Transitional Breast Milk: What Is It & When Does It Begin?

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Transitional breast milk is the milk your body produces in the first few days after childbirth. In the first two weeks after delivery, your breast milk transitions through three stages — interim (colostrum), transitional, and mature milk. The thick, yellowish-colored, nutrient-rich milk that your breast produces immediately after delivery is called colostrum.

Then, gradually, more plentiful milk called transitional milk comes. Your breasts produce transitional milk for approximately two weeks since birth (1). After that, the milk changes into mature milk, which nourishes your baby as long as you choose to breastfeed.

Keep reading to know more about transitional milk’s nutritional composition and benefits for the baby with tips on storing it.

When Does The Transitional Breast Milk Phase Begin?

The second phase of milk or transitional milk is produced approximately two to five days after your baby’s birth (2). As the breast begins to produce milk, you may notice a fuller and firmer breast.

How Does Transitional Breast Milk Look Like?

The transitional milk has a creamy consistency and can range from bluish-white to creamy yellow (3). Transitional milk that follows colostrum may be slightly yellow before turning to a shade of blue-white. Bluer milk indicates a higher water content. The color of the milk could become whiter as your breasts begin to produce mature milk. Breast milk can be many colors depending on what you eat, the medications you’re taking, and how long it’s been since the last feeding.

How Much Transitional Breast Milk Does Your Body Make?

There is no fixed quantity of transitional milk, and it could vary from one mother to another. A study noted that mothers could produce approximately 500 grams per day of transitional milk from day five since the baby’s birth. However, it may not be the same for all women. Nevertheless, the volume of transitional milk produced is higher than colostrum (4).

Nutritional Value Of Transitional Breast Milk

Transitional milk contains more calories than colostrum, which contains a high concentration of protein and antibodies. The amount of protein and antibodies in transitional milk decreases slightly as milk composition changes from colostrum to transitional milk, but the amount of fat, sugar, and calories increases, benefiting your baby during the developmental phase.
Breast milk typically contains several bioactive molecules that protect against inflammation and infections. However, the milk subjected to heat treatment or freeze-thaw cycles may not contain the same bioactive molecules as before (5).

Can You Store Transitional Milk?

Yes, you can store transitional milk. When it comes to storing transitional milk, it is always better to adhere to CDC guidelines to maintain the safety and quality of the expressed or pumped milk. The storage guideline is applicable for all the stages of milk (6).

There are various sources that provide information on how long breast milk can be stored at room temperature, in the refrigerator, and the freezer. Before beginning the process, it is always a good idea to consult with your doctor or a lactation counselor (5).

Breast Engorgement During the Transitional Milk Phase

Breast engorgement is when milk transitions from colostrum to transitional milk as extra blood and fluid fills the breast to help support making milk. Engorgement also occurs when the breast produces too much milk, causing the breast to become hard, swollen, and painful. Breast engorgement is a common experience that a breastfeeding mother can go through, especially during the transitional breast milk phase.

The breast produces only a small amount of colostrum milk at first, and the transitional milk suddenly increases during the transitional milk phase, causing breast engorgement. A sudden change in feeding schedule, such as skipping a feed or pumping session, can also result in breast engorgement (7).

You should breastfeed your baby whenever the baby shows signs of hunger, every one to three hours, to ensure an easy and trouble-free supply. If you have any questions about breast milk or breastfeeding, please speak with your doctor or a lactation consultant.

The transitional breast milk starts around four to five days after birth. It contains lesser proteins and more calories compared to colostrum milk. This milk is designed to assist your baby in the developmental phase. Its production may make your breasts feel fuller and larger. A few changes that come along this transition are a sudden change in the feeding pattern and an increase in the feeding frequency. If you start to experience breast engorgement, you could start breast pumping for some relief. Ensure you adhere strictly to the CDC’s guidelines on breast pumping, and do not hesitate to speak to a lactation consultant if you have any doubts.

Key Pointers

  • The transitional breast milk is produced two to five days after the baby’s birth.
  • The milk has a creamy consistency and is mostly bluish-white to creamy yellow in color.
  • The milk production varies from one woman to another; however, most produce an average of 500 grams of transitional milk per day.
  • This milk contains fat, sugar, calories, and bioactive molecules for the baby’s healthy growth.

References:

MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
1. Breastfeeding Overview; American Pregnancy Association
2. Transitional Milk and Mature Milk; Healthy Children; American Academy of Pediatrics
3. The Phases of Breast Milk; WIC Breastfeeding Support; U.S. Department of Agriculture
4. M C Neville et al.,Studies in human lactation: milk volumes in lactating women during the onset of lactation and full lactation; The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (1988)
5. O Ballard and A L. Morrow; Human Milk Composition: Nutrients and Bioactive Factors; Pediatric Clinics of North America (2014)
6. Proper Storage and Preparation of Breast Milk; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
7. Engorgement; WIC Breastfeeding Support; U. S. Department of Agriculture
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Julie Matheney

(MS, CCC-SLP/CLEC/IBCLC)
Julie Matheney did her Master's degree in speech-language pathology and has worked on feeding and swallowing disorders for over a decade. As part of a hospital-based rehabilitation team, she works on helping children to feed and swallow. Having worked in the NICU, she discovered her passion for breastfeeding and became an IBCLC in 2017. She transitioned out of the hospital... more

Swati Patwal

Swati Patwal is a clinical nutritionist and toddler mom with over eight years of experience in diverse fields of nutrition. She started her career as a CSR project coordinator for a healthy eating and active lifestyle project catering to school children. Then she worked as a nutrition faculty and clinical nutrition coach in different organizations. Her interest in scientific writing... more

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