Breast milk is often termed “liquid gold” for its exceptional capability to nourish an infant optimally. This nourishment relies on breast milk’s nutritional composition, which is affected by multiple factors, such as the mother’s food choices. While a mother’s food intake affects milk’s quality, it can also affect breast milk’s taste.
Before you determine a taste change, do you know what does breast milk tastes like? Do changes in breast milk’s taste impact the baby’s appetite and food choices later in life?
This post answers all your queries about breast milk’s taste, factors that affect it, and whether you and your partner can taste breast milk.
What Does Breast Milk Taste Like?
Human breast milk tastes sweet and creamy and a lot similar to cow’s milk. This interpretation, however, varies from person-to-person. Some people find breast milk heavily sweetened, almost like honey or sugar water, while others recall it being sweet-salty.
Whatever the perceived taste, the vital point to note is that breast milk does have a peculiar taste. But if that’s the case, you may wonder how does breast milk gets its taste?
What Gives Breast Milk Its Taste?
Human milk’s flavor relies on its nutritional composition, greatly influenced by what you eat during the lactation period. Evidence suggests that a mother eating a well-balanced diet containing foods from different food groups exposes her young one to varying flavors from a young age. It could impact your baby’s food choices later in life since they would be more likely to accept foods with a familiar taste (1) (2).
Factors That Affect Breast Milk Taste
Below are some of the significant factors that could affect the flavor of breast milk.
- Food: A baby may get their first taste of food flavors in the mother’s womb since the mother’s diet could affect the taste of the amniotic fluid (3). Babies get reintroduced to these tastes during breastfeeding when the mother eats the same food and drinks. In the beginning, the baby might not respond to these flavors amicably. But gradually, they develop a tolerance to it. Nevertheless, they may dislike a sudden change in breast milk’s flavor due to certain foods in the maternal diet. Experts note that strongly flavored foods, such as garlic and chili, may change the breast milk’s taste and smell (4) (5).
- Hormones: Hormonal changes postpartum are as obvious as they are during pregnancy. They can occur when your menstrual cycle returns. Hormonal changes could alter breast milk’s flavor temporarily. For instance, around ovulation, the sodium and chloride in breast milk increase, and the amount of lactose and potassium reduce, making the milk saltier (6).
- Alcohol: Consuming alcohol when breastfeeding exposes your baby to health risks as the alcohol passes to the baby through breast milk. Besides, it alters breast milk’s flavor and might cause sensitive babies to stop feeding temporarily (7).
- Smoking: Research shows that smoking when breastfeeding could affect breast milk’s taste (8). The alteration in the taste might affect sensitive babies, impacting their breast milk intake. Experts recommend quitting smoking during the lactation period.
- Medications: Several medicines might affect breast milk’s taste and smell, affecting the baby’s milk intake. Discuss with your doctor in detail the effects of any medication on your breast milk’s taste and baby’s health in general.
- Breast infection: Breastfeeding mothers often face breastfeeding problems, such as breast inflammation due to mastitis, which is a breast infection. Research notes that breast inflammation due to infections tends to make the breast milk salty (9).
- Breast milk storage: Expressed breast milk stored appropriately is safe for consumption. However, incorrectly stored breast milk could taste metallic or fishy (10). These changes indicate the milk has gone rancid and is unfit for consumption. Breast milk’s taste could also change when frozen. However, it is a normal change due to lipase, an enzyme in breast milk that breaks down the milk fat into fatty acids.
Can Adults Consume Breast Milk?
An adult may try their or their partner’s expressed breast milk. You must avoid trying or letting your partner try breast milk if you can transmit any infection through it. Some people wish to try someone else’s breast milk, but doing so can be potentially dangerous since it could cause the transmission of dangerous pathogens, including HIV and hepatitis viruses.
Several factors can alter breast milk’s taste, and it varies from one mother to another. If your baby feeds adequately, it indicates a healthy breast milk supply. If your baby avoids feeding and you suspect the cause to be the breast milk’s taste, consult a doctor or a certified lactation consultant.
2. Joanne M Spahn et al.; Influence of maternal diet on flavor transfer to amniotic fluid and breast milk and children’s responses: a systematic review; Oxford University Press
3. Julie A. Mennella et al.; Prenatal and Postnatal Flavor Learning by Human Infants; NCBI
4. Breastfeeding and a Mother’s Diet: Myths and Facts; La Leche League GB
5. Goun Jeong et al.; Maternal food restrictions during breastfeeding; NCBI
6. P E Hartmann and C G Prosser; Acute changes in the composition of milk during the ovulatory menstrual cycle in lactating women; The Physiological Society
7. J A Mennella; Infants’ suckling responses to the flavor of alcohol in mothers’ milk; NCBI
8. Julie A. Mennella et al.; Breastfeeding and Smoking: Short-term Effects on Infant Feeding and Sleep; NCBI
9. Michiko Yoshida et al.; Taste of Milk from Inflamed Breasts of Breastfeeding Mothers with Mastitis Evaluated Using a Taste Sensor; NCBI
10. Milk Issues; La Leche League International