milk for your baby.
Breast Milk is Unique
Did you know that when your baby was born, he or she could recognize and be comforted by the unique smell and taste of your milk? Your amniotic fluid (which nourished your baby during pregnancy) had similar flavors to your breast milk. We even know that newborn pain can be relieved by exposure to the smell of their mother’s milk. Your milk is sweet, powerful and unique to you! Below are some things that can affect your breast milk’s smell, taste and appearance.
- Food and Medications
It makes a lot of sense when you think about it – what you eat changes the flavor of your milk. So, meal by meal, milk takes on various subtle changes in flavor. That is one reason why breastfed babies tend to enjoy a variety of foods as they begin to eat solids. Certain medications can also affect the way breast milk smells and tastes.
- Storage Techniques
How you store your milk can have an impact on its smell, taste and appearance. You may have noticed than when your milk is left standing at room temperature or in the refrigerator, it begins to separate into layers. This does not mean it has gone bad; the cream is simply rising to the top. Just swirl (don’t shake!) the container gently to mix the milk, and it’s ready to feed!
- Freezing Habits and Lipase
Freezing and thawing breast milk can have a big impact on taste and smell. Some moms notice that after defrosting, their milk smells unpleasant – soapy or even sour. This is normal! Breast milk contains lipase, an enzyme that is normally present in human milk and has a lot of benefits. For one, it helps break down fats in the milk so that fat-soluble nutrients and fatty acids (which protect your baby from getting sick) are available to the baby.
Milk that has a high level of lipase can develop a soapy smell and taste, but is not harmful to the baby. Most babies don’t mind it, but if yours starts rejecting the milk (either with their first taste or later as they develop taste preferences), there is a way to prevent and fix it.
- Test prior to freezing – before freezing large amounts of breast milk, you can test your milk for odor and taste changes due to lipase. Collect and freeze 1-2 bags or small containers of breast milk for at least 5 days. Then evaluate the odor and see if your baby will drink it.
- Eliminate lipase-induced milk changes during freezing – If you find during test freezing that your milk changes smell and taste, and your baby won’t drink it, you can scald your fresh milk before you freeze it. Scalding milk after it has been frozen will not correct the odor/taste problem.
- To scald fresh milk: Heat it in a pot until tiny bubbles form around the edges of the pan (approximately 180° F). Remove the milk from the stove and allow to cool before freezing.
Scalding fresh milk will stop the enzymes from breaking down the fat, preventing that soapy smell and taste. Scalding milk does reduce some of the beneficial components in breast milk, however, so whenever possible give your infant fresh breast milk.
Do you have questions about the smell or taste of your breast milk? You can send your questions to our Lactation Consultants anytime! And good job breastfeeding. You’re doing great!