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 or has three breast milk types — 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 breast 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.

In This Article

When Does The Transitional Breast Milk Phase Begin?

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

protip_icon Things to know
During the initial weeks of breastfeeding, release of the hormone oxytocin may lead to cramping or “afterpains” in your uterus. It is important to relax and rest to maintain and enhance milk production (2).

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. Human 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 concentration of breast milk antibodies or immunoglobulins, specifically IgA IgA and IgM, varies in different stages of lactation. IgA is the predominant immunoglobulin in breast milk at any stage of lactation. Transitional milk also has the highest amount of IgA. However, it also has the highest IgM and some IgG.

Immunoglobulin proportions in colostrum, transitional, and mature breast milk

Source: The Breast Milk Immunoglobulinome; Nutrients

The amount of protein and immune factors, such as antibodies in transitional milk decreases slightly as breast milk composition changes from colostrum to transitional milk, but the amount of fat, sugar, and calories increases, benefiting infant nutrition 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?

You can store breast milk in the freezer.
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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

If you have breast engorgement, see a lactation consultant.
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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).

A mother and blogger reports her experience of breast engorgement, and when she was nursing her son, “Baby G (the baby) would latch on and moments later painfully rip away, fussing and sometimes screaming. This would continue on and off for the entire duration of the feeding. He would splutter, cough, and gag, and he often would pull away during let-downs and get milk sprayed all over his face. I would scramble to get a burp rag to stop the flow while simultaneously holding a wriggling, whining baby. If I wasn’t fast enough, milk would spray into his open mouth, causing him to cough and splutter some more.

“I thought perhaps it was possible that I was producing more milk than my boy needed – I did have engorged breasts if I didn’t nurse soon enough, and I leaked through my nursing pads frequently. Though I doubted that hyperlactation was the cause of my problems, I decided to stop pumping for a few days to see if anything changed, and all of our problems were magically gone (i).”

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.

protip_icon Quick tip
If the baby exhibits difficulty latching to the fuller breasts, express a little milk to soften the areola and help your baby latch easily (2).

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is considered a low milk supply when pumping?

The quantity of milk you produce depends on your baby’s demand. So, every mother may have a different milk supply. Ideally, within 10 to 14 days of the postpartum period, you start producing 500 to 1000ml of breast milk. However, if you feel you have a low milk supply, check if your baby urinates six to eight times a day, gains weight, and has a seedy stool by the fifth day. See a doctor if needed (8)

2. How long does transitional milk last in the fridge?

Freshly expressed milk may be stored for up to four days in the fridge (4°C or 40°F) (6).

3. Can a baby have trouble digesting or tolerating transitional breast milk?

Generally, babies do not have any trouble digesting or tolerating human breast milk (9 ). However, if you are concerned about any signs of intolerance in your baby, you may approach a pediatrician or a lactation consultant.

4. How can a mother increase her supply of transitional breast milk if needed?

Breastmilk supply in mothers can be increased through the maintenance of regular feeding, expression of breastmilk when full, massaging the breasts while feeding or pumping, and applying warm compresses (110 ).

5. Does transitional milk taste different?

The transitional milk tastes less salty and umami than colostrum, with increased bitterness and sourness (11).

The transitional breast milk starts around four to five days after birth. It contains lesser proteins and more calories, vitamins, minerals, and carbohydrate content 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.

Infographic: Transitional Breast Milk Vs. Mature Breast Milk

Transitional breast milk, as the name suggests, is the milk produced by a new mother after colostrum and before the emergence of mature breast milk. But, how different is transitional breast milk from mature breast milk? Find out in this infographic below.

how different are transitional and mature breast milk (infographic)

Illustration: Momjunction Design Team

Get the high-quality PDF version of this infographic.

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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.
Transitional Breast Milk_illustration

Image: Dall·E/MomJunction Design Team

Personal Experience: Source


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
8. Low Milk Supply; Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia

9. Transitional Milk and Mature Milk; American Academy of Pediatrics
10. Increasing your breast milk supply; Queensland Children’s Hospital
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