3 Things That Can Impact Breast Milk Taste & Smell
Sometimes breast milk looks, smells, or tastes different. Here's why.
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 food 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. Milk can take on various subtle changes in flavor, depending on your meals. That is one reason why breastfed babies tend to enjoy a greater variety of food and flavors versus formula-fed babies as they begin to eat solids. Certain medications can also affect the way breast milk smells and tastes.
How you store your milk can have an impact on its smell, taste, and appearance. You may have noticed that 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 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 your little one.
The longer milk is kept at room temperature or even in the refrigerator before being frozen, the more lipase activity it will have. 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 it 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 and then evaluate the odor to 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 or 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) but don’t boil it. Remove the milk from the stove and allow it 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 give your infant fresh breast milk whenever possible.
Do you have questions about the smell or taste of your breast milk? You can send your questions to our Lactation Consultants anytime!